Photo by Alison Conklin
Dallas Shaw is throwing out the rulebook when it comes to designing her Wilmington home by straying from traditional and diving headfirst into eclecticism.
When Dallas Shaw settled into her home in Wilmington’s Triangle neighborhood, she told the painters she’d hired, “I want the dining room matte black, and everything else bright white.” Urging her to consider color swatches more traditionally suited for the 1910 American Foursquare—muted beiges, yellows, greens—the painters “thought I had lost it,” Shaw recalls. But the fashion illustrator and commercial interior designer didn’t care for traditional; she wanted a “blank canvas” for her own creative vision.
That was in 2013, and Shaw’s 2,832-square-foot space—a simple floor plan juxtaposed by ornate woodwork and fixtures, typical of city houses of the early 20th century—has since been a work in progress.
“I wasn’t even looking to buy a house, but it was love at first sight. I am obsessed with all the beautiful details,” says Shaw, who shares the home with pups Ziggy and Percy. She points to sculptured moldings, hidden doors, diamond muntins on the windows, decorative escutcheons and fabulous built-ins, like benches and bookshelves, that exist in every room.
“Initially, I was traveling a lot for work, so I never really did anything with the house,” Shaw says. Then, Donna Karan New York, for whom she was a fragrance ambassador at the time, wanted to film a commercial in her living room. With its open layout and ambient light, the room is Shaw’s favorite.
While the updated décor was perfect for DKNY, “it didn’t feel like me,” Shaw says. So when filming wrapped and then new projects in Delaware started keeping her at home more (she’s the creative behind Faire Market and Café, Girard Craft & Cork and the Blitzen pop-up downtown, and has multiple new concepts in the works), Shaw decided to focus on making it her own.
Wanting to preserve its history and integrity, she’s left the original structure—a stucco exterior with louvered shutters and a hipped roof; a wraparound porch supported by large, fluted columns, reminiscent of a Georgian Colonial; scuffed hardwood flooring and all the moldings, mostly untouched so far. Some major renovations—like central heat and air, and a brick mudroom built onto the back—were made by previous owners.
But when it comes to furnishings, Shaw doesn’t believe in honoring a home’s architecture style.
“I love breaking rules,” she says. “When I was introduced to the fashion industry, I ignored all the rules of how to dress and learned to trust myself and find my own style.…The same thing happened when I started doing interiors. I didn’t study interior design, so when I would walk into a space, I didn’t have any rules in my head—and that ended up working well for me.”
An avid traveler and collector, Shaw prefers an eclectic assemblage of pieces from different eras that reflect her tastes and experiences. “I’ve never understood why anyone would go to a showroom and buy a set of matching furniture,” she says. “When you mix, that’s what makes it a home.”
With this gypset-style approach, Shaw started with her favorite room. It’s also the first one you enter through the front door, and it’s designed to feel like two separate spaces. To create more symmetry, Shaw duplicated wainscoting that was originally only on one side. Departing from stark white, on one wall she opted for a muted jewel-tone textured wallpaper, a backdrop for a vintage console table that inconspicuously displays a flat-screen TV. A rectangular coffee table with a large marble surface is hugged by a set of modern McGuire back-knot chairs in light oak, and a low, soft camel leather sofa.
“The original idea for this room was brass chairs and more formal—but then I thought, I want to live in the space. I want my nephews to come over and jump on the couch,” Shaw says. Searching for pieces that would wear well with time, she chose the couch for its “squish factor.” To make it even more inviting, Shaw added a woven Moroccan handira and had Calico Corners make crushed velvet covers for big, cushy throw pillows.
Adding personality to a rose-colored chaise from West Elm, she had the same fabric experts reupholster the seat and back cushions in a deeper geranium-pink to create two-toned blocking—one of her other design “obsessions.” At its side, a floral foldaway tray serves as a drawing or computer table when Shaw wants to use the space for work.
Potted ferns and philodendrons propped on a window seat, and square serving trays used for fashion magazines, crystals and fresh blooms, all layer another bohemian element in the mix.
At the opposite side of the great room, the traditional fireplace warms two small seating areas: a reclaimed-wood bistro table with “unmatching” studded leather chairs “perfect for having breakfast,” as well as a built-in bench that Shaw converted into a banquette with a comfortable cushion.
In between, a painted metallic cowhide rug she purchased at a design show in Las Vegas softens the industrial wheel accent table that sits on top. Above both, a brass sputnik chandelier from Angerstein’s Design Center draws the eye.
“I love perusing modern design stores, antique shops (Brandywine River Antiques Market and the Chadds Ford Antique mall are two local favorites) and flea markets when I travel,” Shaw says, noting one of her most cherished finds on the mantel: a tiny oil painting inside a thick, gold Baroque frame. “I have no idea who the artist it,” she says. “It just spoke to me.”
Shaw flicks a switch, and a neon sign reading, “Just gimme the light” in her own script lights up hot pink. “This is my other favorite piece,” she says. “The old charm mixed with personal style is what makes this place shine for me. The modern touches highlight the old pieces in a new way.”
Adjacent the ombre wall, the dining room is entirely unexpected. Bathed in statement black-and-gold Scalamandre Zebra wallpaper, the space is surprisingly bright with a bay window that spans the width of an alcove. Modern black Roman shades with brass studs, also custom designed, and another heavy sputnik chandelier (also from Angerstein’s) contrast two vintage floral directors-style chairs flanking the window. Two antique mirrors—one propped at ceiling height—bounce light from one side to the other.
“I love the way these look leaning against the wall,” Shaw explains to show that they’re here with purpose and not a project in waiting.
A china cabinet—another fabulous built-in—houses pretty glassware, plates and platters. In the center, a sleek wood table and chairs (“an Ikea find, can you believe it!”) pay homage to Danish midcentury modern design. Beneath it, a sisal rug softens and ties the room together.
At the back of the first floor, a powder room and kitchen remain a work in progress. Up the L-shaped stairs—wide across, with carved skirts and walnut banisters, and a large Palladian window at the landing—two more rooms have been remodeled.
Connected to the master bedroom by a doorway, Shaw decided to turn the “nursery, as the Realtors called it,” into a walk-in closet. A gold abstract floral wallpaper, designed by Philly’s Joy Cho, blankets all four walls, while Shaw has found utilitarian functions for her many treasures—a church gate to display shoes; old door knockers for hanging clothes; trunks, trays and rolling racks for frocks, bijouterie and other fabulous finds. The space has many times been the setting for QVC’s Inspired Style series, with Shaw as the host.
Across the hall, the guest room is reminiscent of an old New York City or Paris apartment, with tall glass doors that open to a sunny balcony overlooking the side yard and front street. (“It’s where I come to enjoy my coffee every morning,” Shaw says, jostling the tricky lock to get outside.) A statement chandelier drops at the center of the room spacious enough for only one sofa (a pullout) and a minimalist coffee table on concrete cylinders. Around the perimeter, Shaw showcases more found objects: a large ormolu mirror, a tiny jute chair, a wooden crucifix holding a candlestick.
“I’m far from finished, as you can see,” she says, moving toward the second-floor bathroom, which she plans to extend into the floor’s fourth room, and then the third-floor art studio—two separate rooms, one with a half-moon window—also under renovation. What’s been done has been featured in Domino, Rue, InStyle and others. “The rest,” she says, “I think is going to be even better.”
This is the first of a two-part series. Read more this spring at delawaretoday.com.