By Meda Kessler
Photos by Aaron Dougherty
Inspired by her South African motherland and family travels, designer Ruthie Staalsen mixes texture, textiles and more inside her Grapevine home
Ruthie and Dan Staalsen truly are an international couple. She was born and raised in South Africa and lived around the world thanks to missionary parents. Dan was born in Australia and grew up in Papua New Guinea. They met in Dallas, and the empty nesters now call Grapevine home.
“We bought this home for the property — it sits on ¾ of an acre — but the house had a lot of potential,” says Ruthie. “We named it ‘Casa Roca’ due to all the large boulders we excavated from the backyard. The workers were about to haul them off, but we instead used them for retaining walls and landscaping around the house.” Rocks managed, Ruthie — who has more than 18 years in the design business — turned her focus to the interiors.
Thanks to a lifetime of collectibles gathered from their travels, she filled the home with pottery, art and keepsakes that are meaningful to the family. Items such as baskets and masks provide texture, complemented by Ruthie’s use of textiles and natural greenery, branches and flowers.
“My mom was always good about making our house feel like a home wherever we were living by decorating with objects that had meaning to us. I try and do the same,” she says.
Ruthie cautions that there can be too much of a good thing, however. She prefers to mix things up, such as pairing woven baskets on a wall with framed paintings. A skilled thrifter with a keen eye for the good stuff on sites such as Facebook Marketplace, Ruthie’s always on the lookout for items to complement and contrast with her collectibles. And when it comes to color, she leans toward earth tones with a splash of color, such as an azure blue or a vibrant orange.
Ruthie sets the tone for the rest of the house as soon as the front door opens to the two-story foyer. The compact space offers a lot of visual bang with a bold black-and-white print wallpaper on the curved stairwell. A zebra-print cowhide is stacked on top of one with a subtle metallic print, and a black console table is artfully layered with books, textured vases, art objects and a lamp. Unexpected additions include an ornate white-framed mirror and a seascape. A small chair upholstered in green velvet and a bench with a woven seat complete the look.
The mood changes a bit when you enter the living room, with its raffia-clad feature wall and mix of antiques and new furniture. Bold ottomans upholstered in an orange fabric hold their own against a wood buffet and a print rug. Throw pillows on the leather sofa are covered in a tropical print and royal blue velvet. The space is inviting and comfortable, plus there’s something that catches your eye everywhere, whether it’s a piece of coral on a side table or a vintage camel saddle near the fireplace.
She most recently converted their garage to a media/family room. (They have a detached three-car garage in the backyard that includes a carport for their camper.)
“I carved two storage closets out of the space, but that left plenty of room for a large reclining sectional and a wall-to-wall console,” says Ruthie.
The feature with the most impact — and one of the priciest parts of the renovation — is an expansive picture window that allows in a lot of natural light and offers a prime view of the pool and patio. “Dan was a little unsure of the plans, but I asked him to trust me on this one.
“I never really wanted a sectional, but we needed something comfortable that would seat a lot of people. This has become our prime movie-watching spot, especially when we have family over.
The console, which is actually three pieces placed side by side, also serves as a buffet for casual dining.”
Upholstered swivel chairs and ottomans stashed around the room offer extra seating. Accessories range from a pair of contemporary sconces flanking the TV to an inlaid black-and-white marble console.
We finish our walk-through of the house in the kitchen, which still has the ’90s-era vibe. “This is my next big project,” says Ruthie. “I can’t wait.”