Our relationship with design is reciprocal. We’re forever shaping spaces to fit our needs. At the same time, our homes exert an equal influence on us, directing our movements within every environment we encounter. For Houston couple Gilbert and DeeDee Garcia, however, it wasn’t until they created a custom residence that they fully realized the power of design. Their former house’s traditional floor plan of compartmentalized spaces pushed their family into behaviors like using the dining table as a drop zone and eating meals at the family room coffee table. “It didn’t feel right, and yet those were our habits,” Gilbert recalls. Fast forward to living in their new modern abode—brought to life by architects Yoonchul You and Shawn Gottschalk and designers Laura Umansky and Shannon Smith—and details as simple as an extended kitchen island have changed everything. “We’re eating there together all the time now,” Gilbert says. “Something so small has had such a big impact on how our family interacts.”
Along with these cozy connections, the homeowners also frequently host celebrations and fundraisers for dozens of guests. Because of that, explains You, “their new home was not just for family and friends, and the rooms couldn’t be single-function spaces.” Nor would solely interior rooms suffice. Taking advantage of a double lot that backs a park, You designed a 6,500-square-foot main residence and an 800-square-foot guest house united by a network of patios at various levels. Built under the direction of You and Gottschalk, the design not only invites guests to discover fire features, a pool and park views, but also addresses building codes requiring living spaces to be situated at least two feet above the 500-year flood plain. “The biggest challenge in this neighborhood is navigating that vertical elevation requirement from a design perspective, so the structure doesn’t look like a beach house on stilts,” Gottschalk says. “Our solution uses planters and patios at various levels; there’s a difference of five or six feet from the home’s first floor to the pool, and it’s another two feet down to the natural grade.”
To temper the scale of the elevated two-story house, You also created strong horizontal rooflines complemented by layered planes of stone walls, board-and-batten and cement-board panels, and expanses of wood, “which brings warmth with its color and texture,” he notes. The effect continues inside, where rich walnut millwork creates similar magic on a backdrop of white walls, gray porcelain tile floors and broad window expanses. Meanwhile, Umansky and Smith worked to bring in furnishings sized to match the home’s grand scale. These include everything from an entry console long enough to display name tags for 100 guests, to a massive quartzite-topped cocktail table.
The designers also styled the spaces to honor DeeDee’s vibrant personality. “I’m boisterous, and I love color,” the homeowner says. “My inspiration for the palette was a Texas sunset.” Fiery oranges enliven armchairs and the interior of a built-in library bookcase, which, when paired with a velvet-upholstered midcentury chair, “feels a little Mad Men,” Umansky says. Citrines and violets appear in artworks—including DeeDee’s collection representing Southwestern artists—and a proliferation of accent pillows. And shades of cerulean blue abound, from the living room’s leather-upholstered armchairs to a pigmented-oak cabinet positioned alongside the see-through steel staircase. Even in the outdoor living space, Umansky and Smith placed rope-wrapped chairs with bases seemingly dipped in a vat of ultramarine paint. “We think of a color palette as a thread that’s woven throughout a home,” Smith says. “We tried to make the outdoors as fun and fabulous as the indoors.”
While DeeDee’s vision for a modern Southwestern style helped drive the aesthetic, Gilbert’s love of nature and diving helped inspire the abode’s crowning glories: two massive fish tanks. The walnut millwork surrounding them conceals plumbing while also creating dramatic room dividers. “A lot of thought went into designing the wood details, which were key in bringing the volume of the interiors down to human scale, making it feel more intimate,” Umansky explains. These unexpected features also provide a main talking point for guests—lured, yet again, by design’s irresistible pull.