Dallas-based costume designer Rob Bradford may be known for the shimmering concoctions that light up charity events such as DIFFA, but it’s his gothically cool home that really steals the spotlight.
Taking a more-is-more approach reminiscent of the most stylish Victorians, he has amassed a truly awe-inspiring collection of antiques, paintings, books, taxidermy and loving cups that is the antithesis to today’s minimal, modern design.
Explains Bradford, “My house looks very different from my designs. My designs are colorful, and my house is very dark and detached and formal.
“It’s inspired by my home away from home, New Orleans. I loathe modern design. It looks like Legos to me, and I don’t sleep on Legos.”
Instead, he prefers a half-tester bed, with bronze winged goddesses on the foot posts. “The carved posts are actually horrible. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to use the loo, and they’d cut my arms!”
Aesthetics trump all. Just one of the treasures he’s found at auction, in antique stores, flea markets or thrift shops, the bed — and everything else in his home — is the result of decades of collecting. What he purchases and doesn’t keep, he sells in his space in Dolly Python.
Bradford stands in front of mounted horns over the archway to his parlor. With no need for a formal dining room, he’s converted the extra room into another living area, all the better to display his ever-growing décor. A chandelier over the coffee table is just one of many; he has them in every room, including his bathroom and laundry room.
All the antique lighting made the trip unscathed from Bradford’s old apartment in Oak Lawn to his new space in Junius Heights during an ambitious move last year. Says Bradford of his newish digs, “I thought the move was going to kill me, but I love this neighborhood.
“I have an English garden next to me, and I live around year-round history.”
Vintage hickory chairs re-covered in an eye-catching leopard print flank Bradford’s Victorian taxidermy parrot, one of five vintage birds in this picture. A bust of Napoleon, a human skull and antique books crowd the mantelpiece. The painting above them was a Goodwill find a friend purchased for $12.
Jokes Bradford about his lack of comfy seating, “A lot of people come in my house and just stand there. I say, ‘Feel free to sit nowhere!'”
Well-worn vintage books of all languages fill most of his space, accented in this image with a portrait of a 1920s gentleman smoking a cigar. Bradford says he buys them for aesthetic reasons and “the more beat up the better.”
One such tome yielded a special find: a Civil War-era letter from a solider in the same regiment as Walt Whitman. “I had the book for 10 years and one day I opened it and the letter fell out,” he recalls. “I ended up selling it to a dealer for over $1,000.”
An original newspaper revealing the crimes of Bonnie and Clyde lies on top of a 1909 suicide letter given to Bradford by a New Orleans antique dealer specializing in movie props and set design.
Although some might find elements of his home macabre, Bradford says he’s never seen — or felt — anything out of the ordinary. “I have a lot of weird stuff, but if anything I feel protected more than haunted.”
“Little animals” are everywhere; Bradford estimates he has more than 60 pieces of taxidermy scattered throughout the space, from bearskin rugs under the bed to this mountain lion in the parlor sporting a top hat.
The designer says he loves these and other treasures not for their intrinsic value, but for what they mean to him.
“Everything in the house has a chip or a knick or a loss. Nothing is perfect, and I love it that way. It’s not a museum; it’s a living home.”
Discoveries like a portrait of a banker from upstate New York, a lodge ceremony hat and a taxidermied owl come from all over, but Bradford finds the best items at traditional antique stores such as Appartique on Magazine Street in New Orleans.
However, he avoids paying high-end prices: His most expensive find was just $1,000.
Other favorite shopping spots? Necromance on Melrose in LA, Country Garden Antiques in the Dallas Design District and, of course, Dolly Python. Bradford also loves shopping flea markets at the Rose Bowl, Roundtop and Brimfield, but he recommends buyers “go early, early, early.
“Most people from far away get there and buy the high-end stuff. I buy the crap.”
The entrance to Bradford’s dressing area gets a sartorial finish with a dapper collection of men’s portraits. Collars and bow ties are clasped in an old convenience store metal potato chip display flanked by Victorian top hats.
Vignettes like this are just one of the reasons Bradford’s home merited its own chapter in the new book Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff.
Display hands from the now-defunct Dallas haberdashery Dreyfuss & Son hang on the wall with a collection of pictures.
“I love small Victorian paintings, I love big Victorian paintings,” he says. “ I actually have them stacked against the wall in closets. When I was younger, I used to look at magazines of wealthy people and they always had portraits. They make things very elegant.”
He hopes to add his own to the collection someday, preferably painted by the artist Margaret Keane.
The designer puts the finishing touches on a custom Halloween costume covered in crystals, his version of a Roman soldier. Aside from his tools of the trade, everything about Bradford’s home remains firmly in the 19th century.
“There are no TVs or appliances in my home that are visible. I don’t have a computer; I use my phone. I want it to look like a home tour, all authentic. Nothing modern is showing besides the lamps.”