Island home built around couple’s extensive art collection
A copper milk can at the entrance to the home Teri Schaper Tillotson helped design evokes the dairy farm her forebears operated on Galveston Island. But Tillotson has reached even further back in history to create the look and design of her home in Evia, a West End island neighborhood.
Barn doors from 17th-century India, a vintage French factory window frame and a 19th-century French Louis XVI buffet with its original painted finish are among the show-stopping elements she and her husband, Dolph Tillotson, have incorporated into both their home’s elements and its furnishings.
It is a home the Tillotsons have been thinking about for a long time.
“Like so many people today, Teri and I — after owning three other larger homes on the island — had more and more been feeling the need to downsize and uncomplicate our lives with less space, less yard and no pool,” said Dolph Tillotson, who moved to Galveston in 1987 as publisher of The Galveston County Daily News and today serves as president of Southern Newspapers Inc.
Knowing that this house also needed to accommodate the extensive art collection they have gathered over the years, the Tillotsons sought the design services of artist and architect Don W. David Jr. of Destin, Fla., and Mentone, Ala., where the couple maintains a getaway retreat on Lookout Mountain.
Sitting around their cabin’s small table, the couple presented David with design ideas and a listing of the actual measurements of their artwork.
The resulting home today merges a traditional country French interior and South Carolina Low Country exterior. And, as the Tillotsons had hoped, the spacious walls, neutral color palette, double crown molding, high ceilings, arched doorways and multiple windows have enhanced the lush colors and textures of their art collection.
Teri Tillotson also credits Sullivan Builders of Galveston with not only providing quality, efficient work, but also with paying attention to small details.
“For days, the crew sat in the garage area and gently hand-chiseled the edges of each of the travertine floor tiles,” she said.
The result was a softer, more aged appearance, a look more in keeping with her own style that blends modern with antique and turns traditional into transformative.
Other examples include the aforementioned barn doors that dramatically define the entry to the couple’s TV room/home office, and the living room’s ornately carved fireplace surround, which was created by cutting down an 18th-century door frame from Pakistan’s Swat Valley. A slab of carved neem wood from India provides powder room privacy; a weathered pedestal table from a former home has been crowned with a 17th-century Italian hand-hewn limestone farm sink set atop a block of reclaimed limestone from Malta.
“Teri’s ability to see the potential of such items is truly impressive,” Dolph Tillotson said.
He describes these creative adaptations as the “Teri-style,” which sets the tone for much of their home.
He also notes the serendipitous experience they often share when selecting artwork for their home.
“It’s really fun to buy art with Teri,” he said. “Whether we are in Santa Fe, Albuquerque or just visiting local artists and artisans, our pattern is that she tends to go one way and I go the other, and yet somehow we usually converge on the same painting. We have very similar tastes and interests.”
The couple also takes time to get to know the artists and learn the techniques behind their work.
A favorite, Jim Rabby, began painting as a child in the hospital where he was recovering from polio. The entry area artwork by Tom Kirby incorporates actual emerald dust into shimmering surface. In the living room, an Ani Yellowhammer abstract rendered in gold leaf gleams from over the fireplace, next to which stands a metal “Madonna” sculpture created by Bruce Campbell from a reclaimed water heater.
Elsewhere, androgynous beings in diaphanous attire define the late Selina Trieff’s “Two Figures with Goat.” Seaside scenes by the late Virginia Lightner Burnett — formerly of Galveston — add a coastal touch, and the stairway landing is watched over by a whimsical Santiago Pérez piece showing a sleeping lion surrounded by dream-like fantasy characters.
A commissioned pastel oil work by Rabby — so large that it requires almost 50 square feet of display space — dominates the hall, along with similarly large pieces by Hal Larsen and Marshall Noice. Danna Ruth Harvey’s “Elegance of Silence” overlooks the antique French buffet and a rectangular dining table from Belgium.
Occupying an altar-like setting in the home’s brick paved walk-through is an angel-like figure of Mediterranean origin. Dolph Tillotson points out the nearby misty serenity of Kozo Takano’s “Water Hyacinths.”
“It’s such a peaceful image — I can almost fall into it,” he said, adding that other works holding special appeal for him include those of Galveston’s late Susan Eckel and local artists Pam Hatch, René Wiley and architect-turned-artist Jack Morris.
Passing the bar area with its glass cabinets, marble counter, hammered stainless steel sink, ice maker and beverage refrigerator, Buddy, the couple’s much-adored beagle mix, has decided the art tour is over and heads for the kitchen, where the walk-in pantry also serves as a doggy dining room.
Other highlights of the cream-on-cream culinary area include custom-crafted “country-style” cabinetry topped with Lagos Blue limestone and accented with bronze hardware. In addition to state-of-the-art appliances, other special touches include a stove hood painted to look like antique metal and a deep farmhouse-style sink designed to sit on a slight slant to enhance draining. Luminescent Calacatta Caldia marble tops a central work island, and a Hammers & Heels chandelier made of reclaimed metal piping set with Edison-style bulbs provides overhead lighting.
A small open space in the utility room near the back door provides the next surprise.
“And here we have one of the most unusual features of the house — a shower for Buddy,” Dolph Tillotson said, adding with a smile the hope that if he ever is reincarnated, he comes back as “Teri Tillotson’s dog.”
At the rear of the kitchen and utility area is what Dolph Tillotson describes as his favorite room in the house, a screened-in back porch furnished with a big-screen television, lots of comfortable seating, and for chilly football evenings, a pole-style heating unit.
The porch is conveniently connected to the master bedroom with an adjacent luxuriously appointed bath. Decorated in hushed gray and neutral tones, the suite is accented with shimmery silver lamps and other fixtures, and warmed with a soft Persian rug.
Two additional bedrooms are upstairs, one serving as a bunk room for overnight stays by the couple’s five grandchildren and other young relatives. A second “grown up” guest room opens out onto a wide second-story porch on which the French factory window frame, fitted with a mirrored backing, has been mounted to extend the home’s lakefront view.
The Tillotsons met in Galveston and have been married 27 years. The home and the art collection are products of their partnership.
“What I like best about the house in Evia is that it’s a reflection of Teri — of her creativity and her joy and openness,” Tillotson said. “I’m just lucky to be living with her in her house.”