Modern Luxury March 2007
Not for the faint of art, a provocative exhibit finds a home By Lisa Martin | Photos by Cory Boemer Susannah and Baird Blanton dwell on the dark side. Fort Worth transplants, who for the last year-and-a-half have called a boxy cement and limestone beauty just a mile south of downtown Austin home, indulge their mutual and long-held obsession with the macabre throughout heir gallery-style residence. Human and animal skulls, doll remnants, fine rt made from cow's blood and all manner of vintage medical equipment, some items of which appear downright sinister-looking, have earned a spot in the couple's custom house. Oh, and who can forget the painting done by one of America's most infamous mass murderers? When it comes to fine art, these eal estate developers and investors (Susannah also works as an art consultant) have a finely honed sensibility that embraces weighty, brooding and shadowy themes, which range from the political and the sexual to wry social statements. The home's exterior, with its Douglas fir accents and dramatic lighting, asks any hint of the ominous objects within its walls. Builder/designer Chris Kajfosz re-imagined the footprint of a teardown as an organic, fluid and angular two-story building. The resulting 1,800 square-foot house boasts bamboo floors, museum-style white walls as well as layers of lighting that all to mind a well-designed art gallery. Perhaps more than anything else, the ultra-open kitchen helped sell the owners on the space. The cantilevered cabinets above the sink "are about the greatest, happiest accident in the whole place," says Susannah. "My husband loved how they looked like medical cabinets." To find an alternative to a typical island for the cavernous kitchen, the Blantons headed to Obsolete, ne of their favorite haunts in Santa Monica, Calif. There, they wound up purchasing the large embalming table they had been looking at for a couple f years. The same height as the black granite countertops, the splendid piece serves as a prep station, a buffet or a bar with equal aplomb. The dining room table, bordered by Philippe Starck's already iconic Louis host chairs, was the brainchild of Susannah. Back in Los Angeles years ago, she found an old Mexican door from the 1930's, then worked with artisans to esign the steel base and the glass top. The hair-on hide rug adds another elcome dose of depth and texture while also delineating the dining space. Above a cabinet hangs one of the couple's most beloved pieces of art: a ortrait of Susannah done by Dallas-based artist Cory Boemer. "I had known Susannah all of five minutes when I asked her to sit for the portrait, which is part of a series of portrait masks, all based on the idea f simulated reality," says the native Texan about his Masque of S. Blanton, part of his Simulated Portrait Masques series. "Five months later when I showed it to her, she was utterly and completely speechless. She finally said to me, 'You are either psychic or you got lucky!'" The tongue-in-cheek painting of a vanilla ice cream cone that hangs in the adjacent living room by Bill Barminski has become another favorite of the couple's His ironic portrait of the Trix rabbit of breakfast cereal fame, complete with the stated subtext, Nothing Works Faster, occupies a prominent place in the couple's office. Now based in Southern California, the artist has earned a reputation for his iconic imagery and arch riffs on advertising. In terms of furnishings for the office, the Blantons had the wood library shelves and complementary desk custom made. The wire chair in that room, meanwhile, once belonged to the estate of Susannah's aunt, Electra Carlin, whose Carlin Galleries in Fort Worth influenced the local art scene for nearly three decades. Among this pioneering art-world figure's enduring gifts to her community and beyond: introducing Inuit art to the Southwest. An Inuit piece, courtesy of Electra, hangs above the couple's bed, which Susannah dressed in simple linens. Arguably the most eye-catching element of the room is a pair of Sicilian rod puppets from the early 20th century. The Blantons purchased the colorful duo at an antique toy fair. Originally carried through the streets of Italy on metal poles, the jointed puppets, which were stuffed with a blend of old paper and horse hair, have metal hooks coming out of their heads. Susannah describes the study as the only room in the home that her husband can claim entirely his own. "We make all the decisions together on what art we buy, but Baird is on his own in that room. He can take all the credit or all of the blame." Longstanding fascination with everything from monster films and grisly comic books to old memorial photos (the one-time practice in certain cultures of taking photos of their dead in coffins) and vintage medical equipment all find a spot in his domain alongside skulls, war crime photos and just about any other object or idea that society considers taboo. Case in point: Among the art housed in this room is a painting by executed serial killer John Wayne Gacy. In a hallway hangs Blue Portrait, a painting by Robert Tercek, who spent years living in the Soviet Union, which undoubtedly influenced his starkly powerful pieces. Another large-scale treasure makes its home on the second floor landing: a massive six-foot by eight-foot cow painted in beef blood on plywood, the work of acclaimed Los Angeles-based artist Liz Young. Nearby resides a collection of baby dolls in various states of disrepair, some of which look undeniably Twilight Zone-esque. The Blantons have accumulated the pieces (and parts) from different venues over the years. And while the house may evoke nightmares in some, to the Blantons, it's no less than a dream come true. "This is just the kind of place we have always wanted," says Susannah. "Showing off our things in this sort of way is true to our spirit and true to the house."