For PaperCity editor-at-large Maxine Trowbridge, 2018 is already shaping up to be an exciting year. As board president of Dallas Contemporary, she’s ushering the museum into its 40th year with exhibits including the tromp l’oeil and surrealist creations of Mary Katrantzou, the London fashion designer. She is also the event co-chair for MTV Re:Define — her second year undertaking the star-studded event, which this year honors British bad-girl artist Tracey Emin.
As Max leaps into the whirlwind that is Dallas’ spring art scene, it helps to have a house that doubles as a retreat from the world. A relaxing infinity pool is viewed through glass walls in every room, including those in Max’s home office. Beyond that, a canopy of tall oaks shades lushly terraced, rolling grounds. A soothing fountain bubbles from a modern Japanese-style courtyard. Coming home to such serene environs after a hectic day certainly takes the edge off.
“It’s like I have my own personal spa,” she says.
Max and her husband, entrepreneur and cybersecurity industry leader Ben Trowbridge, had been looking for their dream house when she discovered this one online in 2013. It checked all the right boxes.
“We wanted a mid-century modern worth saving, something we could work on together,” she says.
The property also had a pedigree. Built in 1952, it was designed by renowned Dallas architect Harwood K. Smith, who went on to found one of the world’s largest architectural and design firms, HKS.
“That added an extra layer to it,” she says. “The house had some history.”
But it was the spectacular setting that sealed the deal. Set on an acre off Inwood Road, the one-story house rambled beautifully along the lush topography that tugged at Max’s rural roots in southwest England.
“I grew up with green pastures and trees,” she says, “and that garden reminded me of home.”
With a standing-seam metal roof, copious floor-to-ceiling windows, and a façade clad in historic St. Joe brick, Smith’s architecture is grounded in early modern Texas vernacular design. Made famous by O’Neil Ford, the style was refined by other top modernist architects of the era including Smith, Howard Meyer, and Frank Welch. Over the decades, the house underwent alterations that obscured its pristine materials and lines, including a jazzy 1990s redo with padded suede, mirrored walls, and a shagreen ceiling.
After interviewing several potential candidates to return the house to its original minimalist glory, the Trowbridges hired Lionel Morrison protégé Joshua Nimmo of Nimmo Architecture. They also asked him to increase the square footage — carefully.
“We didn’t want to affect the style of the house by adding another story, and we loved the long roofline,” Max says. “Josh came up with the idea to go down.”
A natural 30-foot slope in elevation to the back provided just the right solution for a 1,500-square-foot bi-level wing. The top level includes a master bedroom with a living area, which Max uses as her home office. The lower level has its own entry, with a wine room under the stairs and two more bedrooms and bath.
“We wanted to respect what the architect intended,” Nimmo says. The new wing also needed to transition seamlessly with the rest of house. “We tried to make a quiet little statement that didn’t take away from the original structure. But we didn’t want to mimic it.”
To accomplish this, Nimmo incorporated architectural elements already found throughout the house, such as vaulted ceilings, skylights, and steel rafters. The kitchen, which leads to the new wing, was renovated in the same manner. It all adds up to a space that’s “floaty and light,” Nimmo says.
The rest of the house was gutted and redone with white walls suitable for hanging art, serene white-oak floors, and white marble slabs in the baths. The original monumental carved-wood front door designed by Harwood K. Smith was kept, and a massive pivoting door in white oak was designed to separate the master bedroom wing from the living areas. To enhance views to the outside, old bulky wooden posts supporting the windows and sliding doors were replaced with technologically advanced minimal joints.
“We were looking for a panoramic view to the back, and I think it worked,” Nimmo says.
Max’s ties to the Dallas art world and her years as an editor introduced her to interior designer Brant McFarlain of R Brant Design, whom the Trowbridges hired to help with the interiors. Like Nimmo, he had been a protégé of Lionel Morrison and had worked on the homes of contemporary art collectors Patrick and Lindsey Collins and Derek and Christen Wilson. The Trowbridges gravitated to McFarlain’s clean and refined aesthetic — a look that defers to the art, rather than competing against it.
