By Laurann Claridge. Architecture Stern and Bucek. Photography Jack Thompson.
- April 27, 2010
It isn’t every day an architecture firm receives a commission from clients as stylish and sophisticated as this pair. Then again, seldom do you find anyone more engaged in the design process than the homeowners who asked the principals of Houston architectural firm Stern and Bucek — William Stern, David Bucek and Daniel Hall — to be their collaborators on these surrounds.
Image: In the suspended fireplace, a flame appears from beneath black recycled, mirrored glass. In the dining room, the vintage Knoll dining table is surrounded by a dozen white leather Christian Liaigre chairs for Holly Hunt, from George Cameron Nash. Black patent-leather chairs. Juliska crystal and candelabras from David Brown. Flowers by Johnathan Andrew Sage.
This couple appreciates a modern sensibility in both architecture and furnishings. As collectors of contemporary art and vintage furniture (much of it mid-century classics), their personal style is defined by a clean classicism infused with drama and a whole lot of glamour. Think Kelly Wearstler chattering with Jonathan Adler about the genius of Karl Springer and Milo Baughman over lunch. The team from Stern and Bucek respectfully acknowledged and granted the couple’s requests, which included a sunken living room just off the entry with ceilings that soar to 12 feet — a space that can extend outside to one of three courtyards.
Image: The family room melds into the dramatic black-lacquered kitchen. Storage is cleverly concealed on both sides of the two islands, floor to ceiling, and all along the right wall. On the counter, a framed Conté-and-graphite piece on Mylar and paper by Steve Burtch, through Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery. Pair of Chinese armchairs, repainted with high-voltage yellow lacquer and upholstered in black mohair by Knoll.
But the most prominent design statements in this Museum District home are the spectacular, almost floating staircase and the three-sided fireplace — suspended, no less. “The owner wanted a strong front staircase,” says Daniel Hall. “We decided it needed to be open, but we didn’t desire a traditional open stairway with the treads on the side. What this became was a center spline set of stairs — that’s the piece that goes right up the center, and the treads are cantilevered off that support. Then the guardrails attach to the treads, and it all ties together.” The fireplace, clad in a stunning ebony veneer, separates the space between the living and dining rooms, as well as the entry area. With the flick of a switch, flames rise from a shallow mound of recycled black glass rocks, igniting a center of beautiful warmth.
Image left: In the family room, the vintage Harvey Probber sectional sofa is covered with a graphic black-and-white print by Jack Lenor Larson. Mirrored console table by Todd Hase. Vintage Pace Collection cocktail table.
Image right: Beneath the floating staircase enclosed by striking glass panels is a trio of seasonal fresh branches and orchids by Johnathan Andrew Sage.
“You can stand by the base of the stairs and look out the front and side and back windows and see every courtyard — that is very unusual in a house,” Bill Stern says. “You have rooms that are defined separately. There is transparency yet this ability to interact with rooms on the outside. When things begin to transition in spring, summer and fall, it’s wonderful because you’re in this environment where you are inside/outside.”
Image left: In the sunken living room, the pair of vintage sofas with lacquered-black frames with brass nail-head trim are covered with a graphite cotton club velvet fabric by F. Schumacher & Co. Ebony demi-lunes flanking the window have mirrored tops with Greek-key detail. The tables and crystal glass lamps are all from Area. Octagonal cocktail table topped with Venetian glass bowls and vases. Milo Baughman chrome-backed swivel chairs upholstered in moss-hued cashmere wool by Robert Allen.
Image right: In the bar niche just off the kitchen, the walls are covered in a polyurethane black-and-white-painted boa print by Stark. War Bowl by Dominic Wilcox for Thorsten van Elten, fashioned from melted plastic toy solders, from Peel Gallery. Vintage panther sculpture from Metro Retro Furniture. Ranunculus from Johnathan Andrew Sage. The glass bar tray from Area is filled with Juliska and vintage decanters.
