How do you intro a post that’s a peek into one of your favorite homes in Austin, owned by the city’s best-known magazine editor who also happens to be your best friend? That’s the challenge that faces me today… and I really couldn’t be more thrilled about it. Lauren Smith Ford is the former Style Editor at Texas Monthly and has contributed her multifaceted writing and styling talents to pubs like Elle and The New York Times Magazine, to name a few. She’s made a career of highlighting the lives of some of the most charismatic and creative people in the country, so it’s especially fun to switch it up and turn our lens on her today.
Lauren lives with her husband, Bennett, and their two darling girls (plus one on the way!), in a home that radiates warmth, style, and sophistication – the thought and attention to detail they’ve poured into every element of its design shines especially bright at the holidays. I’ve been the lucky guest at many of their parties, and between Bennett’s cooking and Lauren’s hospitality and flair, I always leave with a major case of warm fuzzies (and not just because of the bubbly.) She told me that growing up, her parents would always host a classic dinner party for their friends at Christmas time:
“It was a decadent feast of beef tenderloin, twice baked potatoes and apple pies. My brothers and I would always sneak out from our rooms to try and be a part of the festivities. Something about recreating that with our closest friends every year feels special.”
Scroll on for scenes from this year’s holiday festivities, plus all the details on how Lauren and Bennett have created such an unforgettable home for hosting.
We love the classic feel of your home. What was your inspiration in designing it, and what was the building process like?
We built our home from the ground up two and a half years ago. I actually like a lot of different styles, so I had to edit myself to make sure I was keeping my design choices consistent enough to all co-exist. I never got to live out my fantasy of living in NYC in my 20s, so I kept going back to the layout and feel of brownstones there. And whenever I would get off track with different ideas, I would go back to that ethos and do a gut check to see if I was on the right track.
I think my love of brownstones all started with Jenna Lyons’ incredible house tour that ran in Domino in 2008. That was 10 years ago, but it really stuck with me.
The end result of our house is brownstone with some English and Texan touches. It was important for me and Bennett to make sure our house didn’t feel like a brand new house on the inside since we both love historic homes. Our amazing architect Sam Burch helped us do that. We also worked with Waller Building Co. and David Wilson for our landscape design.
The book-filled enclave adjacent to your main space is so alluring. How did your library come to be?
We both have a great love of books, and having a whole room dedicated to them is something I have always wanted. Most of our house is white and minimal with touches of color, but we went all in on making this room pop and it makes me happy to look at it every day. I love when I pull in to the driveway at night and it’s lit up in a glow. I am lucky to have some super talented friends in design who helped this room come to life. The now Martha’s Vineyard-based designer Tracey Overbeck Stead helped me choose all the paint colors in my house (this one is Benjamin Moore Bermuda Turquoise). Ann Edgerton found this light at one of my favorite spots, Austin-based antique lighting shop, D&W. I found the table at Anthropologie, the cushion in the nook was made with fabric from Supply Showroom, the chairs are from Design Within Reach, and the Kelly Wearstler draperies that finished out the room were Annie Downing’s great idea!
above: sculpture by Diego Cabezas
What’s the story behind your floors? They certainly don’t look new!
We were determined to find long leaf pine floors for our house because this felt key to making a new house feel old. Bennett scoured Craigslist and finally found what would eventually be our floors in the tiny Texas town of San Saba. They were pulled from an 100-year-old house that was going to be torn down. It was magically the perfect amount of square footage for the entire house. I was skeptical when they arrived—covered in so much dirt that they looked black and beyond repair, but he knew what lay beneath! It’s one of my favorite things about our house.
If there’s one element of your home that stands out above the rest, it’s this mantle. Tell us about it.
Along with the floors, a mantle that felt like it could have lived in an early 1900s brownstone was another piece I really wanted to find. I probably spent hours scouring eBay looking at historic ones all over the country, but I couldn’t find what I wanted in the size we needed. I kept noticing that a company called The Gatz in Maryland sold a lot of beautiful ones. It turned out they could make anything I wanted, so I sent them the design and maybe four months later, it arrived in pieces in a crate and turned out exactly how I imagined. It’s probably my favorite part of the house.
Such sweet stockings. Where are they from?
One of my mom’s best friends who is like an aunt to me and who has always had an incredible creative flair that’s inspired my style, Nancy McBroom, hand-painted these stockings for my daughters with acrylic paints that were then stitched from patterns she made on graph paper on to the stockings. I love all the colors she chose. These are some of the most special pieces we have. Nancy is about to paint her 15th stocking that she does for close friends and family after Christmas!
The greenery you have everywhere is gorgeous as well. Who made it?
