“We walk everywhere—to the grocery store, the zoo, walking trails at the park. The businesses even have dog biscuits so the dogs want to stop at every shop,” says Helen Walker. In addition to adjusting to a new area of town, the Walkers also had to adapt to a smaller abode, a transition made much easier with the help of friend and designer Clarence Brooks. Downsizing meant selectively choosing what furnishings to take and, perhaps more importantly, what to leave behind. Clarence and Helen spent quite a bit of time over the years combing through antiques shops and discovering pieces that spoke to Helen’s heart, much of it French like the silk-covered sofas in the living room. “The glass-top tray table is an example of something that is always trendy in French design—bamboo. The table and the gold garden stool are classic examples of Chinoiserie,” says Clarence, highlighting Helen’s affinity for Gallic style. The end table lamps, two of Helen’s favorite items, are also French from the 1800s. Rustic French tole lamps sit on the mantel providing juxtaposition to the straight lines of the marble surround.
The new dining area accommodates the mahogany table the Walkers moved from their previous home. “It easily seats six and we served 11 for the holidays,” says Helen. But it is the gold Trumeau mirror that reigns. With the carved top and burnished gold finish the mirror shines. Two sangue de boeuf porcelain lamps rest on the pickled oak console table, while gilded urns painted with historic characters add an exquisite finishing touch.
The guest bedroom houses one of Clarence and Helen’s most precious finds, a pair of headboards and footboards discovered buried in the back of an antiques shop. Helen was not initially enthralled with them and said she didn’t think she wanted them, but Clarence replied, “Oh yes you do!” Covered in fabric depicting flowers commonly grown in France, the beds offer a perfect repose for overnight guests. Above the beds, a collection of antique lace handkerchiefs are hung as pieces of art. According to Collector Weekly magazine, handkerchiefs were often made of bobbin lace and came in a variety of shapes—at least until the late 1700s. That’s when Louis XVI, under the influence of Marie Antoinette, declared that all handkerchiefs should be square.
The master bedroom’s iron canopy bed is dressed with a white matelassé and black-and-tan toile. As in many French bedrooms, the room doubles as a sitting area with the addition of a small sofa. A modesty screen covered in silk with satin rosettes is a feminine accent often found in a lady’s boudoir. While all the décor is beautiful, Helen declares the portrait of her dogs hanging above the bed is the room’s piece de resistance. And it’s obvious Watson and Gracie couldn’t agree more.