Date: May 24, 2021 | Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Rett Peek | Styling: Stephanie Maxwell Newton |
MLH Designs helps a nature-loving couple design a contemporary dream home on the banks of the Arkansas River
Look around the home of Catherine and Dr. John Sims in North Little Rock and you’ll notice nods to nature everywhere. The biggest, of course, is the view outside of the Arkansas River. In fact, seeing this lot in the city’s Rockwater community was one of the couple’s biggest motivators to build rather than buy when relocating from Manhattan back to their home state. “We were moving from the city, and a home in the suburbs just didn’t feel right,” Catherine says. With its proximity to Argenta and downtown Little Rock as well as trails and a view of the river, this location hit the perfect balance of city living and natural appeal.
When she started finding inspiration photos that reflected her and John’s “organic modern” style, Catherine realized how much their time in Bali had influenced their look. “We love to travel internationally, and we typically end up in Asia,” she says. “Before moving back to Arkansas we spent a month in Indonesia. The style in Bali is very neutral with cool tones and warm woods. There’s tons of windows and everything is very sparse, very natural.” Recognizing the calming effect this simplified, contemporary aesthetic had on them—especially amid hectic lifestyles and now with 5-month-old daughter, Aspen, in tow—she set out to incorporate many of those same elements into their new build. “We couldn’t have a totally open-air house like you would in Asia, but we wanted that feel,” she says. “The view outside here is changing all the time. It’s beautiful every season of the year; it’s like art.”
To help her fully realize the home’s potential, Catherine worked with interior designer Meridith Ranouil of MLH Designs. “She sent some inspiration pics, and right away I was into her aesthetic,” Meridith says. The two walked through the already-framed house while discussing the possibilities and challenges of the project, and for all of Catherine’s seemingly outside-the-box ideas, Meridith had a solution. For example, to keep the home as “undecorated” as possible, built-ins for nightstands and dressers were created in the bedrooms. On the exterior, she found a veneer that would give the homeowners the board-form concrete finish they desired. And in the master bath, where Catherine suggested a wooden installation over the tub, the designer achieved the look with a backsplash tile. “She trusted me to do what she envisioned,” Meridith says. “She’s got her own sense of style and she basically knew what she wanted. I was able to take that look, put it through a filter, and make it work.”
“I’m not someone who wants a ton of stuff on the walls, so built-in pieces, like our fireplace and stairs, serve almost as art installations.” —Catherine Sims, homeowner
A floor-to-ceiling welded fireplace is the focal point in the living room. A floating hearth fabricated from the same leathered quartzite found in the kitchen provides extra seating around the fire. The industrial nature of the steel surround and concrete floors contribute to the masculine feel of the homeowners’ style, while layered rugs and various wood finishes bring warmth and texture to the seating area.
Abundant storage and room to entertain were Catherine’s priorities in the kitchen. “I’m not a chef, and it needed to be inviting for me to actually use it,” she laughs. She also wanted to be able to seat three at the bar, which was a challenge: At its current size, the island was too small to accommodate three stools, and if enlarged, it would encroach on accessibility of the nearby fridge. To remedy this, Meridith designed a walnut bridge, which extends out to one side to offer the desired seating space while maintaining traffic flow and adding visual interest. “That was an example of a problem that created an opportunity,” Meridith says. Hidden hardware helps maintain the cabinetry’s sleek appearance: Upper cabinets open with an internal touch latch, while base cabinets and drawers use channeled hardware. A pass-through window over the sink connects the space to an outside bar.
Catherine and John got interested in the craft cocktail scene while living in Manhattan. Here, Meridith helped design a bar upstairs where they could recreate the experience at home. Black matte and walnut-veneer cabinetry mimic the kitchen downstairs, and open shelving gives John a place to display different whiskeys and tequilas. A painting by Nashville artist Ashley Treece draws from the green chairs in the adjoining lounge.
Room with the View
While initial drawings had more square footage on the second floor designated for the master suite, the homeowners decided they’d rather use that space for a lounge area near the bar. “The view is beautiful anywhere in the house, but it’s the best from the upstairs porch,” Catherine says. “Plus, we didn’t want to be limited to socializing just downstairs.” A pair of midcentury-inspired arm chairs upholstered in olive green and a burl wood side table speak to the couple’s love of nature. Sliding iron doors leading to John’s office provide separation between the spaces without interrupting the view.
Key to Comfort
In keeping with the couple’s less-is-more approach to furnishings, Meridith incorporated interesting, functional elements during the building phase. “She wanted it to be very, very minimal,” Meridith says. “After looking at a couple of inspiration shots, I drew up this design for an accent wall. The top is an unfinished wood to look natural and clean. Below, we painted the molding and added wall-mounted nightstands so everything is clutter free.” An upholstered bed and layered textures in the rug and pillows add warmth.
“The whole bathroom was a nod to Asia and the spas we love there,” Catherine says. “They all had wooden fixtures and cool tones, and I wanted our bathroom to feel reminiscent of that.” Individual wands of the sleek sconces flanking the mirror can be spun for more or less lighting, and heated floors and a trough-style sink contribute to the spa-like feel.
Room to Relax
After living in a 600-square-foot apartment in New York, a roomy bathtub was high on Catherine’s list for their new build. The soaking tub calls to mind the concrete on the main floor while contributing to the overall masculine aesthetic. In a niche created to house the deck-mount faucet, Meridith used a backsplash tile that doubles as an art installation. “She wanted to bring in some wood, and I wanted something with a bit of movement,” Meridith says. “This tile was perfect because it checked several boxes—we’ve got the wood, the warmth, and the art.”
The Simses also previously lived in Minnesota, which is where Catherine started blogging as a creative outlet. In addition to sharing restaurant recs and women-owned businesses, she posts about her style and beauty routine, so it was only fitting she have a closet suited for the spotlight. The custom design includes hat and shoe displays, accessory drawers, and hanging racks for all seasons of clothing. The pièce de résistance? A wine fridge installed at the back of the island with champagne at the ready for a girls nights in.
Architect Charley Penix, AIA, LEED AP, CM-Lean, Cromwell Architects Engineers Builder Coburn Construction Company Interior design Meridith Ranouil, CKBD, IDS, Allied ASID, MLH Designs Accessories, furniture, and rugs Cantrell Furniture Design Center, MLH Designs, and Urban Pad Appliances Metro Appliances & More Art M2 Gallery Cabinetry and hardware REstructure Design Countertops Casa Blanca Granite, Marble & Tile Fireplace Royal Overhead Fixtures Ferguson Plumbing Supply Flooring MLH Designs Glass and mirrors Chenal Valley Glass Ironwork (fireplace surround) Iron Paws Lighting Light Innovations Tile Acme Tile & Brick, Lumber One Home Center, MLH Designs, and ProSource of Little Rock Paint Sherwin-Williams Windows Pro Window & Door Window Coverings Made in the Shade