Searching through Houston Area Realtors for houses on the market is usually a boring way to spend a few hours. House after house is filled with brown or black poufy leather sofas with matching chairs, floors that are stained a color that could only be described as light orange, humongous TV systems that overtake the room, terrible window treatments like these limp, arched, curtains above, and everyday clutter - and I don't mean your attractive faux English country manor clutter, but just the regular flotsam and jetsam homegrown type of clutter. The picture above represents the upper end of most homes in Houston, believe it or not! I can whip through over a 1,000 homes just like it on MLS and not see even one that sparks my attention or makes me stop to linger longer than a nanosecond. So, when there IS something that is just a little out of the ordinary or just a little different than your average "everything is brown" interior, I call it a hit, a victory, a score, a win. I'm ecstatic that I've found just one home that makes the time spent weeding through the 1,000 fugly homes worthwhile.
When I do get a hit, it becomes a process. Out of an insane curiosity, I go first to the Harris County Tax Rolls and look up who owns the house (and, yes, that information is public record and available free on your Internet) and then I do a quick Google search on the person, and within a few minutes, an attractive house becomes a mystery to solve - why is the house for sale? Was there a divorce, a new job out of town, did the owner fall on hard times, or, in our oil industry rich town - boom times? Who was the designer, or did the owner decorate his house himself? When the interiors are fabulous, I look with an twinge of envy at the talent that created such a beautiful home. Could I do it as well as they did? Did they shop in Houston, or New Orleans or France? Do the interiors reflect the owner's sensibilities, or the designer's alone? Do they appreciate the beauty of their home? Oy vey, a pretty house can cause such mental turmoil!
The hit today is a home in Houston's most exclusive neighborhood, River Oaks. It is not a huge house for River Oaks, and it's not one of it's classic old mansions - there are plenty of those filled with nasty wall to wall carpeting and antique reproductions badly in need of reupholstering. No, this house is different. It is average sized by the neighborhood's standard, measuring in at 5,300 sq ft. There are 4 or 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and 3 half baths. It has a three car garage and two fireplaces and it was built in 2004. It's interiors and exterior are very unique and quite different than the average Georgian or French home that line the gorgeous streets of River Oaks. Just four years old, I wonder about this, why does someone build a custom house in which they probably invested over 2 or 3 years going through the process, only to turn around and sell it a few years later? Odd. The owner is an attorney, of course. Most home in River Oaks are owned either by attorneys or oil men. The rest are owned by their heirs. This owner's biggest case was defending one of the Enron executives, which garners the homeowner thousands of Google hits.
Just by looking at a house and it's interiors, you can tell so much about it's owners, what they are like, how they spend their time, are they extroverted or introverted, well read and intelligent, or are they high school drop outs? A quick glance at this house and it's obvious to see that the couple are refined, wealthy, well read and very intelligent. They also are very independent - they certainly aren't a couple who follow the crowd or even care what the crowd thinks of them. They aren't very social, preferring instead to spend their time at home, puttering around in their yard or reading in their library. The husband is very strong willed, and requires privacy - his library is noted to be "soundproofed." The wife fills her time by antiquing and fluffing up her interiors. She's not on the Best Dressed List and probably wears a lot of jeans as she loves to garden and cook. They don't entertain at home much, preferring to be by themselves. Their children are grown and have flown the nest. All this information comes from just a few pictures on the MLS web site. And all the information is just a figment of my imagination. There probably should be a profession called house psychology. I don't know the owners so I have no clue if my description of them as an intelligent, worldly, well read, and private couple is correct. Look at their house and decide how you would describe the people who live here.
The Normandy home. Beautiful windows surrounded by limestone. The front yard is a wild abandonment of natural landscaping - roses and flowers. At first glance, there is no discernable front door, further suggesting a couple who likes their privacy and doesn't entertain at home at lot. One of them is definitely a gardener, a hobby of quiet solitude and suggestive of a caring, thoughtful, and empathetic person.
The front yard. Crushed stone pathways wind around what is described as an organic garden. I'm sure the wife plants herbs which she then uses in her cooking.
Another view of the front "lawn." When Ben and I were first married, we rented a cottage with landscaping very similar to this. About once a year the City of West University cited us for our "overgrown" yard and demanded we cut it down. I wonder how the neighbors and the home association feel about this yard which is definitely not your typical River Oaks front lawn of azaleas and boxwoods?
I assume this is the way to the front door - through the black gate. It's all very mysterious - are the owners mysterious too?
