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Saving Houston’s Historic Cottages Turns a Prime City Block Into a Charming Wonderland

Inside the Cottages at Matt Camron's Rare World

BY // 04.05.19

In a city with no zoning, a disregard for preservation, and surging real estate prices, it’s exhilarating to see cottages crop up on a prime block of Westheimer between Bammel Lane and Sackett Street in Upper Kirby. That’s exactly what has happened at the Cottages at Matt Camron.

Matt Esfahani, owner of Matt Camron Rugs & Tapestries, has long owned the block that houses his popular rug showroom and the much-loved Italian restaurant Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino.

In 2016, developer Giorgio Borlenghi bought the block due south, which once housed The Gardens of Bammel Lane, an assortment of 15 vintage bungalows-turned-storefronts moved to the location by car-dealership magnate Charlie Thomas in the 1980s. Thomas, known for his antique car collection, also had a penchant for antique houses at risk of being demolished across the city.

Borlenghi put the bungalows up for sale to clear the block for a high-rise (that was put on hold a year later). Esfahani and his daughter, Sarah Esfahani Tringhese, couldn’t bear to see the cottages destroyed, so they bought seven and moved them to their underutilized block.

Esfahani enlisted his longtime architect, Patton Brooks, who built the Esfahani family’s Houston home, as well as their home on the island of Roatán, to determine which buildings were best suited for relocation, to site the numerous cottages properly within the space, and to create a master plan of landscaped sidewalks and walkways within the block, all circling a charming central gazebo.

The neighbor-friendly, walkable block is a familiar layout in small Eastern towns like Amagansett, New York, but is almost revolutionary in Houston.

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“I was in Houston for 50 years, so anything that helps the city grow in a good way, I’m for,” Brooks says via phone from California, where he now resides. “The cottages are part of old Houston. Old neighborhoods, with houses on blocks. I’m not talking about River Oaks. I’m talking about the lesser districts where people didn’t have fences and didn’t have to lock doors.”

Almost as unique as the development is the decision to lease the buildings to creatives. But it’s unsurprising if you know Esfahani and Tringhese, who own additional properties long-leased to creatives, like the Persa compound across from St. Anne’s that houses 20th-century furniture store Galerie Novella and Meg Lonergan Interiors.

“Somebody special has to be in there. That’s kind of how I feel about all of my spaces,” Tringhese says over coffee at Giacomo’s, her go-to meeting haunt. “We really wanted to create a creative community, so we were very selective with the tenants to foster the vibe that we wanted — to make it special and feel different.”

Interior design firm Tokerud + Co has an office at The Cottages at Matt Camron.
Interior design firm Tokerud + Co has an office at The Cottages at Matt Camron. (Photo by Jack Thompson)

Retail offerings include interior design shops Paloma Contreras and Devon Liedtke‘s new Paloma & Co, a second location for Renea Abbott‘s Shabby Slips, Suzanne Duin‘s Maison Maison, and Roseanette Navarro Interiors; and fashion boutiques Alchemia and Cooperativa. On the wellness front is Restored Motion Pilates + Yoga. Interior design firms Jennifer Barron Interiors, Jackson Warren Interiors, and Tokerud + Co., and marketing agency Swiggard Creative maintain offices in additional cottages.

“We wanted a village, community-like feel,” Tringhese says. “Jennifer Barron is able to walk to Matt Camron to select rugs and to Paloma & Co for accessories for her projects. Hannah Swiggard does social media for some of the tenants. It’s nice that everyone can collaborate.”

Further enhancement of the block is to come. After the seven relocated cottages joined the existing buildings on site, the exteriors were unified with a crisp coat of white paint; interiors are left up to the tenants. Abbott added historic dentil molding to her cottage, and Duin wallpapered hers to the hilt in all the right ways.

Giacomo’s, which will be refaced with white wood siding, will have potted olive trees and outdoor seating on the newly constructed back patio — the ideal spot for an aperitif after shopping.

The Matt Camron cottage fronting Westheimer will be painted white with a new awning, and the warehouse will be repainted also, likely in a shade of gray.

Tringhese also plans to add plaques telling the histories of the buildings, which are as diverse and charming as the cottages themselves. Two are originals from West University Place, one dating to 1927, the other to 1931. (West University, the oldest residential development on Houston’s West side, was subdivided in 1917 and incorporated in 1925.) One building was a humble garage apartment from the 1930s; another originally stood on a strawberry farm in Pasadena. The Balaban house, built in 1928, was owned by a Ukranian immigrant and father of five — the family had many income sources, including a small dairy operation in which the children delivered milk to the neighbors.

“There is so much development going on in Houston, and this is kind of the opposite of all those high-rise projects,” Tringhese says. “We will continue to add to this project and hope that it will be here for a long time.”

The Cottages at Matt Camron

Alchemia, 3201 Westheimer Road, alchemiastyle.com

Cooperativa, 2708 Sackett Street, cooperativashop.com

Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino, 3215 Westheimer Road, giacomosciboevino.com

Jackson Warren Interiors, 3010 Earl Street, jacksonwarreninteriors.com

Jennifer Barron Interiors, 2705 1/2 Bammel Lane, jbarroninteriors.com

Maison Maison, 3014 Earl Street, maisonmaisondesign.com

Matt Camron Rugs + Tapestries, 2702 Sackett Street, mattcamron.com

Paloma & Co, 2705 Bammel Lane, shoppalomaandco.com

Restored Motion Pilates + Yoga, 2703 Bammel Lane, restoredmotion.com

Roseanette Navarro Interiors, 3209 Westheimer Road, roseanettenavarrointeriors.com

Shabby Slips, 2704 Sackett Street, myshabbyslips.com

Swiggard Creative, 3018 Earl Street, swiggardcreative.com

Tokerud + Co, 3010 Earl Street, tokerud-co.com

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