It saddens our hearts to report that Dallas, indeed the entire U.S., has lost one of its most significant architects: Cole Smith.
Cole was born in 1926 and died August 25. He was married to interior designer extraordinaire Sherry Hayslip Smith, who rightfully called her beloved husband “a national treasure.”
“Cole Smith’s life and work have been inseparable. Dedicated to preserving and promoting craftsmanship, he has mastered many crafts and found patrons to underwrite the work of others,” she said. “A lover of history, he has woven it into his architecture. Compelled to infuse design into everything he does, his philanthropies, hobbies, and pleasures involve creating unique and beautifully crafted structures and objects, or preserving existing ones.”
It is going to take some research to write about all the homes he has designed in Dallas, significant homes, classic homes, beautiful homes. I believe he was one of the most prolific architects of our time. Cole designed more than homes, he designed great buildings that will live on in this city and beautify North Texas long after we are all departed. And they were not all mega-mansions.
“His belief in the imperative of preserving architectural history has inspired an abundance of restorative work. One example is the restoration of the Lyles home; one of the oldest homes in Garland, Texas, which later became the centerpiece of the Garland Landmark Museum and earned Smith the appreciation of Mayor Ruth Nicholson and the Garland City Council.”
But of course, Cole Smith designed hundreds of homes and other structures throughout the United States and abroad for some of the most wealthy patrons in the U.S., which architects have always done throughout history. Cole Smith often became their educator as well as their architect, often for life.
“He is widely esteemed within the dual worlds of high art and high craft. He established Smith Ekblad & Associates in Dallas, Texas in 1959, with a commitment to the design of lasting structures of exceptional quality. While the firm does contemporary work, period residential and commercial structures are of the greatest interest. The signature of a Smith Ekblad building is in the elegance apparent from the foundation and structure through to the final finished details.”
Smith’s work has been highly published, he was the recipient of numerous awards including several First Place ASID national and regional awards, a Craftsmanship Award, President’s Certificate, and President’s Gavel, all from the Dallas chapter of CSI, and a Citation of Honor from the Dallas chapter of AIA. Smith was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1993.
And he never stopped working, thinking, or problem-solving: he was also an engineer. And a painter. Last time I saw him in one of his beautiful homes, he was displaying his canvasses and they were amazing.
His clients adored him so much they threw him parties and honors constantly. He was a member and active participant in the Design Leadership Summit and Leaders of Design, a patron of the Dallas Museum of Art and the Dallas Opera. Cole Smith had interests in just about everything, including alternative energy sources (including experiments in solar and wind energy), and the environment. He never ceased to probe or experiment. He also designed and engineered almost everything used in his homes, from the hardware to hooks and door knobs.
As I said, too many homes and places to collect in this writing, but I do recall Cole telling me he believed the best home he ever designed was for Dick and Jinger Heath of BeautiControl fame, at 4707 Park Lane. That home burned when it was owned by Scott Ginsburg. He designed the first home of Joyce and larry LaCerte, also on Park Lane, which was sold to Kelcy Warren and one of the most expensive home sales in Dallas history. He designed at least one other property for Kelcy as well as changes to 5323 Park Lane. He designed the Tolleson’s home on Hunters Glenn and devised the He designed the Herman and Mimi Lay estate at 4935 Radbrook Place in Preston Hollow, which was torn down. He designed the somewhat notorious Braden Power house (truth: I adore Braden P.) which has a swimming pool in the main foyer, which was sold to Lee Bailey, who then sold to Real Housewives of Dallas star Stephanie Hollman.
This beautiful estate at 6767 Hunters Glen is really Cole Smith’s Opus. Every bit of metal in the estate was custom-designed and hand-forged by Cole himself. That means every door handle, stopper, door knob, window handle, hinge, and drawer pull on an 11,500-plus square foot house. All the windows open by turning a custom “Lobster Claw” bronze handle. The handles on the abundant French doors are also custom “Lobster Claws.” All the air vents are custom-created grates of varying shapes and sizes, each to complement the room it’s in — a standard in any Smith home. Most of the estate’s chandeliers were also hand-forged and designed by Cole, and then wired to electrify.
The crowning glory may well be the solarium at 6767 Hunter’s Glen, with its coated rotating metal panels, custom-designed by Cole himself: each metal leaf opens and slides out while rotating to completely cover the sunroof should the Texas sun get too bright. Then, like a flower, the leaves retract as they fold back in, one tucking under the other, at the push of a button.
Rest in peace, dear friend, and thank you for the incredible beauty you brought to all of us. You will be greatly, greatly missed.