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Real Estate / Houses

Houston’s Amazing Townhome Wonder

Larger, Greener & More Historic Than Expected, This Architect’s Space Surprises

BY Seth Vaughan // 08.24.15
photography Jack Thompson

THE HOME OF ARCHITECT RYAN GORDON IS A REALIZATION OF THE PURE AND TIMELESS PLEASURES OF LIFE: BOOKS, ART AND ENTERTAINING. HERE, HUNTER S. THOMPSON SHARES SHELF SPACE WITH VOLUMES ON CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE. INHERITED FAMILY FURNITURE PAIRS WITH VISIONARY MODERN DESIGN FROM LE CORBUSIER AND MIES VAN DER ROHE. AND ART IS BORN FROM AN EYE CULTIVATED IN THE BASTIONS OF THE BLAFFER ART MUSEUM AND CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM HOUSTON — ALL OF WHICH MAKES FOR A STUDY IN EXPRESSIONISM.

In the den, the low seating is from West Elm. Circular carved wooden stools from Indian mills, once used to grind grain, have been repurposed as ottomans and covered in Knoll fabric. A Moroccan rug and Libbie Masterson’s Antarctica 360° (artist proof), 2008, add to the exoticism of the room.
In the den, the low seating is from West Elm. Circular carved wooden stools from Indian mills, once used to grind grain, have been repurposed as ottomans and covered in Knoll fabric. A Moroccan rug and Libbie Masterson’s Antarctica 360° (artist proof), 2008, add to the exoticism of the room.

The weeping willow at the border of Ryan Gordon’s home perfectly encapsulates the relaxed, poetic nature of the domestic environment he has quietly crafted for the past 11 years. His 1981 town home is part of a collective of seven, most of which were designed by Houston architect Tom Wilson. Gordon’s property has the largest street frontage (136 feet), and the generous front and side lawns suggest a house more than a town home. This green space creates an organic barrier for the residence while framing the contemporary angles of the structure. Some of the most important elements in the home, however, pre-date its construction.

Gordon is a fourth-generation Houstonian; his great-grandfather, M.M. Gordon, arrived in Galveston from Russia in 1890 when he was 12. After the storm of 1900, he moved to Houston and started the family business, Gordon’s Jewelers, in 1905, at 808 Preston. Gordon counts his great-grandparents’ rolltop desk and an ivory warrior they purchased in Hong Kong in the ‘80s among his favorite possessions. He also recalls an awe-inspiring trip with his grandmother, JoAnn Rich, to Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas — a property he describes as being “like a dream”: The church, designed by E. Fay Jones, is made entirely of glass and stands in the middle of the woods.

Gordon’s home demonstrates his insatiable curiosity about all things art and design, with a heavy emphasis on art — a passion born from his involvement in the founding of the CAMH’s young professional group, The Studio, and his time as board chair for the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum. With ample opportunity to cultivate his eye, he currently collects pieces by contemporary artists, many local, including Trenton Doyle Hancock, The Art Guys, Patrick Turk, Aaron Parazette, Joseph Havel, Daniel Fabian, Emily Sloan and Libbie Masterson. Over the course of three separate renovations, Gordon has carved out a space that reflects his appreciation of architecture as a design element, relating to his own domestic experience. By laying dark hardwoods and painting much of the home’s lower level a serene shade of gray, he has achieved a weightlessness that underscores the inherent strengths of the architecture: floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors along the ground-story façade; voluminous spaces including the 17-foot-tall kitchen and stairwell space; and flourishes such as the living-room opening into a double-height clerestory-like ceiling shared with the master bedroom above. These unique and unexpected architectural elements have allowed Gordon to take liberties with the interiors, which reflect two dichotomous themes: design-related furniture acquired through online auctions, paired with meaningful family pieces.

Surprisingly, the styles harmoniously coexist — and prevent either from becoming overarching. The one necessary addition to the property, he says, was a laundry room. He sacrificed a portion of the garage to create the galley-like service area — an impressive concession, considering his growing car collection, which includes a 1930 Ford Model A Deluxe Roadster. Ultimately, Gordon decorates the house with history and individuality. The result is a home anchored in another era, one in which hospitality and sincerity were favored over perfectly fluffed pillows. His desire to create a backdrop for a life focused on people instead of things is refreshing — and perhaps the greatest testament to his architectural prowess.

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Dream architectural collaboration: Designing a sailboat with a naval architect. Currently reading: Michael Allin’s Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story, From Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris, as well as Mosette Broderick’s Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White. Listening to: Tedeschi Trucks Band, Kings of Leon and Bonnie Raitt on vinyl. Favorite architect working today: Shigeru Ban and Santiago Calatrava. Your house in one word: Multifaceted.

[This article first appeared in the October 2014 Houston edition of PaperCity Magazine.]

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