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Contemporary Jewel

By Kent Anderson   Photos by K.O. Rinearson

Architect George Seminoff calls the house a “miracle.”  New owners Cara and Robert Barnes call it a “jewel.”
Whatever the description, the house on Pembroke Terrace is a character study of a unique and fresh living space.  Built in 1957, it was the first home designed by architect Seminoff after his graduation from Oklahoma State University.  Greatly influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright — whom Seminoff met in person twice — the home was originally built for a paving contractor and his wife who were moving to Nichols Hills from Muskogee.

“They wanted a contemporary house,” Seminoff said.

He went to work and created a home whose most distinctive design features are its angles.  Instead of traditional 90-degree angles, the home is laid out in 30- and 60-degree corners.   Cara and Robert are the house’s third owners, having purchased it in January 2006, moving in after renovations were completed in October.

“We joked at the time that instead of a change of address we should send out birth announcements,” Cara laughs.  “It took nine month, involved a lot of labor and was very painful on occasion.”

Robert is an oil and gas lawyer and president of the firm of Barnes & Lewis, while Cara is a marketing and public relations consultant.  Cara personally supervised much of the home’s renovation, working with contractors each day.  John Chadwick of New York was the interior designer.

The front doors, with a sunburst pattern, were special-ordered by the original owners.  The entryway is walled in Venetian plaster, with a modern twisted wire Italian light fixture overhead.  An alabaster sculpture by Bruce LaFountain, which was rated “Best in Show” at the Indian Market in Santa Fe when Robert bought it some 20 years ago, stands just inside the door.

A small room just off the entry, which Seminoff called a library, but which the Barnes use as a bar area, holds a glass-topped table that was custom-made by Eddie Myers, an expatriate Oklahoman now living in Austin. (Myers’s work is evident throughout the home: the dining room table, cocktail and coffee tables in the living room, bed and nightstands in the master bedroom, were all his designs.) It is in this area that one first notices the gorgeous ceiling of center-cut redwood a wood that has become increasingly rare.  Another very distinctive feature of this little room is leather flooring.
“This is the only leather floor I know of,” Cara said. “It took us a year to find someone who could put it in for us.”

Japanese-style black screens divide this area from the sunken living room and were part of Seminoff’s original design, an aspect that Cara and Robert loved so much they incorporated it into other areas of the home when they began their own work here.

The living room is two steps down from the entry, appointed in all custom-made furnishings. The Barnes’ desire was to stay as close to Seminoff’s original design as possible, reflecting the 1950s era when the home was built, but simultaneously making it “current and comfortable.”

They succeeded beautifully in the living area.  Couches are in a chocolate brown with green piping, and the two chairs are in the exact opposite motif.  Tables are natural ash, which matches cabinetry throughout the house.  The coffee table is in two half-circles, which can be brought together, and trimmed in copper to match the room’s fireplace cover.

While Cara and Robert are serious art collectors and art objects fill the house, a very special painting in this room adds additional color and personality. The painting of a young woman adds a European flair.  Robert purchased it in Prague, shortly after the collapse of the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe.

“We just love her,” Cara says, admiring the woman’s portrait.

The open floor plan leads to the kitchen, in which Seminoff took great care with his design. “I opened the kitchen to the breakfast area to the dining area to the living room," he said. “If you were in the kitchen, you were in the house — you weren’t cut off.”
The Barnes did remove one wall from the kitchen to open it up even further, while again remaining true to Seminoff’s design.  The dining table has a sandblasted glass top by Gus Tietsort of Tietsort Design and matches the unique angles of the room itself.  Just above it is another Italian fixture, complementing the one in the home’s entry.  The kitchen cabinetry repeats the natural ash found in the living room.

Tucked away just off the kitchen is a “mother-in-law” room that now serves as a guest bedroom.  In this case, the mother-in-law actually lived in the room when it was first built.  It even featured its own exterior entry and small kitchenette area, which now serves as closet space.

Returning through the kitchen and passing through the living room, there is a small alcove Cara and Robert use to display some of the beautiful glasswork they’ve collected, with pieces purchased from the Festival of the Arts and the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition.  A few more steps lead to the master bedroom.

The room is painted a serene light blue, and windows look out onto the patio and pool area.  Japanese screens take the place of traditional closet doors.  One of the home’s most distinctive features is here Instead of a traditional dresser or chest of drawers, there are flat, wide file drawers, such as those that would be used to store plans in an architect’s office.

Cara loves their uniqueness. “They’re perfect for storing sweaters,” she says with a laugh.

The master bath features two triangular vanities, expanded from a single vanity when the Barnes bought the house.  The shower, in a seven-sided design, is sunken.  Tile work here is new, as the original had become damaged over time.

Around the corner from the master suite is a small office.  A desk, custom-built to adhere to the room’s unique angles, spans one entire wall.  Cara and Robert’s computers anchor either end.  Two Picasso prints, from his 1940 “War” series, hang over the desk.

Back in the living room, one is struck by the natural light spilling in through floor-to-ceiling windows and a full-length sliding glass door.  When Seminoff sited the home 50 years ago, he intentionally laid it out to keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer.  Cara says that during renovations last summer, there was no air conditioning in the home and that it stayed consistently comfortable.
Stepping out through the glass door and into the patio and pool area, with its diamond-shaped tile, is like meeting an old friend.  This space is made for entertaining.  The Barnes enlarged the back yard slightly and added a small fountain between the house and pool, but have otherwise once again stayed true to Seminoff’s vision.

“By far the best view of this house is from the far side of the pool,” says Robert.  “Some nights I’ll just come out here and sit looking back at the house.  Especially at night, it’s a beautiful view.”

Walking around the pool, taking in this space where contemporary architecture and classic comfort converge, Cara Barnes observes, “We wanted a contemporary home, but it was so important to us that it not be cold. We worked with textures and soft colors to keep it natural.  Someone came over not long ago and told me, ‘Your home is so welcoming and warm,’ and that to me was the biggest compliment I could imagine.”

The Barnes home will be one of the featured stops on the American Institute of Architecture’s home tour, which makes place April 14.

• House Porn Wednesday •
• Mixing patterns is easier than you think in decor •
• Refreshing Green •
• Contemporary Jewel •
• A Tropical Paradise in Quail Creek •
• Rhythms of Tuscany •
• New Flatiron Style •
• From the Bible Belt to the Big Apple •
• Design Focus: John Chadwick •
• Studio Style •
• What's Ours is Yours •
• The Designer's Oklahoma Residence •

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Interiors by John Chadwick

Revised: October 16, 2015
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