Curb appeal reigns supreme in Houston’s Heights neighborhood, where grand Victorians and Craftsman-style bungalows edge idyllic tree-lined streets. Most are zoned as historic, save for a pocket of homes where designer Marie Flanigan and her husband, Joe, bought a then-quirky Craftsman. “It was basically a small bungalow surrounded by much grander residences,” says Marie. “Yet it was on this big, beautiful, light-filled corner lot.” With sensitive architectural updates and a little more square footage in the right places, the Flanigans knew it could be a stunner.
“The neighborhood was booming, and the project was perfect for our skills,” says Marie, who earned a degree in architecture from Texas A&M University and immediately saw the bungalow’s potential. Best of all, it wasn’t encumbered by strict historic preservation guidelines, allowing more freedom to make decisions such as changing the façade and installing energy-efficient windows.
Marie pictured the cottage with a full-width front porch, double-gable roof, and Craftsman-style architectural features both outside and indoors, as well as an airy floor plan accommodating a much larger kitchen and master suite. The plans she drafted reflected that vision, right down to astutely placed interior columns and coffered ceilings, which define activity areas in the newly opened and streamlined layout while unifying them with analogous details. “The kitchen and dining areas live within one large space, but the kitchen’s coffered ceiling clearly outlines the fact that it serves as a unique and individual space within that larger context,” Marie notes.
The couple joined forces with builder Hernan Vargas to help transform the bungalow. A series of hurdles, however, created more work than anticipated. First, they needed to move the home back from the street in order to gain room to expand. “To bump the footprint out a bit in every direction, we had to pick the house up and move it about 3 feet to the east and away from the street to respect the city’s setback code,” Vargas explains. “They lifted the house onto railroad ties and used hydraulic jacks to slide it over.” Then, another hurdle appeared. “To accommodate the home’s longer and broader footprint, we had to raise the roof,” Vargas adds. “It was the most difficult structural accommodation we made, but also the most significant. It changed the façade and the nature of every room inside—all for the better.”
The exterior is now statelier, while interior rooms seem larger thanks to taller ceilings.
Although they originally planned to sell the house, it began to feel like home when Joe and his father laid the brick foundation for the porch columns. “That’s when I knew the house had to be ours,” Marie says. “The project was such a family affair, and I’d just found out I was pregnant, so I figured it was meant to be.” In hindsight, deciding to keep the home later in the process made the earlier decisions easier. “We were about halfway through the project, and it was too late to change anything,” the designer says. “I was so glad I didn’t know sooner, because I made smart, fast decisions. When a home is yours, you agonize over every detail.”
Furnishing the home was less clear-cut, considering Marie and Joe have differing tastes. “I appreciate contemporary elements, and Joe prefers traditional elements, but we both prefer a combination of multiple styles,” says Marie, who channeled her inner mix-master with a layered blend of pieces old, new and somewhere in-between. “A simple set of rules prevailed: We only used things we both love, that are super-comfortable, and that are family-friendly and cleanable.” An oak-framed armchair in the living room “could be from the 1940s or now,” the designer explains. She paired the time-defying piece with a sleek oak bench with a woven seat, a coffee table-turned-toy-storage chest upholstered in waxed leather, and a newly re-covered sofa the couple bought as newlyweds.
Mixed styles grace every room. In the kitchen, now four times larger, classic recessed-paneled cabinets enjoy a dose of Craftsman styling from the coffered ceiling that also defines the space, while wainscoting topped with dentil molding gives the contiguous dining area definition and a period demeanor. In the study, a campaign desk, which Marie designed after seeing a sleek new version, is made from rustic oak with an antiqued-brass frame for a more organic attitude, while a sleek white-lacquered console, also Marie’s design, has an earthy wood frame. “They were designed to be sleek and streamlined in structure and then finished in a rich combination of both luxurious and rustic materials,” Marie explains.
Ultimately, Marie believes it’s the details that make a project, and in this case, it was the detail of raising the roof that had the most impact. “Now, we have a huge unfinished attic we didn’t expect. But we don’t need any more space,” she says, laughing, “yet.” The family may not yet need the additional space, but they are certainly enjoying the home’s stunning new façade and, perhaps most of all, its intact historic charm. Says Marie: “Rather than demolish the home, we opted to restore it, unveiling the natural beauty that lives within.”