Cara Smith Barnes had driven past her future home all her life. It was easy to spot – mostly because for decades, a small herd of life-sized deer sculptures had gazed regally off toward the horizon, completely unaware of the thousands of cars passing through the busy intersection at North Penn and Wilshire in Nichols Hills.
The house was built in 1950 and home to several generations of the Troup family. “Mrs. Troup was a groundbreaking woman: She was a real estate developer, and developed the shopping center across from Penn Square Mall,” says Cara Smith Barnes, who owns the home with her husband Robert. They divide their time between their horse ranch in Basalt, Colorado, and their Nichols Hills home. “We breed racing quarter horses and train, lease and sell hunter-jumpers,” she says.
Smith Barnes is a pretty remarkable woman in her own right, and her husband is no slouch either. She’s an avid horsewoman, and a few years ago she trained for and completed arguably the most difficult endurance ride in the world – the Mongol Derby, which retraces the postal route across Mongolia Genghis Khan created in 1224. Robert, the other half of this fantastic duo, has been a notably successful oil and gas attorney.
The pair first met twice in the span of two weeks, once by chance and once on a blind date. “We met at the museum rooftop 12 years ago and talked for a while. Then I left,” she recalls. “Two weeks later, a friend was setting me up on a blind date and was describing him to me. I said, ‘I think I’ve met him.’”
She had. Their first date was at Iron Star, and it was instant love. “I sat there talking with him and I thought, ‘Wow, there is nothing wrong with him – he’s lovely, interesting, fun, kind-hearted, generous and handsome.’” From that date, the pair has been inseparable.
When they found their home, they knew that renovation was a necessity, but there was an important balance to be struck between modernizing and preserving the home’s innate beauty.
(clockwise from top left)
• The sitting area in the master bedroom is home to two cheery red Barcelona chairs from Mod50s Modern in Tulsa, and a Mid-century capiz-shell chandelier sourced by Cara’s father, Jack SmithSchick, owner of Architectural Antiques in Oklahoma City. The stone wall and copper fireplace are original to the house.
• Sunny and bright, the outdoor kitchen and dining space includes Masters chairs designed by Philippe Starck and Eugeni Quitllet for Kartell.
• The home’s original master bath had already been remodeled, so the original midcentury features (including a sunken Roman tub) were gone. Van Stavern designed an airy bathroom featuring walnut veneer floating cabinets with an underlit translucent Okite quartz countertop. The tile is white vein-cut marble.
• The kitchen bar is original to the home, right down to its Mid-century style legs. The Italian leather barstools are from Contempo Designs. The tile, which lends polish and visual texture, is Bluestone Porcelain Tile from Crossville.
The interior of the house is a multi-sensory mix of Mid-century and contemporary furnishings, great art and lots of natural light. Interior designer Vicki VanStavern, IIDA, LEED AP, helped the pair choose a color palette that would work well with the era of the home and its furnishings.
Throughout the remodeling process, creative re-use of materials, energy efficiency and other green practices, such as choosing low-water-use plants for landscaping, were front and center when making choices. Sometimes great intentions turned into complicated operations, but the results are beautiful.
“When we bought the house, the original concrete driveway was in place, but we needed to replace it. At that time, we were thinking of getting LEED certification, and we thought that a great repurposing would be to cut up the original driveway and use it to construct a fountain, fire pit, wall, walkway and patio in the back. We had no idea how incredibly labor-intensive that would turn out to be,” Smith Barnes says, able to laugh about it now.
“We did a ton of planting, too. Our goal was that everything should either be low-water, or native. So we have a lot of redbuds, forsythia, junipers and clover. Randy Marks and Ground Effects understood our vision and are continuing to help us realize it.”
(clockwise from left)
• In the entryway, a massive sculpture by Oklahoma City sculptor Don Narcomey looks deceptively delicate, but required significant engineering to anchor in place. Titled “Portal,” it’s a water oak root unearthed by Narcomey.
• While Robert selected the furnishings in the great room, Cara chose everything here. “Mongolian Horses” is a triptych photograph by Lynda SmithSchick, the Confluence sofa and Flax chairs were both designed by Philippe Nigro for Ligne Roset and the rug is a piece by Joan Weissman. The marble fireplace surround and wood paneling are original to the house.
• The lounge chair and ottoman are by Charles Eames for Herman Miller, and the coffee table is by Noguchi for Herman Miller. The fiber art piece is “Skyline Moonlight” by Lesley Richmond, of Tansey Contemporary Gallery in Santa Fe, and the photo of the grass behind the Barnes’ home in Aspen was taken by Lynda SmithSchick, who is Cara’s mother and a professional photographer. An old corner closet was transformed into a cocktail bar fronted with Paldao veneer.
• The master bedroom is an oasis of comfort and color. The Ruche bed is by Ligne Roset, and more Colorado cross-pollination hangs above the bed in the form of an oil painting by Shannon Neumann of Aspen. Vintage mid-century Lucite lamps make for cozy reading in bed.