Animal prints and plaid, leather and linen, pottery and silver-every inch of Bill Tarkington’s historic downtown Little Rock home is an artful blend of history meets casual countryside style
Most homeowners would furrow their brow at the idea of their landscape architect unearthing a meat cleaver in their backyard. However lifelong preservationist and creative soul Bill Tarkington sees it as a piece of historical significance—and a chance to add to his ever-growing collections. Just to clarify, that’s collections with an “s,” prominently displayed, not in a museum, but in a historic MacArthur Park cottage as beguiling as the homeowner himself. A collector of found objects—trinket boxes, flasks, art, mounted horns, binoculars, vintage athletic trophies, antique furniture and much more—Tarkington found the irresistible charm and unique floor plan of his home, known as Kadel Cottage, so appealing he sacrificed square footage to snag the perfect “gallery” space for his collections.
In fact, upon return to his native Arkansas, Tarkington did not get past the front entrance of the abode before announcing to his realtor, “This is it.” He was smitten. It didn’t hurt that Kadel Cottage was built circa 1843 by German immigrant and butcher (thus, the cleaver) George Kadel and is wrought with historical intrigue. Believed to be the nineteenth oldest home in Little Rock, it is one of few pre-Civil War surviving structures and is the sole example of an antebellum urban cottage utilizing a modified dogtrot plan, which has now been enclosed to create a central hallway. Having once owned a Tudor bungalow in the Hillcrest neighborhood and more recently an American foursquare in Dallas, Tarkington is a pro when it comes to personalizing time-honored spaces.
Finding the right spot for the homeowner’s extensive collections required a certain finesse from Tarkington’s pal David Kirkpatrick of Cabbage Rose in the Heights, who creatively utilized the space in the 1,500-square-foot home. Tarkington commissioned contractor John Howland of Dallas to install built-in shelving in the dining room, now home to literally hundreds of bound plays as well as a basket collection in the soffit area.
Next—the kitchen. Tarkington had remodeled the kitchen in his Dallas home just months before moving back to Little Rock, and wanted to recreate its down-to-earth, yet contemporary look. To do so, he set the tone with natural-hued cabinets, including a plate rack above the sink as well as a separate, darker-toned cabinet made to look like a crafted piece of furniture, both common features in early American kitchens. For a modern spin, the look is accented by stainless steel appliances and a multi-hued, subway-style backsplash cut from slate floor tiles. “I liked my slate floors in Dallas so much that I decided to use them throughout the house here, with the exception, of course, of the original heart pine floors in the living and dining rooms and central hall,” Tarkington explains.
As a former visual merchandiser for M.M. Cohn, Godiva and, most relevant to his personal aesthetic, Ralph Lauren, Tarkington’s styling emits a preppy, yet eclectic vibe. Kirkpatrick describes his friend’s approach to interior design as “blend—yes, match—no,” which allows this career visualizer to use pattern-on-pattern so skillfully. Tarkington draws from his professional history to blend otherwise contrasting motifs within the same room—safari, Hollywood and American Western—all representing different periods of Ralph Lauren. Tarkington and Kirkpatrick overlap plaids and animal prints with leathers and wood tones throughout the cottage to successfully balance stark masculinity with familiar comfort.
“I jokingly call my house a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities,’ a term I learned when reading a 2002 mystery novel by the same name,” Tarkington reveals. Set in Victorian New York, the storyline follows a series of crimes that took place in a room—a precursor to a museum—that housed objects of natural history, works of art and antiquities. “I thought, oh my gosh, I live in a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ and didn’t even know it!” A no more spot-on name could exist for the home of this lifelong collector, who has continually been attracted to the beauty of “natural things…shells, stones, worm-eaten wood, hunting trophies and taxidermy specimens, while also loving silver and brass pieces, pottery, china, art and sculpture. I will always enjoy mixing them when decorating a room,” he adds.
Contractor John Howland, Dallas, Texas, (214) 336-0980
Design consultant David Kirkpatrick, Cabbage Rose, Little Rock, (501) 664-4042, cabbageroseflorist.com
Landscape design—front lawn Joe Barnett, Little Rock Land Design, Little Rock, (501) 952-4127, littlerocklanddesign.com
Landscape design—backyard Bob Barker, Little Rock, (501) 352-4767
Landscape design—seasonal and maintenance Greg Stecks, Little Rock, (501) 517-0111
Accessories Ellen Golden Antiques, Little Rock, (501) 664-7746; Fabulous Finds Antique and Decorative Mall, Little Rock, (501) 614-8181; Keith James Interiors, Little Rock, (501) 664-6007; Mertinsdyke Home, Little Rock, (501) 280-3200, mertinsdykehome.com; Pottery Barn, Little Rock, (501) 663-0181, Rogers, (479) 246-0118, potterybarn.com; Roy Dudley Estate Sales, Little Rock, (501) 666-5856, roydudleyestatesales.com; Sweet Home/Clement, Little Rock, (501) 296-9198, sweethomefurnishings.net
Fabrics Cynthia East Fabrics, Little Rock, (501) 663-0460, cynthiaeastfabrics.com
Fresh Floral Cabbage Rose, Little Rock, (501) 664-4042, cabbageroseflorist.com
Paint PPG Pittsburgh Paints, locations statewide, ppgpittsburghpaints.com
Rugs Marshall Clements, Little Rock, (501) 663-1828, marshallclements.com
Upholstery Howard’s Upholstery Shop, Little Rock, (501) 225-0476