I met Elle Worsham, the co-owner of Gracious Garlands, last year when I stopped by to buy a few garlands and wreaths from her late in the season. This year, I went against my nature and actually planned ahead, and she and her team installed the garland on my fireplace, around the front door, and then wreaths around the house. The garlands have added so much holiday cheer this season, and it’s something I definitely want to do every year. Gracious Garlands (her mom started the business in Nashville 20 years ago) sources the highest quality fresh greenery from farmers around the country. I am excited that starting in January GG will have year-round greenery available. I am convinced that you can never have too much garland for a party!
How do you approach holiday decorating?
My mom is kind of the queen of Christmas. To me, her tree, bedecked in all Radko ornaments, will always be my idea of the perfect tree. She has a huge collection of nutcrackers and multiple trees throughout her super festive home. Even at age 36, it still doesn’t feel quite like it’s Christmas until I go home to her house in Corpus Christi. My two daughters inherited her love of decorating, so they practically jump out of bed the day after Thanksgiving, ready to go up to our third floor attic and pull down all of our decorations. We usually spend the whole day blasting holiday music and decorating as a family. I hope our decorations are colorful, happy, and kid-friendly.
Colorful, happy, and kid-friendly they are, indeed! What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?
My mom has six siblings. I am the oldest of 15 cousins and every Christmas Eve, we ALL gather at my grandmother’s home for tamales, a cousin gift exchange, traditional German cookies, and our annual (and very much off key) rendition of “12 Days of Christmas.” My brothers and cousins have always been some of my best friends and favorite people to spend time with, so it’s been really fun to see my girls running around “Nana’s house” with the next generation of cousins and loving being with our big family as much as I did and still do.
What’s on your holiday wishlist?
A lot of down time and spontaneous fun with my family (and if Santa wants to bring a vintage Victorian ring from Bell & Bird too, that would be great too!)
What was your approach when designing the flow of your space?
One thing I kept saying in the design process was more windows. Light is a huge deal for us, and I love the way sunlight changes rooms throughout the day. A lot of our rooms have multi-uses, like the dining table becomes a kids’ art space, or the kitchen island moonlights as my office. One of my favorite things in this room is the steel French doors that line the back of the house, especially because Bennett made them himself. We have a long and narrow lot which I think lends itself to this open floor plan.
We can’t take our eyes off your kitchen. It’s at once both classic and show stopping. What inspired the space?
I think it was Josephine House where I first began my love affair with white marble. Everyone warned me against doing it since we have young kids and it stains so easily, but I just love the veining of natural stone too much that I threw caution into the wind and used it in the kitchen and all the bathrooms. No matter the cozy vignette I set up around the fireplace or a bar in another part of the house, the kitchen is always where everyone gathers.
artwork by Minta Maria from her Nativo Collection
above: range from La Cornue with custom hood; unlacquered brass faucet from Rohl Perrin & Rowe; drawer pulls from Schaub and Company
What do you love about entertaining in your space?
Bennett and I usually team up. He’s an amazing cook, like I am talking he’s roasted a whole pig before and made elaborate (and delicious) molé dishes on his first attempt. I love decorating the table, inviting the guests, pouring drinks (ha) and making the playlist. It’s a good occasion for bringing our complimentary passions together.
I think it’s always more fun to have people in your home for dinner rather than going out to a restaurant. The conversation seems to be more meaningful (and the laughs are a little louder).
Roast Chicken reminds me so much of winter and it’s always such a nourishing, nostalgic dish. We’ve tried a lot of recipes over the years, but nothing compares to this flavorful rendition by Barefoot Contessa! This is what we always make for close friends when they have a new baby (kids actually love it for leftovers too).
Tell us about your holiday China.
I do have a great collection of dishes thanks to my mom and my aunt who gifted me a piece of Spode every year for Christmas ever since I was a child so that I now have an almost complete collection. This classic Spode always mixes well with my white Heath Ceramics plates.
And your dining room light fixture?
The dining room light, which is the center piece downstairs, is by LA-based Brendan Ravenhill. Ann Edgerton was the first person to send it to me, and I fell in love with it.
above: dining chair upholstery from Supply Showroom
How do you approach florals when entertaining?
I met Antonio Bond three years ago through a mutual friend of ours, event planner Erika Stojeba. When she told me about a bearded florist (and teddy bear of a guy) who was super into heavy metal and who’s real name was “Antonio Bond,” I had to meet him. His work under his company Transplants Floral never fails to blow me away. The way he arranges flowers is so unexpected that I really do have an emotional reaction to his work when it arrives. It strikes me with awe every time. I try not to give him too much direction when I need an arrangement for a dinner party because I am just delighted to let his creativity flow and see what happens!