The main hall, the wood is painted glossy black, the walls are a faux sage color. Oil paintings of people long passed line the walls. Are they relatives, or "bought" family? The floor is marble. Not my taste or style, but still, the entry hall is intriguing and very, very attractive.
Looking back towards the front door, antiques line the walls - mirror and sconces, old maps, french chairs and benches. The wife has added soft touches - the needlepoint pillows and flowers, presumably from her garden. Otherwise, the entry hall screams masculine.
The front drawing room, again filled with antiques. To me, these antique appear to be inherited. They don't seem the kind that are so in vogue in Houston now - the pale, peeling Swedish or rustic country French antiques. This room with it's chintz curtains and pink upholstery is definitely the wife's area. It's very elegant. I like how the chandelier is over one area as opposed to the entire room. And I love the sweet portrait of the young girl on the left. Through the back door is the dining room.
A view from the opposite end. The oil painting on the left is wonderful and appears to be a significant piece of art. Looking from this view, I'm more convinced that the furniture and artwork is a mixture of that inherited and purchased by the owners. This room's upholstery needs some updating. And the wife must agree as I spy a piece of fabric sample on the chair's arm. I think the couple decorated their house mostly themselves. It has a real homey quality to it as opposed to the glamorous, don't touch type of matchy matchy decorating that a designer would have done in this room. Though a designer would probably have been needed for the window treatments.
The dining room is again filled with antique furniture - a mix of English and French. People, do NOT hang your mirror horizontally! Ever! NEVER! The mirror would look so much better vertically. I like how the doors are stained dark. I always paint my doors black - throughout the house. It makes them look so special as opposed to just being from Home Depot. The walls have a lovely faux treatment on them, barely noticeable at all, just how is should be. The French doors are wonderful and be sure to notice the hardware on them. Now that's some hardware!
The soundproofed library aka the husband's domain. I'm so envious of this space! I want a library this big! I need one this big!! A mixture of leather armchairs and ottomans. Comfy, well used couch on the right. The fireplace is large, and everything is painted glossy black. The home doesn't have a family room, just the drawing room and this library, so I suspect all the husband's time is spent right here. I just wonder if the wife is invited in? There is no noticeable TV and I think there isn't one at all. He's too busy reading to watch television anyway.
I like the antique library table with the tole chandelier over it. The wall to wall carpet was chosen to simulate a large antique rug. They definitely like to collect leather wing chairs and arm chairs. And butterflies too. What a wonderful space - so warm and cozy feeling. It feels so "real" - this room isn't staged. It is used and loved. Myself, I would take out all the leather and replace it with down cushioned, white slipcovered chairs and sofas. Look at the small chairs around the table slipcovered in white - don't they look wonderful? Last, I would install seagrass wall to wall. But, of course I would! I LOVE this room!!!
I love the kitchen! This is a cook's kitchen and it's obvious they do love to cook. Spices are out on the counter for easy reach as are the knives and utensils. The large farm table is surrounded by various French park chairs. The floors are concrete. I adore the farm sink and take a look at the pantry door! Again, this room is not staged, rather it's a reflection of the wife's warmth and love of cooking and gardening and home.
The breakfast room with its round table surrounded by an assortment of chairs, furthering my theory that there was no designer. Rather, this collection of chairs was obtained over a long period of time - something a designer wouldn't have the patience for!! There's even a stool included here. Note the concrete floors and a stone fireplace which is so authentic looking - it could be in the country side of Normandy or England. The show stopper though is the huge antique station clock. Wow. I love that! All the rough textures are juxtaposed by the rock crystal chandelier and soft gray curtains. Again, the walls are fauxed to perfection.
The last shot of the back yard, probably part of the driveway. I love their wire fence. And the wisteria looks so old and overgrown, hard to believe it's only four years old. Vintage French iron patio furniture is painted white. The breakfast room overlooks this area. I wish there were pictures of the upstairs, but I have to settle with these. I want more pictures!!!!! What a tease! I love the crushed stone paths and driveway, so French looking and authentic. One trick to having a stone pathway is not to make the stones deep. There should be just one level of stones so that it is easy to walk on. If the stones are too deep, your feet will sink down. One layer is enough.
Do you think I was correct in my analysis of the owners? How would you describe them differently than I did? Do they seem like people you would like to meet and share a meal with? Would you rather eat the meal in the dining room, or the breakfast room, the kitchen table OR the library table? Such choices!!!
Be sure to check back over the weekend when I'll be doing an extensive piece on ----- libraries, inspired by this one!!! Thanks as always for your continued support, comments, and general good wishes. They all mean the world to me and make blogging so worthwhile.
Joni aka Cote de Texas