AT HOME ARKANSAS
MODERN FAMILY, CLASSIC STYLE
Written by Stephanie Maxwell Newton. Photographed by Rett Peek. Styled by Steph Smith. Visit Article.
In early 2020, Lauren and Nate Steel started looking for a house that would suit their needs as a growing family. “Our previous home had some great outdoor living, but the family living room was very cramped and didn’t have very much light,” Lauren says. “We needed more space, and I also wanted it to be more open with plenty of room for kids to move around.”
When the couple happened upon this home for sale in the Heights, Lauren invited designer Jonathan Parkey—who had helped her pull together several rooms in her previous house—to see it. Jonathan, who also owns a namesake store in the neighborhood, immediately saw potential in its classic bones and easy flow. “Lauren is pretty traditional, as is Nate, and I wanted to help them create a home that felt fitting for the older neighborhood, but also fresh and modern,” he says. To achieve this, he juxtaposed traditional elements such as antiques, stripes, and chinoiserie with clean lines and a bold combination of patterns. “We were playing off the idea of someone walking in here and not knowing for sure whether this was once Lauren’s grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s house,” Jonathan says. “It was that feeling of blowing the dust off something old and making it new again.” Because the Steels have three children under the age of 5, keeping the look playful was also a priority. “I wanted it to be bright and fun in a way that the kids would enjoy, but also worthy of the history of the home,” Jonathan says. “This design feels timeless, and they still have the space to grow into it and entertain.”
The mix of color and pattern was a welcome source of joy in a year where the family ended up spending so much time at home. “We bought this house in February 2020 when I was 8 months pregnant. I had the baby on March 12, which happened to be the day after everything shut down due to COVID,” Lauren says. “I’ve been working from home, and I spend my days pacing between the office, the dining room, and the living room. All the color just makes it really happy and interesting.”
Because the Steels had recently redecorated their previous house, they had several furnishings that served as a starting point, including a set of four deep armchairs. To incorporate the pieces in a new way, Jonathan broke up the set and recovered one pair in a blue velvet performance fabric for the living room. Similarly, the sofa is covered in a Crypton fabric. “Kids were really taken into account even though this is a formal room,” the designer says. A leather and iron chair balances out the room’s more feminine elements, and a convex mirror over the mantel pays homage to classic federal style.
Made for Memories
In the dining room, Jonathan was tasked with finding a table large enough to seat 12, making the room a central spot for family gatherings and supper clubs alike. Clean-lined chairs bring contemporary flair to the flame mahogany set, which Lauren plans to pass down to her oldest daughter one day. Even in this traditional room, Jonathan paid mind to the balance of sophistication and comfort that’s apparent through the home. “We went with this pasty blue color on the walls and ceiling to balance out the weight of the table,” he says. “The lucite lamps have really classic shapes with a more modern appeal, and even the gilded mirror has something a little funkier about it.”
Work Hard, Play Hard
An energetic green coats the walls of the office while also appearing in various applications throughout the room, from the cut-velvet bench to the windowpane pattern on the drapes. “There’s a real mix of high and low in this house,” Jonathan says. “The plaid is almost cabinlike, then with the sisal rug, rattan chair, and an old French-style table used as a desk, it just feels really happy and collected.”
Woven bistro chairs are lightweight and easy to wipe down, making them a perfect perch for young ones around the breakfast table. Here, the homeowners’ children (Mary Ashley, 4, Graham, 2, and Ellen, 1) are able to stay within view of the kitchen while they snack or color. The sleek tulip table and piece of abstract art help modernize the traditional setting.
In the kitchen, Jonathan and his clients decided to keep the existing cabinetry and update the countertops, backsplash, and hardware. To make the island feel more like a focal point, they painted it blue and installed glass and nickel pendants overhead. Repetition of the cooler metal is balanced by the warmth of the hardwoods, barstools, and antique runner. “The kitchen at my old house was cut off from everything, so I cooked less,” Lauren says. “Now, with the way this one is open to the family room, the kids can be in there while I cook, and it makes life so much easier.”
Adjoining the kitchen is a spacious family room complete with an oversized sectional the whole family can pile onto for movie nights. However, the star of the show is a custom painting by Little Rock artist Bryan Frazier depicting Lauren’s hometown and family farmland. “The blue line running vertically is the St. Francis River. On the left side is Wynne, and on the right side is Parkin, which is where both sides of my family are from,” she says. Also depicted in the abstract map are the church where Lauren and Nate were married, her grandparents’ homes, and a beloved lake house. “I love art that means something in respect to where I’m from. That’s just an important part of who we are,” she says. Behind the sectional are the two remaining chairs that once coordinated with the pair in the formal living room. The comfortable seating, now covered in a preppy stripe, provides a spot for the Steels to sit and sip coffee in the mornings with a view of the backyard.