Does the 18th-century French barometer work? It’s a reasonable question to put to John Bobbitt, longtime Dallas interior designer, antiques dealer, Maple Terrace resident and collector of superb curiosities. Well, it could work, Bobbitt says, but first he’d have to replace the original glass tubes with new ones custom-made by the one man in the country who restores old barometers, in Maine. Then he’d have to figure out how to safely buy and install the
toxic mercury. All of that probably won’t happen, “so it’s just a historic artifact and a good piece of sculpture,” he says. And that’s OK with him. “I love history. I love buying pieces of material culture that are beautifully made.”
Yesteryear’s weather app is just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of stories contained in Bobbitt’s diminutive flat — barely 700 square feet — which has the soul of a New York apartment or a European manor house, but in ever-shiny Dallas. (This may explain the latter: The 1927 building, once home to notables from Judy Garland to Todd Oldham, was designed by English architect Sir Alfred Bossom.) “This is a standard-size living room for Maple Terrace,” Bobbitt says of his 16-by-14-foot salon. “The rooms feel bigger than they are.”
The feel is European New York, and Bobbitt is happy as all get-out that you can live that way without actually having to live in New York. But he did once, and the aesthetic honed from dealing in antiques there, and in New Orleans, has stuck with him. “I had never seen the kind of thing done in Dallas that I saw in New York,” Bobbitt says of his time as a young dealer just getting started. “It wasn’t always glitz and glamour. There were often period references and an intensity of seriousness and fashion.” Today, in addition to designing interiors for clients across Texas and the country, Bobbitt offers splendid furniture, art and accessories from a large space within Nick Brock Antiques.
Bobbitt’s cozy Dallas lair is yet another place where it’s easy to get lost in the stories of antiques, not-so-antiques and just plain wonderful stuff. Exhibits A and B: The tiny kitchen is entered through an elegant walnut-and-glass door reclaimed from an East Dallas home. That door is framed by a cast-iron Neoclassical surround from a southeast Missouri bank, similar to the one his great-grandfather owned in Britton, Texas. If you spy something glimmering on the bookshelf, sidle over to a picture frame covered in overlapping beetles’ wings, holding a photo of Bobbitt and his godson. “I love rare, exotic, unusual materials,” says its owner. And let’s not overlook the marble pedestal, originally believed to be of 18th-century Italian lineage. The pedestal came back to Bobbitt after he sold it 20 years earlier. He had planned to resell it through a store, and sent a picture to a friend for more information, who quickly called him. “He said, ‘Don’t sell that. It’s earlier than you thought it was. It’s probably Roman.’ So, it came back home.”
The kitchen is fashioned from a closet, fully appointed with an induction burner, a microwave, a dorm-sized Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer tucked under a counter, a mirrored wall, two black granite countertops, two French presses and a cabinet that looks suspiciously like a supersized Craftsman toolbox. (It is, on wheels.) But no table? Ah, there is a Georgian card table in the living room that folds out to seat four for dinner, right in front of the plant-filled windowsill from which Bobbitt can watch a spectacular Dallas sunrise. A favorite contemporary piece is a glass-and-steel side table by Eileen Gray, which can be adjusted up or down to slide up to a chair, sofa or bed. “I’m such a fan of convertible furniture,” Bobbitt says, noting that multitasking furniture was de rigueur for people of earlier ages who lived in smaller spaces. “These pieces are made to be used. I feel like there’s nothing that can’t be restored.”
Or repurposed or repositioned. Under Bobbitt’s skillful eye, antique dog collars wrap a lamp base. A whimsical ceramic house by artist Lisa Ludwig, circa 1990, with a roof of clay corn husks, peeks out from behind a massive, potted fiddle-leaf fig tree. Corn husks cohabitating with a Roman pedestal. An 18th-century Directoire roll-top desk sharing quarters with 1930s Mies van der Rohe chairs. Here, it’s not random at all. “Sometimes you see things and just know there was thought or spirit in it,” says the lord of this tiny manor. Or maybe it’s just he who knows. “I guess if everybody could do it, I’d be out of a job.”