The Enlightened Tudor
By Shilo Urban
Photos by Jen Morley Burner
A Fort Worth interior designer’s deft touch reimagines a classic architectural form as a cozy nest.
First comes love, then comes marriage — then comes a Tudor house in need of an update. Newlyweds Ben and Katherine Broyles hired interior designer Emily Gilbert in 2019, shortly after moving into their first home. Katherine’s traditional taste matched its timeless architecture, but her youth inspired the designer to give the revamp a fresh spin. “Part of what I tried to do with the house was to make it feel age-appropriate for someone who is in her late 20s,” Emily says.
Located in Fort Worth’s Monticello neighborhood, the house was built in 1943, at the end of the American Tudor Revival phenomenon. The style swept in during the fussy Victorian age when mass industrialization sparked a romanticized longing for the distinct architectural characteristics of the storybook English village: dramatic half-timbering, stout chimneys and steeply pitched roofs. But happily-ever-after endings in modern Tudors could sometimes be spoiled by segmented rooms and limited channels for light.
For the newlyweds’ classic Tudor home, the ideal update required Emily to strike a balance between respecting its historical aesthetic and creating a bright and functional modern space. “I wanted it to feel young and fresh, but not out of place,” she explains. “I think it’s important to hold true to history. We didn’t want to take away from the historical bones of the house.”
Emily and Katherine have a history as well; they worked together on Katherine’s first house post-college. “With any client, there’s a get-to-know-you period — almost like dating — when you’re trying to figure out their style,” says Emily. “It’s deeply personal.” But the two clicked right away. “We were able to connect stylistically very easily.”
This connection, which soon included Ben, made the Tudor project an easy process from the start for Emily. “They trust my abilities. They trust me to nail their style. And when a designer has that freedom and trust, it really helps them to be able to give the best of themselves and to think really creatively.”
One thing on Emily’s mind: the couple’s future children. “We started with the forethought that they would grow their family eventually.” She drew from her own experience as a mother. “I designed it in a way that would work well for family dynamics and what I would have enjoyed in that season of my life.”
Renovations focused on the kitchen and keeping room, a vintage term for a room adjacent to the kitchen where people can gather and “keep” the cook company. Connected by wooden beams overhead, the two spaces create one large room where everyone wants to be. “It is our most used room in the house,” says Katherine.
But before Emily arrived, spatial issues were throwing things off. A long wall of kitchen cabinets extended so far that it felt like they were in a different room. The island was much smaller and oriented toward the TV. A dining table had been squeezed in, too, but there wasn’t room to circulate around it. “It all just felt wonky, very off balance,” Emily recalls.
To right the wonk, she removed the table and replaced the puny island with a giant one. Stretching 11 feet long, the new island spatially connects the cabinetry with the rest of the kitchen. She added seats and oriented them toward each other instead of the TV, envisioning baby showers and family dinners to come. The stools also line up with a pass-through window into the dining room, another visual link.
Shifting the layout was a small modification, but it had a huge impact. “It was a great opportunity to achieve a big change without renovating an entire kitchen,” says Emily. Balancing the area made it seem lighter, as do the Carrara marble countertops. Natural rattan stools with verdant Schumacher cushions temper the brightness with texture and warmth. “We wanted to bring in a little happiness. Green is God’s neutral.”
The fresh mood continues into the keeping room, a casual hangout that invites slipping off shoes to relax. “I wanted it to feel like you could get into the room really easily,” Emily says. “I think it’s important to create opportunities for connection, so you can cook and have your children by you. I can just see them making snacks and then carrying them over to the keeping area, where they can play and crawl on the floor and watch Thomas the Tank Engine.” Two blue chairs from Precedent allow occupants to swivel toward the television or a kitchen conversation. “They have a fun silhouette,” Emily says.
For the master bath, family-friendly design gave way to sophisticated me-time. Renovating the room wasn’t part of the original plan, but a surprise leak added it to the list. “Emily worked with us on a fast timeline,” says Katherine. The floors were refinished, the wainscoting was painted, and everything else was completely torn out. Emily used Carrara marble throughout and added a long floating bench in the steam shower. The tub area is illuminated by a chandelier that once hung in Katherine’s parents’ house; Emily persuaded her to keep it years ago. They finally found the perfect place for the sparkler, bringing a little personal history into the new home.
“We could not be happier with the results,” says Katherine. “Working with Emily was great. She really understands our style and made both spaces look beautiful but also functional for our current life stage.” For Emily, achieving such visual harmony can be a counterweight to the chaos of modern life. “I like order, I like balance. I always have. I’ve had to give up some of that, raising a family,” she says with a laugh. “But if there can be some order and balance in the architecture and design of the space, I think it can help you find some contentment with pacifiers on the floor.”
Those pacifiers arrived sooner rather than later for Katherine and Ben, who welcomed a baby girl in early 2021. Now cozy together in their updated Tudor, the brand-new family knows one thing for sure: In life, as with renovations, sometimes it’s the smallest things that have the greatest impact.