Home + Design / Architecture

Inside Poppi Massey’s Swinging New River Oaks Dream Home — Inspired by Palm Springs, Art, a Love of Collecting and Pure Fun

Walk Around the Joyful Mid-Century Yourself During the AIA Houston Home Tour

BY // 10.19.23
photography Pär Bengtsson

Poppi Massey’s swinging new River Oaks residence was inspired by her favorite childhood vacation home in Indian Wells, California, where her family regularly spent time. Overlooking the fairway at the fabled Eldorado Country Club, this Palm Springs area mid-century modern house was a swank diversion from their Houston homestead, a stately 1930s Colonial Revival in River Oaks.

“My parents would have these big parties at the Indian Wells house during the Bob Hope Desert Classic (golf tournament),” Massey remembers. “I’d ride around in a golf cart. It was so much fun.”

The roof’s broad soffits are wrapped in vinyl printed with magnolia leaves and blooms. Metal detailing by Iron Access. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
The roof’s broad soffits are wrapped in vinyl printed with magnolia leaves and blooms. Metal detailing by Iron Access. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)

Poppi Massey’s new mid-century River Oaks house was finished last year — and will be featured in the AIA Houston Home Tour this Saturday, October 21st and Sunday, October 22nd.

This new home was a long time coming. Massey had already torn down two previous houses on the same lot due to mold issues — a 1950s Colonial Revival that looked a lot like the one she grew up in and a newly constructed house that engendered ire among the neighbors for its large size and ultra-modern style.

Third time’s a charm — fingers crossed — and Massey has rebuilt yet again in the same spot. 

“I knew what I wanted to go for this time: a more mid-century modern feel and a manageable size,” she says.

Introducing Pêche

Swipe
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024

On a friend’s recommendation, Massey hired architect Dillon Kyle, who had been a couple of years behind her at The Kinkaid School. “He’s really collaborative and listens,” she says. 

They borrowed a few of Massey’s favorite design details from her parents’ chic Sinatra-esque house, including a classic mid-century hairpin design for metalwork on the exterior and an interior staircase. They also copied the original front door, with its hairpin pattern in wood relief. The green-and-white terrazzo floors — her favorite color combination — were inspired by similar floors at the Havana Riviera (now the Hotel Habana Riviera by Iberostar), a historic 1957 resort hotel in Cuba that Massey visited some years ago. She promised herself that she’d build a new house one day with those floors.

“I love the geometry of it all,” she says. “It just makes me happy.”

An attorney and political activist, Poppi Massey is also a contemporary art collector and philanthropist. Art League Houston named her Texas Patron of the Year in 2016, and she’s recently co-chaired fundraising galas for the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and Houston Center for Photography. Her new house is an ideal spot to host big crowds, and in January, Massey opened the doors to her new residence for CAMH’s annual fundraiser Another Great Night.

She travels to Art Basel and the Venice Biennale to buy art, and her walls are covered with works by significant artists such as Kehinde Wiley, Isaac Julien, Malick Sidibé, Trenton Doyle Hancock, James Surls and Keith Haring. Massey likes art that’s fun on the surface but also has underlying social commentary. Like Tim Berg and Rebekah Myers’ twin popsicle sculpture — one frozen and the other melted — an observation on climate change.

Poppi Massey doesn’t take herself or her collection too seriously.

A dining and seating area with black bamboo dining table from Wyeth and Philippe Starck chairs in Missoni fabric. Eero Aarnio Bubble pendant chair and vintage white patent-leather tube bench from London. Custom rug by Vanderhurd. Painting on fireplace by Gabriela Trzebinski, sculpture by Luis Ortiz Monasterio. On wall outside, Tim Berg and Rebekah Myers’ Twin Pop sculpture. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
A dining and seating area with black bamboo dining table from Wyeth and Philippe Starck chairs in Missoni fabric. Eero Aarnio Bubble pendant chair and vintage white patent-leather tube bench from London. Custom rug by Vanderhurd. Painting on fireplace by Gabriela Trzebinski, sculpture by Luis Ortiz Monasterio. On wall outside, Tim Berg and Rebekah Myers’ Twin Pop sculpture. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)

“I can’t really call what I have a collection,” Massey says.  “That implies there’s some thought and direction behind it. I’m sure someone can walk through and find a theme. But it’s whatever I fall in love with.” 