“Early in my career, I started doing major art collectors’ houses, and I learned to design interiors that are quiet and to let the clients place the art,” McFarlain says. “That worked really well with Max’s house, because she likes color in art, and she has a good eye for placement. For the furnishings, I kept things neutral with a sprinkling of color.”
While Max doesn’t describe herself as a serious collector — everything the couple owns is on the walls, and they don’t rotate art from storage — they have amassed a major contemporary collection over the years. The museum-worthy list includes works by Damien Hirst, Maya Hayuk, Joseph Havel, Richard Phillips, Adam Ball, Marc Quinn, Dan Rees, and Kai & Sunny.
“I love to be around bright colors,” says Max, whose living room is dominated by a powerful, multi-hued geometric piece by Hayuk. Her first big purchase was one of Hirst’s neon-green butterflies, which now hangs in the dining room. Max is crazy about butterflies, and when she wanted to use Christian Lacroix’s Butterfly Parade wallpaper in the powder bath, McFarlain had a panel of it framed like a work of art for the backsplash.
Other black-and-white works contrast with the color; the Havel pencil sketch depicts one of his sculptures in the permanent collection at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
“My career started off in fashion design and illustration, and it’s that element of sketching that appeals to me,” Max says of the work. When it comes to choosing art, she’s guided by what the couple already owns. “We edit our purchases carefully so they work together to tell a story,” Max says.
McFarlain’s mission was to create interiors that play a supporting role — not only to the artwork, but also to the stunning architecture and soothing exterior views. He incorporated furniture that the Trowbridges already owned with others purchased or custom-designed for the house.
“Max had a vision of what she wanted,” McFarlain says. “I just helped her make the right decisions and put her artistic flair to it.”
Max’s custom white Hollywood Regency credenza and Schonbek crystal chandelier glisten in the dining room, which McFarlain balanced with a sculptural dining table designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner Sir Norman Foster and classic Knoll Saarinen chairs covered in deep red mohair.
“When I use color, I want it to be sophisticated and last the test of time,” says McFarlain, who is known for his neutral selections.
Furnishings in the living room are balanced between sleek mid-20th-century modern and 1940s glamour, such as a high-backed custom sofa upholstered in cream wool and a gondola sofa, which Max discovered at Emily Summers’ studio. A pair of blue Minotti chairs provides the little jewels Max likes without adding too much color, McFarlain says. A cool 1960s chaise, which Max discovered at Again & Again, floats in front of a large window overlooking the pool. Here and there, McFarlain placed a few cherished antiques Max inherited from her grandparents in England.
“I have always liked a mix,” Max says. “I come from old things, but I like new. This house has given me an opportunity to bring together all the things I care about.”
McFarlain created a dark and sexy media room that bridges Max’s love of glamour with the architecture’s need for sleekness.
“You can sometimes put modern and glamour together, and that’s what we tried to do in this room,” he says.
A black slatted wood wall, designed by Joshua Nimmo, slides to reveal a flat-screen TV, and the sleek statuary-marble fireplace provides contrast and richness. Everyone loved the Macassar ebony built-in bookcases, which were from the previous renovation; now they store books and photographs. After some discussion about the right lounge chair for Ben, McFarlain suggested a sleek Minotti chair and ottoman.
“He loves it,” Max says. “He says it’s the most comfortable chair he’s ever had.”
This is, after all, a house where relaxation and respite are as important as the interior furnishings and art. The Trowbridges’ Zen-like approach to their home was inspired by a 2013 trip to Japan, which jumpstarted their design for the infinity pool.
“I love Tadao Ando’s architecture, and we originally wanted the pool to come up to the windows, like it does at The Modern in Fort Worth,” says Max.
Refinements to their design moved the pool a few feet from the house, but the effect is just as dramatic. Studio Outside designed a boardwalk that traverses the water and backyard steps that take you down into the garden below.
Naturally, the house has become a popular place to decompress.
“It’s so serene and so peaceful that you feel calm the minute you walk through the front door,” Max says.