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Charlotte home with French design gets national spotlight

By Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

Charlotte interior designer Leo Dowell is known – widely known, as we’ll see – for his French country-style homes. His website calls his signature look vintage European, but that translates into French. A home that he and the owners transformed is featured in Country French magazine, which is on newsstands now.

And his stories sparkle like his interiors.

I’ve run into him at the International Furniture Show in High Point, for instance, where he has helped European manufacturers tweak their products to be more appealing to American buyers.

Americans like their seating to be broader and softer than do Europeans, and I will pass up an easy quip.

Leo was approached by a company called Francesco Molon. It’s Italian, based in a small town near Venice. It creates furniture that’s absolutely stunning. Leo said the conversation went like this:

Company spokesperson: “The stuff we make sells like crazy in Russia, but doesn’t sell in the U.S.”

Leo: “Is this chair one of the items?”

Company: “Well, yes.”

Leo: “The back is too steep and the cushion is too hard. I can help with the angles. … And the legs are too short. It needs to be taller, too.”

Anyway, Leo’s reputation earned him notice from the magazine, which came to Charlotte looking for a French home to feature. Vesta and Dan Gray, owners of the featured home, heard Leo’s name even before they moved down from Baltimore.

Leo said one of their neighbors had heard of his work and advised, “You’ve got to hire this guy.” They made contact, Leo said, and then called him about buying a French-style house near the Arboretum. He confesses that he told them, “There aren’t any French houses near the Arboretum.” They persuaded him, and sure enough: It was not only French, but also well done. “An architect had built it and done a good job keeping it authentic.”

Leo added a garage, changed the pink exterior stucco to yellow with washes of rust and moss green, and filled the interior with finds discovered on a shopping trip to France. In pictures in the magazine, the interior glows with a golden patina.

Country French is a specialty publication, published twice a year by Meredith, the company that produces Better Homes and Gardens. It’s available at Lowe’s, Home Depot and other such outlets, Leo said. You can order it online at

There’s nothing in the magazine about the times Leo took legendary racer Junior Johnson and his wife, Lisa, shopping in Paris. Those are stories for another time.

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