Throwback Home Tour: An Antique Dealer Creates a European-like Dwelling in Texas

In central Houston, Kay O'Toole creates a palace in three elegantly proportioned rooms.

O’Toole’s collectionn of portraiture includes two Saint Barbaras and a treasured Madonna found on a trip to Peru. Salvaged candelabras add drama and vintage charm to the cool, neutral furnishings. All photos by Patrick Cline/Lonny.
O’Toole’s collectionn of portraiture includes two Saint Barbaras and a treasured Madonna found on a trip to Peru. Salvaged candelabras add drama and vintage charm to the cool, neutral furnishings. All photos by Patrick Cline/Lonny.

When Houston antiques dealer Kay O’Toole decided to build her dream home, she knew exactly what she wanted: “I was striving for elegant simplicity and the patina of age,” she says. With the help of architect Kirby Mears and builder David Black, she designed a three-room Mediterranean-style residence—located in the courtyard behind her shop, Kay O’Toole Antiques and Eccentricities—that gives the impression of an expansive old-world villa.

Kay O’Toole stands in the living room of her Houston home.
Kay O’Toole stands in the living room of her Houston home.
"Provide your home with a pleasing fragrance," advises O&squot;Toole. It makes coming home speical."
"Provide your home with a pleasing fragrance," advises O'Toole. It makes coming home speical."

Constructed and furnished with O’Toole’s vintage finds, the house features salvaged wide-plank pine floors with an inlay motif reproduced from an image of an 18th-century Swedish library she spotted in an issue of World of Interiors. The marble found in the kitchen and the bathroom was rescued from a demolished Houston post office. Even the windows throughout the home were recovered from an estate built in the early 1930s.

In the living room, a fossilized shell provides the fireplace’s centerpiece. The furnishings throughout O’Toole’s home are upholstered exclusively in Fortuny fabrics. “Only the best,” says O’Toole, “only Fortuny.” 
In the living room, a fossilized shell provides the fireplace’s centerpiece. The furnishings throughout O’Toole’s home are upholstered exclusively in Fortuny fabrics. “Only the best,” says O’Toole, “only Fortuny.” 
Kay O'Toole Creates a Palace in Three Rooms
Clockwise from top left: The bedroom’s softly colored furnishings conjure an atmo- sphere of ease and serenity. A wooden figurine wears an antique crown. A marble bust stis on a countertop. In the kitchen, a renovated wooden altar, from a 19th- century French chapel, serves as a range hood. 
Clockwise from top left: The bedroom’s softly colored furnishings conjure an atmo- sphere of ease and serenity. A wooden figurine wears an antique crown. A marble bust stis on a countertop. In the kitchen, a renovated wooden altar, from a 19th- century French chapel, serves as a range hood. 

Contributing to the home’s serene ambience are the artworks, trinkets, and found objects scattered throughout, including a collection of 18th-century Madonna crowns and a bronze bird’s-nest sculpture made by local artist Lisa Ludwig. “I define my style as dramatic and personal,” says O’Toole, “with plenty of breathing room!”

O’Toole found the template for her iron bed in a book of 18th- century Italian furnishings.
O’Toole found the template for her iron bed in a book of 18th- century Italian furnishings.
Antique Swedish furnishings add an artisanal quality to the bedroom’s design.
Antique Swedish furnishings add an artisanal quality to the bedroom’s design.
Kay's Advice for making a space feel larger
  • 1. Give your furniture room to breathe.

  • 2. Edit, edit, edit your possessions.

  • 3. Pay attention to the sight lines between rooms.

  • 4. A monochromatic palette makes a space appear larger.

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