In this atypical suburban home, more is more
“If it isn’t fabulous, it’s meaningless.” That’s the philosophy of Los Angeles maximalist decorator Hutton Wilkinson, who inspired Courtney Madden to turn her League City home into a gallery of collectibles that many describe as a museum when they step through the front door.
Wilkinson, who worked alongside Tony Duquette, author of “More is More,” for 25 years, now runs the Duquette Studios in Beverly Hills and his opulent taste has been emulated by many people who shun the idea that less is more.
Madden’s 2,700-square-foot, two-story home, with four bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, family room, kitchen, breakfast nook and dining room that now serves as Madden’s office, boasts a décor that’s a combination of fine art, rare collectibles, garage sale and resale items, bargains off eBay and found objects. From exotic to pricey to kitsch, every item stands out and each has a story.
“When I first saw the house six years ago, I didn’t have a vision,” Madden said. “Everything was beige, including the wall-to-wall carpet, so I initially decorated the entire house like I thought it was supposed to look in a suburban setting. Then I looked around and hated it. It wasn’t me.”
After ripping up the carpet and painting the concrete floors a soft gray, she remodeled the kitchen, installed new window frames and made new window treatments for the breakfast nook by gluing tweed fabric onto Roman shades.
Almost every inch of wall space in the entire house is covered with exquisite art. Some frames contain photos of family members, while others still feature the pictures that came with the frames.
“It doesn’t matter that I don’t know the people,” Madden said. “Some are quite interesting, and if they have character and it fits, I just leave them like they are.”
The most eye-catching room of the house is Madden’s office, which includes everything from a life-sized taxidermy peacock to a collection of busts, body-part sculptures, gargoyles, antique clay pottery, a statue of Venus wearing an African ceremonial hat, geodes, volumes of books and a 5-foot-tall stack of design magazines. Most interesting are a traveling gypsy table adorned with a tasseled velvet cloth and a kneeling prayer chair. Medical novelties, prison art, obelisk- and prism-shaped crystals, as well as objects of brass, stone, stained glass, sheet metal and more are crowded artfully together.
“The weirder things are, the more I like them,” said Madden, who is quick to point out that her house is not typical of her neighborhood. “My taste varies from modern to traditional to dark art, plus there are no rules here and I don’t play it safe when it comes to décor.”
A DrugX sign on the wall was custom designed from a porcelain table top Madden found at an antique shop. She’d been wanting one of the old pharmacy signs, but they were out of her price range, so she made one herself, she said.
The small downstairs powder room is devoted to a collection of tastefully painted and drawn nudes.
Art dominates the walls in the family room, particularly a large mural that pays homage to French artist Jean Cocteau. A cabinet below holds a variety of tall crystal obelisks. Two urns purchased at a Galveston antique shop sit atop the fireplace mantle, underneath a large contemporary painting. The tessellated marble coffee table holds a fortune teller’s crystal ball.
The downstairs master bedroom is full of Madden’s finds, including a round table containing a collection of crystals and gem stones, more nude art, books from thrift shops and something she calls tramp art — objects made with small pieces of wood taken from everyday sources like wooden cigar boxes and shipping crates.
The master bath has an art deco theme, soaking tub and a hand-painted folding screen depicting heaven or whatever assumption you want to make.
Ascending the stairs, the landing resembles a mini-museum with masterfully framed art atop a bookshelf full of cubbyholes containing a variety of Madden’s assemblages.
At the top of the stairs, a porcelain greyhound dog sits beneath a tall fiberglass mannequin wearing a throng of rosaries around its neck.
“I am attracted to religious things,” Madden said.
A sculpture by Richard Zawitz from his Tangle series sits on a table in front of a wall covered with 42 geode paintings by French artist Claus Caspari.
The playroom and three bedrooms belong to Madden’s three children, who don’t mind the weird, often bizarre, objects on display, including a sculpture of human body parts.
“My kids are used to all this, because it’s all they’ve ever known,” Madden said. “Their friends are sometimes taken aback, however.”
Her husband, Michael, is cool with her obsession, she said.
Madden doesn’t have a plan when she’s seeking objects for her collection, she said.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” she said. “Just constantly stopping by a certain place or looking online. Ideas wake me up in the middle of the night. I also look through a lot of books and magazines. I’m more inspired by older vintage books or by people who have imperfect items.”