A Detail Devotee
Written by Christy Marshall
Photography by Alise O’Brien
Real estate broker and builder, Bobby Slavin has a habit of designing and building homes that sell before—or soon after—the scaffolding comes down. It’s happened numerous times with houses in Ladue and more recently with a 12,000-square-foot, $7-million-plus home in Huntleigh.
For Slavin, a king of architectural detail, that’s just fine. He isn’t in the market to take others’ plans and build their houses.
“I’ve never agreed to build someone a new house,” he says. “I have a broker’s license. I locate the ground and purchase it. An architect designs a house. I build houses for the ground and I’ve never built the same house twice… If a special project came along and the guy was really into design and was going to let me do the design and he was going to spend some money so I could do the things I wanted to do, then I’d think about it.”
Slavin either builds the house with a co-partner as SR Homes or by himself. “Going forward, I will do more for myself,” he says, adding “I’m really excited about my newest project, a shingle-style, gambrel home across from Saint Louis Country Club grounds.”
For his own 10,000-square foot house (that he and his wife, Terri, did for themselves), the Slavins tapped architect Dick Busch to draw up with the basic design. “Basically what Dick gave us was a floorplan and the perimeter,” he says. “I went through and changed a lot of the architectural details, changed the materials and basically created a whole new house.” The house was under construction for a year before Slavin, Terri, and daughter Everly (Evie), and a King Charles Spaniel named Gracie moved in. A second daughter, Blakely, arrived a few months later.
Set back on a 3.2-acre lot, the site is more English estate than Ladue neighborhood.
“I was building this house for the lot,” Slavin says. “On that side you have Joe [Buck] and all those trees.” Buck’s lot is six acres; on the other side, Chuck Berry’s widow, “Toddy” Suggs, has a nine acre-plus lot. From Slavin’s house, you see nothing but endless lush woods.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Slavin’s grandfather and father were both builders. After spending several years living in Los Angeles, Bobby returned with an appreciation of West Coast design.
“We wanted the California feel where the home is wrapped around the pool,” he says. “That was very important to us. We put doors on the main rooms so you have access to the pool. It’s truly California inside/outside living.”
He and Terri also worked to separate the house into the formal—foyer, dining and living rooms and master bedroom suite—and informal areas, kitchen, den, laundry room, butler’s pantry. “It’s almost like two wings,” Slavin says. The girls’ bedrooms and playroom are upstairs.
It’s Slavin’s lavish attention to detail that jets this house in a different stratosphere from the regular knock-your-socks-off mansion. Nothing was too small for careful consideration. Room by room, he regales with his picks in everything from flooring—and floor pattern—to area rugs, cabinetry, lighting, paint finish, case openings, ceiling heights, orientation of the plaster moldings, the size of the doorknobs, the heft of a hinge.
“What you are going to see in this house is I really mixed a lot of metals,” Slavin says. “I don’t get caught up in trying to make metals match. I think it is more interesting when you have got different things going on. My style is very transitional and very clean. I really like the salt and pepper home. I like a lot of light woodwork, a lot of dark floors, and there are a lot of white cabinets.”
From the front door, the house flows with the grace of the ocean.
“When you walk in the front door, there is an open airy feel,” Slavin says. “In almost every house I build, you can see through the home.”
The 1960’s-vintage Murano glass chandelier came from an antique shop in New York. The wall sconces were purchased from Urban Electric Co. in Atlanta.
Slavin pulled inspiration from everywhere. For example, he modeled his staircase from homes in Brentmoor Park. The spindles look like pool cues, the balusters run through the skirt boards.
“When I designed this, I really wanted to make it look like the staircase had been here and we built the house around the staircase,” he says. “You can look over the staircase and see all the way down to the chevron pattern on the French oak floor in the basement. I did the sconces in black and white to blend in with the staircase. I didn’t want it to detract. I wanted them to go away and be part of the stair.”
The house’s floors are premium select 7-inch wide white oak boards with a dark matte finish. “We didn’t want the floors to take away from anything. There is so much going on in this house,” Slavin says.
In each room, the Slavins decided to do something different, “something special.” In the dining room, they had the Koch Bros. painters lacquer the ceiling. The brass lighting fixture came from Remains Lighting in Chicago, the 1960s French sideboard was found in Aspen, the dining room chairs from L.A.
“We try to collect things over time rather than to try to fill the house up in a week,” Slavin says.
The living room ceiling is wallpapered in a David Hicks design and the walls are lacquered in a pale grey. The full masonry fireplace is a Slavin design. The room was designed to be a “place where we could come in here, have a cocktail, sit down and be comfortable, be kind of funky and fun,” Slavin says. All the rugs were purchased locally from Halbert Rug Company. “We love mixing the oriental rugs with rock and roll.”
The master bedroom intentionally conjures visions of a high-end Parisian hotel. The ceilings soar up 12-feet. The paneled walls are painted light grey. The furniture is B&B Italia purchased at Centro and mixed with antique side tables from Jules Pass. The chandelier came from Remains Lighting, the sconces from Urban Archaeology in New York.
The built-in cabinet was personally designed by Slavin to house a breakfast bar.
The Baccarat chandelier is “not the Baccarat your mom had,” Slavin says, smiling. “It’s kind of funky with an edge to it.” Heading from the bedroom into the master bath, he had the doors designed to fold into the walls, making them part of the woodwork when opened.
For the master bath, Slavin says he and Terri “wanted the feeling of New York, almost like I had walked into the Waldorf.” He had club lighting installed; the storage is cleverly disguised in built-in cabinets. Inspired by Christopher Peacock, Slavin designed the cabinets and that were produced by Kathy Israel of Accent on Cabinets. The floor is a pattern of intricately pieced together marble.
The focal point is the view back on the pool. The room with 12-foot ceilings is flooded with light pouring through the 12 windows. “With this lot, you don’t have to worry about anybody seeing in,” he says.
The details abound in the rest of the house. Nothing is too small. Outside fire logs stay dry outside under a metal seam roof with copper flashing. The outdoor living area is kept cool by Big Ass fans. Big names in design: Waterworks, Ann Sachs, Holly Hunt, Rose Tarlow, Michael Smith, Wilmette hardware, crop up in room after room.
But aside from the particulars of the home, the setting for the house is, in a word, spectacular.
“We had been looking for a lot for ourselves for a long time and I don’t know how you’d beat this,” Slavin says.
Neither do we.
Living Room: The Slavins bought the circa 1960s light fixture at John Salibello Antiques in New York City. The antique bar cart was found in the same Aspen store that had the sideboard.
Dining Room: A couple forever on the hunt for the perfect piece, the Slavins found the lamps in a shop on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.
Kitchen: The wall of cabinetry came from Accent on Cabinets, the hardware is from Wilmette. A back hallway opens to the dining room.
Master Bedroom: In a classic mix of old and new, the nightstands came from Jules Pass and most of the B&B Italia furniture from Centro. The rug is a David Hicks design.
Master Bath: The view by the sinks is onto the grounds while the tub looks out on the pool. The marble floor was hand-pieced together.