July 9, 2023For the past eight years, Ohara Davies-Gaetano has split her time between Southern California, where her interior design practice is based, and northwestern Montana, where she and her husband and their young son enjoy the outdoor life on a 50-acre property on Flathead Lake. “Our hearts and souls are there,” Davies-Gaetano says of the latter.
So, when a Dallas couple asked her a few years ago to handle the interiors of their own Montana residence, under construction on the shore of the 30-mile-long lake, she readily accepted the commission. Their vision, however, initially caused her concern. “They wanted Montana-meets-Lake-Como, and my first thought was, ‘Oh, this could go really wrong,’ ” Davies-Gaetano recalls with a laugh.
It didn’t go wrong, not in the least — because Davies-Gaetano has built a career on imbuing homes, especially newly constructed ones, with depth and soul. In the expressive interiors she conceives, her innately stylish eye is immediately apparent in their use of reclaimed materials, rough-hewn textures, subdued earthy hues and mostly European antiques that seem basked in warmth and light.
Davies-Gaetano never formally studied the decorative arts, but creativity and an artistic aesthetic are in her DNA. Her father is a painter, her mother a weaver. She spent the first 14 years of her life in New York City before the family moved to rural North Carolina. Fun fact: She got her name from a meat-packing truck emblazoned with the words O’Hara Wholesale Meats that had caught her father’s eye.
In her 20s, she opened a home-furnishings business with her husband in Dallas. As neither of them proved particularly interested in retail, Davies-Gaetano started picking up small interior design projects — decorating a room here and there. She launched a full-scale design studio in California in 2009.
Since then, Davies-Gaetano has created incandescent interiors in stylish retreats up and down the Pacific coast, in the Rocky Mountains and the Caribbean and along Florida’s Atlantic shore. In 2018, she won the Andrew Martin Interior Designer of the Year Award — known as the Oscars of the interior design world.
All her projects are replete with eye-pleasing materials and carefully considered details.
“I’ve made it my mission to create authentic, soulful design in a bespoke manner,” she says. “We ask our clients lots of questions: ‘What can we do so that every aspect of the design enhances the experience?’ ‘What does it sound like when you are moving through the house?’ ‘Do you like the lights on really bright, as that affects the surface of the walls?’ The materials are integral to what we create and how people connect to the spaces. How we feel things emotionally and physically in our homes is incredibly important.”
The owners of the 9,000-square-foot, five-bedroom Montana lake house wanted it to feel connected to the landscape, and to be livable, comfortable and fun, especially when filled with family and friends. Surfaces needed to be sturdy. Nothing should feel precious.
With this in mind, Davies-Gaetano introduced durable architectural elements outside and in. Some, like the weathered-wood beams for the ceilings, are Old West, but the majority have old-world origins, including the 18th-century rubble stone and reclaimed bricks used for the portico and loggias and the French plaster stucco on the walls. All the flooring is 18th-century reclaimed oak sourced in Europe, and most of the antique bedroom doors are French and Italian.
Davies-Gaetano visits Europe several times a year, not only to hunt for such finds but also to seek inspiration — “for my own need of being enlightened and instilled with a drive to create something authentic,” she says.
The house’s rooms are filled with genuine treasures, even the smallest spaces, such as a powder room that’s graced with an ornate antique French mirror and a rustic 18th-century Swedish sideboard from 1stDibs. The entry features two other 1stDibs discoveries: a 1940s Oushak rug and a 19th-century French bronze lantern.
In the great room, which is outfitted in subdued hues that reflect the natural world seen through iron-framed glass doors overlooking the lake, a custom-made sofa upholstered in a Colefax and Fowler linen joins a cerused-oak lounge chair from 1stDibs attributed to the French 20th-century decorative artist René Gabriel.
A tranquil painting by Nick Gaetano, Davies-Gaetano’s father, swings open on piano hinges to reveal a TV. The 18th-century fireplace is flanked by an antique chest from Horsch & Huebscher and a 17th-century oak trunk.
The primary suite really does look as if it could be ensconced in a villa perched above Lake Como, thanks to timeless plaster walls and 18th-century Italian painted doors that Davies-Gaetano retrofitted for the space.
The simple furnishings include a table lamp from Lucca Antiques and a tapestry from Seref Ozen Tribal Rugs and Textiles.
The bar, situated in a glass-wrapped, walnut-domed rotunda, is the cornerstone of the house when the sun sets. Davies-Gaetano fashioned a gleaming copper counter and ringed it with comfy stools by Paula Rosales that she covered in a verdant Jerry Pair leather. After all, entertainment of a high order is earned after a day of hiking, fishing and outdoor play in Big Sky country.
“The family opens all the doors, the kids are jumping on sofas, the bar gets danced on — you name it,” says Davies-Gaetano. “The house has fun.”