Preserving the past is key—especially when the past is a 1930s neo-Georgian estate in Houston by legendary Texan architect John Staub—but living in it is a different story, and something that Calvin and Jill Schlenker were not quite prepared to do. “The bones of the home were amazing, and we were in awe of all of the details that were still in place from the original architecture,” says Jill, “but we really wanted to go in and refine it. Our main goal was to modernize it and make the living spaces about family and fun. We wanted it to feel sophisticated but not pretentious.” Luckily, though, the Schlenkers didn’t have to look very far back into their own personal history to find just the right person for the job: Houston-based interior designer Laura Umansky had just put the finishing touches on the couple’s previous abode.
“We had just completed a remodel on another home,” laughs Jill, “but it was a matter of finding the right house and the right feeling. When we saw the property, we knew it was the one. It had plenty of space for the children to play, gorgeous rows of trees and a sense of outdoor living that’s hard to find.” Umansky, however, was more concerned with what awaited her inside the stately residence. While she was smitten with the stunning parquet floors throughout, which are original to the home, she knew the dark, two-room kitchen was far from a perfect fit for her party-loving clients. “I wanted to be as true to the original layout and materials of the home as possible, but I also needed to create a fresh space for the young family,” says Umansky. “As I walked through the home with Calvin and Jill for the first time, I envi- sioned light, elegant rooms with a bit of whimsy.”
So, down came the walls in the kitchen, giving way to a large, bright space with white lacquered cabinets and an adjoining breakfast room, whose fanci- ful rug and purple art glass chandelier bring an unexpected pop of color to morning meals. And out went the delicate antiques that had for so long kept the house rooted in the 1930s, in favor of a look that’s decidedly more Old Hollywood glamour, as opposed to just old. To accomplish this, Umansky mixed midcentury staples with pieces that were more traditional in shape and form, opting for unusual fabrics and textures to bring the latter up to date. Mixed metallic tones liven up the warm whites and pewter tones in the formal living room, while graphic checkered floors in the pool pavilion are the perfect backdrop for bold upholstery choices. The result is a home that has all of the charm of Staub’s original design, with a healthy dose of the homeowners’ personalities injected in for good measure. “They are such a fun family,” says Umansky. “And I think we were definitely able to show that in the home.”
It wasn’t all fun and games, though; John Calloway, of Houston-based Calloway Custom Builders, had his work cut out for him. The residence’s plaster walls had to be fastidiously opened up, patched and replaced to make way for the miles and miles of new electrical wiring brought in to power the flat-screen televisions and new age gadgets; the kitchen had to be completely restructured; and the handsome antique-finished mirror tiles in the master bathroom kept cracking as they were fitted to the wall. But in the end, Calloway admits it was worth it: “Laura absolutely had a direction and a vision. She did a great job blending the old with the new, and that’s exactly what the house needed.”
And he isn’t the only one enamored with the completed project (and the woman behind it). “It was beyond what I expected,” Jill explains. “Laura remembered every comment we made and every little thing was just right—from the doorknobs to the light fixtures. It was amazing to see it all come together. It’s our dream house.”