Art & Soul
JEAN LIU LETS HER HEART GUIDE THE DESIGN OF HER FAMILY’S HISTORIC DALLAS HOME
Jean Liu lets her heart—and her collection of works by fledgling artists—guide the design of her family’s historic Dallas home.
this house had everything. Designed by Hal Thomson in the 1920s, it showed the prolific Dallas architect’s grand and graceful style. Yet its limestone exterior offered a color and material departure from the period’s ubiquitous red brick. A sprawling yard could be landscaped into natural glory. Inside, architectural details abounded: paneling, dentil molding, and intricate ironwork.
It was perfect, interior designer Jean Liu and her husband, Erik Hansen, thought—except for one key detail: No “for sale” sign sat in the front yard.
“Initially, this house was just a dream because it wasn’t available, so we bought a different house two streets away,” Jean says.
“But as luck would have it, just as we packed our boxes and closed on that house, Erik and I learned that the house we really loved was going on the market. I impulsively said, ‘Yes, we’ll buy it.’ I figured we would deal with our other purchase later.”
While Jean and Erik’s love for the home was all-consuming, it wasn’t blind. They knew the house needed a palette change from its decades-old peach and forest green color scheme. It needed modern interiors that would carry the tone of a chic Paris apartment. The design had to feel like home for the couple, their now 7-year-old daughter, Cricket—and their burgeoning art collection.
Jean’s passion for art encompasses all its forms, but she and Erik prefer to share their home with contemporary works, especially by fledgling artists. Creating a base that would allow them to show off each piece in all its splendor—and provide flexibility for artwork to be moved around—was top priority.
“I love the process of collecting,” Jean says. “I’m an art enthusiast as a hobby, but I do it professionally, too. Every day I’m learning how to ‘see.’ My friend Caesar is my art trainer, and we have regular discussions about pieces and why they work or don’t. For our collection, it was most important that we bought what we loved, not with the hopes of the art being an investment.”
To highlight the paintings, prints, and sculptures, Jean fashioned rooms that are equally arresting and artful, spaces that showcase the things she and Erik love—a collection not married to any particular era.
The foyer illustrates her style perfectly. A teaser of what’s to come, the entry space is a mélange of a contemporary hair-onhide rug, an Empire-era table, and a brutalist chandelier, accented by art—a marble sculpture of a female form. A striped stair runner unfurls the thread of black and white that runs through many rooms. “A lot of what I design has to do with high contrast,” Jean says. “Black and white is classic, and I know that I won’t tire of it.”
Spaces that connect to the foyer illustrate Jean’s penchant for high contrast with intensity, each showcasing a modern wallpaper that is arguably artwork itself. Crisscrossing lines race across the ceiling of the living room. Black teardrop shapes wrap a diminutive
THIS HOUSE IS A PART OF WHO WE ARE.” —designer Jean Liu
powder room. Oversize organic lines atop a fine gray web encase the dining room—a space that juxtaposes the modern wallscape with traditional furniture, including a Swedish cabinet and French chairs.
The dynamic pairings result from Jean’s willingness to be organic, to follow her imagination wherever it leads in her own home. “I don’t think that I probably could have sold this room to a client,” she says. “It just happened.”
Her two favorite rooms, in fact, diverged completely from her original vision. The black lacquered library was earmarked as an office but became a gathering space where everyone retreats after dinner. The vaulted great room initially didn’t hold great appeal for Jean. Now it’s the place every day starts with breakfast and ends with family time. Linen-covered sofas, a Saarinen table surrounded by Gustavian chairs, a massive oil painting, a bench, and
a beanbag sculpture make it light, youthful, and comfortable. Going with the flow has produced the spaces—and the home—that embodies Jean and Erik’s love of art, comfort, and family.
“People tend to aim for perfection,” she says. “This house shows that accepting what the house was and learning to work within its boundaries and confines made a version of perfect that we didn’t know existed. It would be hard to leave this. It’s a part of who we are.” No “for sale” sign will be appearing in this yard anytime soon.