PRODUCED BY LINDA O’KEEFFE. PHOTOGRAPHS BY COLLEEN DUFFLEY.
WRITTEN BY BRIAN LIBBY
A newly married couple in Oklahoma City
bought a midcentury home and treated it to an earth-friendly renovation
for a new millennium.
|Cara and Robert Barnes’s plans for their 2006 wedding did not
include searching for a new residence. But after obliging a Realtor
friend who insisted they see a classic midcentury modern Oklahoma City
property, the couple began to dream.
The 2,700-square-foot, three-bedroom house looked “very unprepossessing
from the front,” Cara recalls. “Our ‘wow’ moment came when we stood in
the entry hail. It was late in the year, but all of this light was
streaming in. We just looked at each other and said, ‘Can you imagine
living and entertaining here?” The newlyweds— she a PR and marketing
consultant, he an attorney who specializes in the oil-and-gas
industry—wound up closing on the house the day after returning from
The hexagonal rooms of Robert and Cara Barnes's home
embrace the backyard pool(the custom wood double lounge is by Eddie
Myers of Austin, Texas; pillows are hand-knit alpaca from Bolivia)
The living room features original center-cut redwood
ceilings, shoji screens, millwork and a copper-clad chimney. Taupe
sofas with green piping and contrasting chairs are custom from New City
Arts; tables are by Eddie Myers.
|Designed and built in 1957, the house was the first
commission by local architect George Seminoff, a protégé of Bruce Goff,
who was celebrated for designing homes with multi-sided rooms. The
low-slung house shows the organic influence of Goff as well as that of
Frank Lloyd Wright. The physical structure had been well preserved over
the home’s first half-century, but there were changes to be made for the
“I loved the way the house just opens up in front of you as you walk
in,” says Robert. “We didn’t want to be the ones who screwed it up.” The
couple also wanted to make the house even greener than it was in its
forward-thinking original design by increasing its energy efficiency and
adding native plants to the garden. Seminoff’s passive-solar design met
them more than halfway.
From the street, the house keeps a low
it includes scarcely any right angles, even in the contour of glass and
eaves above the doorway.
Cara and Iris, the resident canine, a I Pembroke Welsh corgi, in the
newly opened kitchen, with its refinished
original redwood paneling; in the living room, a pillow from Pier 1 sits
on a classic Thayer Coggin armchair.
|Robert has been acclaimed for successfully litigating
against polluters, and it was important to him and Cara that the
renovation embrace sustainable building practices in its attempt to
preserve the architectural integrity and spirit of the original house.
It was already ideally oriented to capture winter light and shade out
summer heat. Walls of windows and sliding glass doors at the back of the
house were replaced with insulated low-E windows to help increase energy
efficiency. The original terrazzo floor (another legacy of Wright) was
kept and refurbished; it acts as a radiant-heat source. The Barneses
also retained all of the property’s ample trees, which shade the home
from summer sun. As a result, the couple often keep their
air-conditioning off and the patio’s sliding glass doors wide open to
capture the evening breeze.
dining table and chairs (all by Eddie Myers) can squeeze in as many as
eleven guests, Cara says. The Catellani & Smith chandelier weaves silver
wire and halogen bulbs into a lucent sphere.
plant-filled, fenced yard is private enough that even with glass walls
the Barneses don’t feel the need for curtains; John Chadwick (left in
photo) joins Robert, Cara and Iris poolside.
“Cara is an exceptional woman,” says interior designer John Chadwick of
his client. “We’d send drawings back and forth a lot, and Cara and I
were able to be so honest and up-front with each other. She is very
open. I could say to her, ‘I have a faux finisher I want to introduce
you to.’ She’d say, ‘Great.’ But if I needed someone, she said, ‘I know
just the person,’ and it seemed to work every time.”
Working with Chadwick (a longtime Oklahoma City
acquaintance who is now based in New York), craftsman Eddie Myers of
Austin, and Lost City Arts of New York, the couple had new furniture
designed for most of the house. Myers’s six-sided glass dining room
table allows extra seating during busy holiday gatherings; its natural
ash complements the extant cabinetry.
A low-slung living room of sofas and chairs are clad in earthy light
taupe and cream tones that pick up on colors in the terrazzo floor.
Chadwick prefers to work in color schemes tied to the surrounding local
landscape. “Because of that huge expanse of windows and all the redwood
trim, green was just a natural,” he says. Eco friendly cork, grass cloth
and Venetian plaster add texture to the walls.
original architect provided built-in storage along the master-bathroom
wall; floor-to-ceiling glass helps frame a movie-size view of outdoor
greenery from the master bedroom, with its hand-tooled leather-and-wood
chair, which Robert brought home from Peru.
The couple’s art collection reflects their travels.
Overlooking the fireplace is a portrait Robert remembers buying in
Prague shortly after the Iron Curtain fell. A chair in the bedroom came
|Removing the kitchen wall was cause for reflection.
“George thought long and hard about this house,” Cara says of the
original architect, who still lives nearby, “but we just didn’t want a
wall around our kitchen.” Ultimately, though, this renovation was all
about embracing an architectural gem for what it is. “We said at the
beginning that a midcentury modern house has clean lines and we want to
respect that,” Cara explains. “However, we’re casual people and want it
to feel warm, with comfortable couches to lie down and watch a movie on.
That balance is what we’re most grateful for.”
|A wall sculpture from a local arts
festival hangs above a custom bed dressed in Nicole Miller linens.
What the Pros Know
Sustainability and energy efficiency were
important to Robert and Cara Barnes, but not at the cost of their
efforts to preserve and accentuate the home’s midcentury style. Luckily,
the two goals were sometimes in sync, as with the furniture made by
local craftsmen or the natural light’s reducing the need for electric
light. The homeowners replaced all the back windows and doors with low-E
coated glass, installed a new HVAC system (replacing damaged ducts for
better airflow) and added dimmable light switches and programmable
thermostats as well as an efficient Frigidaire washer and dryer. The
original radiant terrazzo floors, fluorescent light fixtures and
overhanging eaves would all impress any green builder working today.
Robert and Cara also frequently give their air system a break by
ventilating naturally. “A lot of the time, we just keep the back patio
doors open,” Robert says. Their next step? Photovoltaic solar roof
panels and geothermal heating and cooling.