A Transitional Houston Manse With Globally-Inspired Accents


Transitional Georgian-Style Front Exterior

Architect Virginia Kelsey simplified the silhouette of this house by swapping arched windows for clean-lined apertures with stone sills, and removing dormers and ornate architectural elements. Landscape design is by Curtis & Windham Architects; installation by Florascapes.

Traditional White and Brown Living Room

Noteworthy pieces in the living room include a Micronesian stool traditionally used to scrape coconuts, an Aboriginal painting from Australia’s Western Desert and a Portuguese limestone fireplace surround found at Chesney’s in New York. The coffee table is from Balinskas Imports.

Transitional Arched Hallway

Designer Lucia Benton incorporated her clients’ extensive collection of Aboriginal, Oceanic and African art and objects throughout the home.

Transitional Paneled Breakfast Room

A second, more intimate dining space off the library, where antique Indian camel-bone marquetry chairs sit near a Nigerian crown made of cowrie shells, palm fiber and animal skin. The table is from Jaya Furniture in Austin.

Transitional White Marble Kitchen

The custom kitchen island and cabinetry from Vasquez Woodmasters are topped with statuary marble. Hardware is from Fixtures & Fittings. The Wolf microwave and double ovens, and a Viking vent hood, were sourced at K&N Builder Sales. The brushed-nickel pendants are by Circa Lighting.

Transitional Art-Filled Dining Room

Chocolate-hued walls in the dining room highlight Aboriginal mud paintings. Designer Lucia Benton kept the walls below the chair rail white and re-covered the 18th-century chairs with fabric found at David Sutherland. The Moroccan-style lanterns were purchased through Marston & Langinger England.

Traditional Chestnut-Paneled Library

The original mahogany paneling in the library was stripped and stained a warm chestnut. The leather sofa and chairs, all existing pieces, are by Coach. The Afghan granary being used as a side cabinet was found at Santa Kilim in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Transitional Pool with Sculpted Accents

Pennsylvania bluestone surrounds a saltwater pool designed by Kelsey. It aligns on an axis with an extended dining porch; the furniture and cushions are by Janus et Cie. A Balinese statue acquired by the homeowners on their travels abroad serves as a water element.

Transitional Master Bedroom Sitting Area

Above the fireplace in the master suite hangs the first piece the owners purchased as a married couple: Dawul Country by Aboriginal artist Rover Thomas. The chairs are upholstered in Great Plains cotton velvet. The wool rug is from Creative Flooring Resources.

Elegant Transitional Master Bathroom

The reconfigured master bath now includes a trio of elegant niches; they hold his-and-her sinks and a marble-topped cabinet. The bath filler and Victoria + Albert tub are from Fixtures & Fittings.

When architect Virginia Kelsey was hired to renovate a custom home in one of Houston’s leafy gated communities, the objective was fairly circumspect: to remodel a third-floor space into a luxurious suite for guests. What she wound up doing by the time the project was completed 18 months later, however, was something altogether different.

Once Kelsey began, she says, she realized that other areas of the home also called for her attention. Her clients—an oil and gas investor and a financial executive—were open to her suggestions. “If we were going to pull it apart, then it made sense to do it right,” says the husband, who had moved out of a modern house in the same neighborhood after its open rooms and hard surfaces proved incapable of muffling the noise generated by his growing family.

With her clients’ blessings, Kelsey adjusted the scale of the home’s exterior, lowering its central pediment to bring it more into proportion with the rest of the structure and giving the front gable a gentler neoclassical line. She added an elegant mantel to the front entry and affixed quoins to the building’s corners to give it substance. The result: A simplified silhouette vaguely evocative of a Georgian manse. “It’s all about proportion and scale,” says Kelsey, who, though trained as a modernist under I.M. Pei, considers herself a classicist. “We brought all the disparate parts into harmony with each other.”

Inside, the objective was to address the lack of definition and personality. Kelsey reorganized spaces not only to make them more usable, but also to make them more warm and inviting. With the help of builder Jake Housberg (they have worked together for nine years), she wrapped the kitchen in large slabs of statuary marble and designed an island reminiscent of a French Empire cupboard she found on 1stdibs, and reconfigured the master suite to allow for dressing rooms, storage closets and an updated bath. Throughout, ceiling heights were adjusted to give rooms a more human scale.

The new interior proved to be the canvas upon which designer Lucia Benton could be bold and inventive—and into which she could incorporate her clients’ extensive collection of Aboriginal, Oceanic and African art and objects, including a painting acquired at an auction in Australia on the night of their wedding in the States. (It required some post-reception long-distance dialing.) “Their collection is amazing,” says Benton.

The designer developed a strong background color story of deep chocolate, aubergine and red, and incorporated into it a layered mix of textures, patterns and materials. She refinished inherited pieces, such as the dining chairs that were bought at auction 25 years ago, and repurposed others, including the architectural elements from an Indian temple she had made into bedside tables.

She also found ways to dramatize the homeowners’ works of art as the points of interest they undeniably are—earth-toned mud paintings from Australia; a life-size body mask festooned with grasses from Papua New Guinea; and a headdress embellished with glass beads and plant fiber that once belonged to a Ugandan king.

“What makes me happiest about this project is that my clients now have a house that makes them happy every time they walk through the front door,” says Benton. “Everything is as it should be, and they finally feel like they’re at home.”

—Suzanne Gannon