When a family started planning their return to Houston after a stint in Colorado, they thought they knew exactly what they wanted in a home: brand new construction filled with plenty of antiques. That was, however, until a chance encounter with a bayou residence, designed in the 1970s by well-regarded Texas architect Frank Welch, changed their minds. “Our vision was going to be Old World with modern elements mixed in,” says the wife. “But once we found this house that idea didn’t feel right anymore.” Its great bones and contemporary vibe persuaded the family to take a leap of faith—to bring new life to an aging beauty—one made easier by the fact that architect Jesse Hager would be undertaking the ambitious remodel. “It’s a fantastic home on a unique site, but it had some details that didn’t age well,” says Hager, who worked on the project with partner Heather Rowell. “The house wanted to engage with the landscape, but the location of windows and doors prevented direct connection.”
Aided by the house’s original plans, which allowed Hager to “see the underlying geometric leanings that were pretty common in the 1970s,” the architect envisioned a near-total gut renovation. “Much of the interior was rearranged to accommodate the now open floor plan and proposed new layers of order,” he says. Beginning outside, massive walls of Texas limestone offer an organizing presence, says Hager, “breaking things up and providing thresholds and transitions,” as they transverse the house. Inside, the reconfigured entrance leads directly to the dining room, though, “we didn’t want to give it all away up front and wanted a certain degree of privacy there.”
So, he broke up the space with a wooden screen, cleverly separating the room from the main axis, which runs perpendicular to the main entry. A central hall was extended through the interior, providing a cohesive spine for circulation throughout the single-story layout. In addition, ceiling heights were modified to increase the feeling of spaciousness.
Hager touched bedrooms and bathrooms, too, merging and reconfiguring them. The kitchen was also transformed into a sleek, contemporary space, and the entry sequence had its long, tube-like skylights traded in for flared versions that create a gallery-like effect. And, in the master bath, a shower door pockets into the wall to open onto the terrace and create an outdoor experience. There, the owners can take in the work of landscape architect Kevin Steed. “I fed off the architecture,” Steed says of the inspiration he used to create a program that parallels the house, using materials like Giant Ligularia and Katrina Iris to maintain interest. Adds Hager, “The couple entertains often and wanted an indoor-outdoor feel. The goal was to bring the landscape inside and the house outside.”
Realizing their original rustic, old-world vision wouldn’t fly for the interiors in the revamped house, the wife embarked on an intensive three-month research project to wrap her mind around pursuing a minimal aesthetic. “We were aiming for a unique, organic vibe and clean spaces to display exquisite furniture and art,” says the wife. “If I wasn’t obsessed with a piece, it didn’t find a home here.” While she kept things simple, choosing one or two knockout pieces to define each room, such as dynamite Vladimir Kagan sofas in the great room or Tony Duquette fixtures by Remains Lighting in the dining room, there are added “elements of glamour.” Each area was about layering. Hence, the wife created accent walls and even accent ceilings: a chic snakeskin sheaths part of the master bedroom’s ceiling. The stunning waterfall kitchen island required visits to five marble yards to find the perfect slab. Elsewhere, she played up textures, covering a wall in one of her sons’ rooms with luxurious felt and adding a wall of natural stone tiles in a bathroom.
Not long ago, Hager had the chance to see Welch speak. “He said that architecture is not stagnant,” Hager explains, “and that it lives and breathes and changes.” For Hager’s part, this motto couldn’t ring more true. He has breathed new life into this house, set the stage for the evolution of his clients’ lives,and cemented the continued evolution of this home.