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Real Estate / Home + Design

New York Transplant Jumps on a Rare River Oaks House

The Power of Negative Space in Houston

BY // 12.13.16
photography Peter Molick

Greg Fourticq has honed a design sense that is spare and architectural, with origins traced to a curriculum vitae as former vice president of retail for Calvin Klein and Donna Karan in New York City and, by another six degrees, traced to Marfa.

“My first project at Calvin Klein was rebranding, just after Calvin had become acquainted with Donald Judd and Chinati,” says Fourticq, who returned to Houston five years ago to join his family’s private equity business. “The store fixtures were like Judd sculptures. He had a specific aesthetic that was very precise, and it made my mind work like that.”

At Donna Karan, Fourticq helped design clean retail environments that were a bit more prescribed, yet every bit as reductive. As a result of these earlier career stints, Fourticq fell in love with a pared-down River Oaks-area home — one of only four known houses in Houston designed by modern regionalist architect Frank Welch. He had admired it for many years before it went on the market in 2011. He’d just moved to town from New York City.

“I had already bought a lot and was making plans to build a house when my broker told me someone wanted the property,” he says. “My heart wasn’t in it, so I sold it. Three days later, this house became available. I literally jumped up from my desk and ran to my car. I had a contract signed by 10 pm that night.”

Built in 1982 for interior designer Sue Rowan Pittman, the house embodied Welch’s soft modern hallmarks — stone and hardwood floors, a French carved- stone fireplace in the living room, and soaring 20-foot ceilings. In this house, light and space are plentiful.

Greg-forticq
View from the front hall into the atrium.

“Coming from New York, where there’s always a building next door to block your light, I love all the natural light in here,” he says. Pittman commissioned late Texas sculptor Jesús Morales to create a fountain sculpture for the backyard pool.

“She was just a pretty cool chick,” Fourticq says. “It was the first plumbed sculpture Morales had ever done. He even came and cleaned it and made some repairs himself after I moved in, about a year before he died.”

Greg Fourticq thinks big. “I gravitate towards large things,” he says. “It’s not something I really notice I’m doing until I start to move to a new place. My art is big, and my furniture is big. That’s one reason this house appeals.”

At 6,500 square feet, with two stories and soaring ceilings, the house offers the kind of opportunity for negative space that was impossible in New York.

“I don’t like a lot of stuff, and I like having empty space around objects,” he says. “Things can lose their appeal if there’s too much going on.” There’s a Donald Baechler sculpture in front of a large mirror on one side of the dining room … and nothing else. Isolating them in empty space makes them stand out, he says.

It helps that he’s not an impulse buyer. “I look at things long-term. About 75 percent of what’s in my house now, I moved here from New York,” he says. “I don’t get rid of stuff or move things around. Everything is very curated.”

Much of it was acquired while traveling around the world during his tenure with Donna Karan, including a Chinese chest and scholar, bought in Paris with Karan years ago.

“It’s all over the board,” he says. “I have George Smith mohair chairs, a Mies daybed and stools, an old Persian rug, a zebra skin. I bought a pair of Wedgwood lamps and a marble bust of Socrates in London. It’s mixed up, but it works.”

Fourticq might have minimalist leanings, but he does have well considered collections, including a large selection of Wedgwood basalt from the late 1800s to the 1930s and a delightful group of unglazed Nymphenburg white porcelain animals, much of which he bought from Sloan/Hall in Houston, Ted Muehling in New York, and directly from the Nymphenburg factory in Munich years ago. His taxidermy collection includes “anything with horns,” including water buffalo and bison.

Nymphenburg
Nymphenburg porcelain from Sloan/Hall and Ted Muehling, NY.

Fourticq resists the urge to place chairs or tables where none are needed — instead, he lets artwork hover alone in a space or on a wall for impact. A light-drenched front room showcases figural black-and-white photographs by Herb Ritts, Karl Lagerfeld, and Doug and Mike Starn, while a massive figurative painting by Belgian artist Bénédicte Peyrat anchors the dining room.

“I have one even larger that I bought in Berlin that wouldn’t fit in the elevator in New York, so I removed it from the stretcher and carried it up,” he says.

An angular all-white artwork by Houston artist Joseph Cohen makes a striking statement over the mantel. While Fourticq’s home appears to be the embodiment of self-control, there’s one area he indulges with abandon.

“I’m obsessed with books, and I’m constantly buying them,” he says. He’s amassed hundreds of volumes on art, architecture, and photography. “I’m always pulling them down to reference something I’m working on, or an artist whose work I’m following. I can look at a book a dozen times and each time see something new.

Some houses are just meant to be. Fourticq is philosophical about how this one fell in his lap when the timing was right; he tells a story about a friend who came to visit shortly after he finished decorating it. The friend had seen the house when Sue Pittman had lived in it and was amazed. It was as if Fourticq had channeled her as a muse without realizing it.

“She had a Chinese screen in the exact spot I have one in the living room over the sofa,” says Fourticq. “And the only room that’s painted a color is the dining room, which I painted dark brown. Sue had done it in dark green.” He left the custom hand-blocked wallpaper, with its delightful tortoiseshell and butterfly designs, in the powder room.

“I didn’t do anything to the house but spiff it up,” he says. “She built this house for entertaining and displaying art, and that’s been perfect for me.”

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