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HOMEOWNERS - Ouida and Robert Merrifield

HOME SITE - Tulsa, Oklahoma

BUILT - 1999

INTERIOR - 6,350 square feet plus 1,000 square feet of open-air living space

PROPERTY - Four acres overlooking pond and horse pastures

BEDROOMS - Main-level master suite plus three second-level guest rooms

HER FAVORITE ROOM - The master suite, "a soft, lush, comfortable retreat"

HIS FAVORITE ROOM - The library, its art books and California plein air paintings

INTERIOR HIGHLIGHT - Great room's 18th-century hand-cut stone fireplace discovered in a Paris flea market

FAVORITE AT-HOME PASTIME - Staging tasting parties for friends

HOMEBUILDING TIP - Choose an architect and builder who are easy to work with since "you'll live together for a year or two"

Master Bath Room

A Luxury Kitchen

Tulsa, Oklahoma — Ouida and Robert Merrifield have a flair for building houses. Designing them, says Ouida, is her number one passion. "I've done four over the last ten years," she says. "We liked this one so much, we moved into it."

While the others were more modest homes created along traditional lines, their current home is a spacious contemporary secluded behind an eight-foot wall. "I felt I was ready to take on a project of this magnitude from scratch," says Ouida. "I love the process. Most people can't go through it. It's like cooking. You have to love all of it, the bad parts as well as the good."

What is it about the process that she enjoys so much? "Part of it is that I love to choose pros who are easy to work with — and fun. At the end of the planning process, when I have my ideas all together, I get an architect, someone different each time. I enjoy working with them to get everything just right. You have to get people you can work with," she concludes. "You're going to live together for a year or two, so you might as well enjoy the relationship."

The exterior highlight is the entryway courtyard enclosed by three glass walls and accessed by an old handcarved door. Shop Outdoor Living.

Contemporary Architecture, Old World Appointments

Ouida toyed with the design for quite some time. The house was to have clean, contemporary lines, and, to avoid any suggestion of starkness, she planned to incorporate numerous antique appointments she and Robert had accumulated on buying trips to Europe. "Juxtaposing unrestored antiques with contemporary architecture gives each of them more emphasis," says Ouida. Once she was ready to start working with an architect, she took him her floor plan along with the antique appointments she wanted to use.

The home's motor court with parking for twenty automobiles was to be accessed via an old motorized Spanish gate. "We'd had the gate for two or three years," says Ouida. "I knew that someday I'd have a wall that had a use for this gate!" From there, an old handcarved wooden door was to lead into the interior courtyard.

"I felt I was ready to take on a project of this magnitude from scratch."

According to Ouida's plan, the focal point of the Great Room was to be the 18th-century handcut stone fireplace and matching trumeau they'd found ten years earlier in a Paris flea market. "All the individual stones were lying in a heap on the ground," she remembers." Believe or not, they were all there. The stones are old and soft and they crumble, but we left them as is. We don't strip or refinish our antiques. We like them unrestored." The great room's built-in entertainment center was to be concealed by a pair of antique gilded oak doors carved with musical motifs and acanthus in the style of Louis XIV.

Two pairs of antique painted French doors would also be used on the two kitchen pantries, and an 18th-century Provincial door on the first-floor powder room. Inside, Ouida planned to create a one-of-a-kind vanity using a striking handpainted Moresque bookcase she and Robert had found in Provence.

An aspect of the plan that most delights their friends is the 200-year-old Mexican stone archway Ouida and Robert bought in Santa Fe and decided to use to define the entryway to the master suite's his-and-her bathrooms and dressing areas. "As the mason was framing it to the house, he realized it wasn't tall enough to meet code, so he added concrete blocks to the bottom, then covered them up." Building is just that way, Ouida explains. "Even when there are problems, they're just something to solve." A wood-burning fireplace, wood-beamed vaulted ceiling, and 19th-century gilded-wood chandelier add unexpected warmth to the master suite, and doors salvaged from Tulsa's razed Orpheum Theater conceal the storage area for Robert's shoes and boots.

A pleasure from start to finish

Though finding property where they'd be permitted to build an eight-foot wall took some doing, Ouida and Robert finally located a lot near the restaurant they own in Tulsa's upscale midtown retail district. "The house came out exactly as I envisioned," says Ouida. And working with the architect and contractor was pure pleasure. "Never did we even look cross-eyed at each other. Robert and I found them to be the kindest and nicest people. None of us ever got cranky."

The home's exterior is natural stucco with copper gutters and wooden windows and doors. For flooring, which runs outdoors to the loggia, Ouida chose stained concrete with randomly inlaid flagstone reminiscent of floors she and Robert had admired in Europe. The grand circular staircase running upstairs from the Great Room has handcarved stone treads.