Point man Daniel Hall worked closely with the owners and Austin-based designer Joel Mozersky of One Eleven Design through the architecture and interior-design phases. “The owners wanted to build a house they could live in and entertain in that wasn’t overly formal,” says Hall. “At the time, they had one child, but we knew they’d be expanding their family further, so the bedrooms upstairs were important, as were the entertaining and play areas for the children.”
Image: The master bathroom is floor-to-ceiling Venatino Italian marble. Japanese soak tub from Ann Sacks. Marble sinks from Waterworks. Dornbracht Lulu fixtures from
The house was built on two lots — not side by side, but back to back, which allows it to elegantly straddle the lot line. The second lot became an expansive green space for children with a pool shaded by timber bamboo trees and a manicured garden, care of Gregory/Henry Landscape.
Image left: In the couple’s master bedroom, a black-lacquered bergère is upholstered in Kelly Wearstler’s emerald-cut fabric in lotus and ivory, from F. Schumacher & Co. Vintage ’70s chrome lattice-like headboard was found at an Austin flea market and later restored. Karl Springer black-and-chrome bedside tables from Fat Chance in Los Angeles. Snakeskin-covered lamps from Area. Gray silk and linen rug from Creative Flooring Resources.
Image right: The walls of the downstairs guest bathroom are covered with jade-green malachite wallpaper from the Fornasetti collection by Cole & Son. Arne Jacobsen faucet and Vitraform clear glass sink, both from Elegant Additions.
“If you look at a lot of the high-end houses that are built,” says David Bucek, “they are very big, and they seem to be valued for their size — [as if] the bigger they are, the better they are. But what happens is you cover up your site; you have this very big house on a very small lot. Through these courtyards, and paying mind to what front face we projected to the street, we were able to form negative spaces within that make it feel like a great place to be.”
Image left: This child’s room features a single wall papered in a reissue of "Alphabet 397710" by Alexander Girard, circa 1952, by Maharam. Set of two Louvre daybeds by Todd Hase, with pillows by Jonathan Adler. Tiny chalkboard table and striped foam Eva chairs, both by Offi, from Sunset Settings.
Image right: A view from the front courtyard of the house reveals the architects’ use of custom concrete slabs, brown-toned gray brick and Prodema, a prefab veneer.
This couple and their architects are never people to follow the crowd, so they broke a lot of new ground. Taking the stucco option off the table (they’d done it elsewhere) they chose a warm, brown-toned gray brick and incorporated it in the construction along with two complementary materials. Since deed restrictions mandated that masonry be the predominant material (the word “concrete” is used), they ordered precast custom concrete walls — an application often associated with commercial construction. And lest you assume that any old poured concrete will do, think again. With more than 60 color options and myriad textures available, this team was able to create an almost limestone-like appearance, quite unlike anything ever seen in this city. Finally, they warmed the exterior — and most significantly, the huge front doors — with a prefab veneer called Prodema, which has a hue reminiscent of Ipê wood. Studded with oversized custom satin-nickel knobs, the doors are a welcoming, playful touch that makes visitors feel as though they’ve come for drinks at Auntie Mame’s. “Prodema is from Spain, and the panels were custom-made and had never been used in this area,” Stern says. “It’s like something you might find for an interior wood surface, but it’s made for the exterior. It’s been up at least two years now, and it looks as good as the day it was installed.”
Image: Stern and Bucek principals, from left: Bill Stern, Daniel Hall and David Bucek.
At the end of the project, the collaborators acknowledged that they’d learned a lot with — and from — one another. As Stern notes, “This is certainly different from our other projects. To me, the success of a house is when we and the client are equally satisfied. It’s very important to work with a client’s particular taste — that moves us forward. We’re moving them forward, and they’re moving us forward.”
Image top: In the living room, flanking a Platner table, is a pair of Milo Baughman chrome-backed swivel chairs upholstered in moss-hued cashmere wool by Robert Allen. The dramatic suspended fireplace, clad in Macassar ebony, separates the living and dining rooms.
Image below: A Japanese maple tree in the side courtyard outside
the living- and dining-room areas.
This couple and their architects are never people to follow the crowd, so they broke a lot of new ground.