Massey likes to have fun, and her new River Oaks house is full of unexpected and amusing details. The broad soffits under the roof are covered in photographs of magnolia leaves and blossoms, the same kind of large-scale vinyl material used to wrap buses with ads. A series of V-shaped metal poles protruding through the roof suggest a tepee, and when Massey got a little pushback from the architects about it, she proposed that the poles could also be used as gutters, a clever solution to a problem they’d been grappling with.

As with her previous houses, Poppi Massey designed the interiors herself.

“The bad thing about being in charge of every detail is that I’m not a designer,” she says. “So when my daughters-in-law came to stay and I was in the guest room putting out fresh towels, I was like, “I forgot towel racks!’” She ran to The Home Depot last minute and drilled them into the walls herself.

On the flip side, being in charge has elicited a highly personal house that feels as spirited as its owner.

“That’s what a home should be,” Massey says. “People could walk through my house — or even just look at the outside — and get an idea of my personality. I like color. I’m festive. I’m not a rule follower.”

She estimates that the living/dining room has 15 different colors, from a vintage red Vladimir Kagan sofa to a pair of purple Arne Jacobsen Swan chairs and a custom England-made Vanderhurd rug woven in pinks, reds and whites. She traveled to London — where she lived many years ago when her children were young — to commission the rug. She’s kept a smattering of furnishings from her time abroad, including the living room’s ’60s-era white patent-leather tube bench, a groovy flea market find. 

Vintage furniture in sitting area includes a Vladimir Kagan sofa, mid-century coffee table, arc lamp, Arne Jacobsen Swan chair. Custom Vandehurd rug. Trenton Doyle Hancock painting, Jeff Zimmermann sculpture.   (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Vintage furniture in sitting area includes a Vladimir Kagan sofa, mid-century coffee table, arc lamp, Arne Jacobsen Swan chair. Custom Vandehurd rug. Trenton Doyle Hancock painting, Jeff Zimmermann sculpture.   (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)

Almost everything comes with a backstory. The living room’s DWR Bubble pendant chair, originally designed by Eero Aarnio in 1968 in Finland, Massey notes “is really fun, but it has a hole in it because I accidentally shot it with my BB gun. I was making a point that the glass in our old house was shatterproof.

“It cracked the glass and put a hole in the chair. I’ve always said ‘I’ll try it, so you don’t have to.’ ” 

Poppi Massey is never one to back down from a challenge, and she sometimes pushed the builder Thomsen Company to do the seemingly impossible. When the glitter grout she wanted for her shower was discontinued, contractor Mike Timmons asked her for a second choice. She hadn’t even considered one. Instead, she suggested they get glitter and pump it into the grout — “and they did!”

The library is probably the most personal room in the house, with shelves styled with Massey’s favorite art books — Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yayoi Kusama. Tucked between books is family memorabilia: a movie clapperboard and camera she inherited from her late filmmaker brother, along with a war-room plaque her father always kept on his desk. She has a collection of Visionaire books, including 44 Toys, a collaboration with Kidrobot that consists of humanoid characters created by designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Miuccia Prada. The dolls are lined up on a shelf.

“I know you’re not supposed to open them up and play with them,” Massey says. “But how can you not? They’re toys!”  

In the library, a custom Vanderhurd rug and custom sofa by Interior Define.<br />(Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
In the library, a custom Vanderhurd rug and custom sofa by Interior Define.
(Photo by Pär Bengtsson)

Like her furnishings, the art in Massey’s house is color-packed and often amusing. Augusto Esquivel’s sculptural installation of a fire hydrant is made from thousands of buttons threaded with clear monofilament and suspended in a doorway in her bedroom. Brazilian artist Nina Pandolfo’s painting of a girl with big eyes and purple hair has childlike innocence until you notice the drops of blood — there are dolls tumbling out of her backpack and one has already been eaten by a large carnivorous plant.

Massey finds this hilarious. The painting’s red, pink and purple palette inspired the same colors for her bedroom, which has a purple ceiling.

“Those colors may give other people headaches, but they make me happy,” she says. 

It all comes together joyously, and that’s the point. Party guests, Uber drivers, landscapers and FedEx delivery guys have all commented on how much they love the house. The dog walker called it a “vacation house” and offered to come back anytime.

“It’s a happy house,” Massey says. “If you can give someone a little moment of fun, that’s cool.” 

Poppi Massey’s house is on the AIA Houston Home Tour this Saturday, October 21 and Sunday, October 22. For more information and tickets, go here.

Hilton Anatole
It's all Play here
Book Your JadeWaters Package Today

Featured Properties

Swipe
X
X