Along with the antique appointments, Ouida softened the atmosphere with warm colors, cozy lighting, and traditional fabrics and furniture. Furniture layout was integral to Ouida's floor plan. "We already had most of furniture we needed," she says, "and we wanted to make it all fit" — including three sofas she had designed. "They look elegant, but they're very serviceable. Textured and comfy and liveable." She had simply taken her drawings, photographs, and dimensions to a service manufacturer in Tulsa, purchased the proper yardage of fabric he suggested, and in a short while had just the sofas she wanted.

The Great Room features an 18th-century handcut stone fireplace and matching trumeau, as well as a grand circular staircase with handcarved stone treads. Shop Furnishings & Décor.

Though many of the antiques they'd collected went into the building of their home, Ouida and Robert still have some items warehoused for future use. "We've made maybe ten buying trips to France and Italy and England over the years," says Ouida. "We're always looking for ideas." They often frequent the markets in the south of France, particularly Montpellier, and enjoy following the traveling antique shows. "Sometimes we see things we aren't looking for, but we just gotta have," says Ouida — Robert's wooden trophy of an animal head, for example. Handcarved in the Black Forest before the art of taxidermy was developed, the life-size head displays the animal's exceedingly handsome rack. "Robert promised that if we bought the head, he'd never go big game hunting," laughs Ouida. "Besides his plein air paintings, it's his favorite thing."

In designing the glass-surround courtyard, Ouida had "taken drama to the top," an effect she achieved through high-impact lighting and architectural simplicity: water gurgling from a stone wall into the pond below, an antique iron santos displayed atop a stone pedestal, and two striking jardinieres three feet in diameter and five feet tall. "You can't have too many things to look at," she says. "It's better to see one great thing, then let your eye rest before you engage with something else. You can't have every tabletop and every wall overdone with every imaginable thing stuck on it." In that spirit, she decided against flanking the front door with the jardinieres, instead placing them ten feet to either side. "It took a crane to get them in over the walls," Ouida explains, adding that she and Robert will have to leave them behind with the house.

Inspiration for floor-to-ceiling glass walls and doors which look out onto the courtyard came from France where Ouida and Robert had seen centuries-old structures retrofitted with glass doors. French limestone columns straddling the glass walls are situated half inside, half outside, creating the illusion that rooms opening onto the courtyard have no exterior walls at all.

Hospitality begins at home

For two people whose passion and profession is the preparation of food, designing the kitchen was a real labor of love. Two prep tables outfitted with utility drawers and stainless storage shelf come in handy for informal dining; in May, the tables roll outdoors for cooking classes. One of two specialty pantries flanking the Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer contains all of Ouida's glassware and china. "Having it all in one place is a real luxury," she says. "I don't have to round it up from makeshift storage places in the attic and under the kids' beds anymore."

The prep kitchen, a 7'x9' room adjoining the main kitchen, is every cook's dream. Two hundred feet of shelving and extensive hanging storage keep pots, pans, and utensils within easy reach. "We have so much junk in the kitchen," says Ouida. "When everything was stored in cabinets, we were always looking for it. This way, we can just walk in the prep kitchen and get what we need. We do a little chopping in there, brew coffee, use the Cuisinart, make things that aren't a big project." Better still, they can stack dirty dishes in the sink and close the doors. Dishwashers in each kitchen make clean-up a snap.

"I'm ready to do another one. I love digging the footings, love the smell of the dirt. I can't wait to do it again and again."

Entertaining often takes the form of large dinner parties where Robert and Ouida serve multiple small portions. "They're more like tasting parties," Ouida says. "When you have a restaurant, you'd think that entertaining is the last thing you'd want to do at home. But we really love it." The outdoor living area is everyone's favorite place to gather. Comfortable furnishings, a fully equipped kitchen, and views of the herb gardens and waterfall cascading into the swimming pool make for pleasant surroundings. "It's very protected, and though there are four distinct seasons here, winter isn't very cold, so we can use it until Christmas."

Most of the herbs and spices Robert and Ouida use in their home and restaurant kitchens are garden grown in large containers on gravel beds. "We grow everything imaginable," says Ouida. "Lettuces, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, chives, fig and olive trees, even syrah plants — we're just playing with them."

With this house so perfectly tailored to their taste and lifestyle, do they see another house in their future? Robert readily acknowledges that Ouida needs a fresh palette every three or four years. "I'm ready to do another one," she says. "I already have the plan drawn to scale. I love digging the footings, love the smell of the dirt. I can't wait to do it again and again."

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