Real Estate / Houses

Houston’s Boldest High-Rise Retreat

Globetrotting Couple Breaks All the Rules (Velvet Walls!

BY // 10.17.16
photography Casey Dunn

For Bill Moritz and Wayne Stinnett, the golden years aren’t about kicking back and looking back. If anything, their lives are busier and more focused than ever since retirement.

Stinnett, a former energy executive, is an avid golfer who has played the 100 courses in the British Isles — and counting. Moritz, who left Neiman Marcus after more than two decades as a manager in the fur division, spent two years overseeing the renovations of their Villa d’Este high-rise apartment in the Uptown Park area.

The pair travels constantly, and their frequent dinner parties are vibrant affairs — Stinnett, an accomplished cook, studied in Bologna and Paris — with Moritz putting together a diverse guest list to spark lively conversations. “I love people with strong personalities,” Moritz says. “I invite people with opinions, even if I don’t agree with them. We had a dinner party last night with guests from very different political viewpoints. I laid the ground rules: Talk but do not argue — at least until the dessert course. Then all bets are off.”

This intrepid approach applies to almost every aspect of their lives, including the design of their high-rise, which is a spirited mix of furniture from many periods, modern art, and color- blocked bold hues. “Sometimes you have to be fearless with design,” says Moritz, “I don’t like to be safe. What fun is that?”

For their new home the couple enlisted the expertise of good friend and interior designer Jon Green of Indigo Interior Design. Green, who is known for his use of graphic spatial definition and harmonic color, was ideally suited for the task of corralling their passion for boldness into something that would endure. “They put a lot of trust in me, which I took very seriously,” Green says. “They plan on this being the last place they decorate, so I had to pull out all the stops.”

The entire 3,360-square-foot apartment was gutted and reconfigured, under the auspices of Carlo Di Nunzio of Di Nunzio Lifestyle Architecture and general contractor Goodman Even Inc., which specializes in luxury high-rise renovations. Gone now is the maze of view-blocking hallways from the unit’s original 1999 footprint, replaced by spacious rooms that flow naturally into each other. Moritz, who worked in Manhattan earlier in his career, wanted the bones of the rooms to have the feel of that city’s glorious pre-war apartments, with high ceilings and beautiful plaster moldings and details.

“The idea was to make it look like an apartment from the era that had been layered and updated through the years,” Green says. “It has deco features, and they gave it an international feel with their art and furniture.”

Dramatic art deco elements include a custom zigzag marquetry floor of ebony, sycamore, and maple in the dining room, and a crisp black-and-white oval foyer inspired by the lobby at Claridge’s in London. As in the legendary hotel, Green framed doorways and ceilings with classical pilasters and moldings, from 133-year-old Decorators Supply Corporation in Chicago, which uses historic molds to cast its plaster. The treatment not only provides symmetry, says Green, but bolsters the rooms with the kind of interior architecture most newer buildings lack.

Custom sofa by Designer's Furniture Mfg. in Zoffany velvet. Deco chair in Jack Larson fabric from Interior Crafts, Chicago. Dan Christensen's "Chord Progression II," 1980. Custom chairs in Holland & Sherry mohair. Custom Stark rug.
Custom sofa by Designer’s Furniture Mfg. in Zoffany velvet. Deco chair in Jack Larson fabric from Interior Crafts, Chicago. Dan Christensen’s “Chord Progression II,” 1980. Custom chairs in Holland & Sherry mohair. Custom Stark rug.

Great taste and style have their advantages. When Stinnett and Moritz sold their previous home, the new owners purchased much of their art and furniture. A blank slate is an ideal situation for any designer, but for Green, it was also a chance for the three friends to travel and shop together to buy art and furniture.

“We spent a lot of time in New York looking for light fixtures,” says Green, who snagged a pair of exquisite Ruhlmann-style sconces for the dressing room on one trip. During a sojourn to Paris, which was as much for pleasure as to buy, they fell in love with hand-painted de Gournay Willow wallpaper panels, which they had custom-colored and made into a folding screen for the living room.

The couple kept only a handful of favorites from their previous home, such as a pair of Empire-era chandeliers, a Fortuny lighting pendant, and a large Italian dining table. Green filled in with furniture he designed, much of it based on deco-era furnishings, hand-built by David Longwood of Designer’s Furniture Mfg.

The couple’s hobbies and collections inspired entire rooms. The china room, which doubles as a breakfast area, houses Moritz’s collection of plates and tabletop pieces. Stinnett, a voracious reader of history books and novels, got a high-gloss lacquer library based on one Albert Hadley designed for Brooke Astor, which leads into the master suite. And Green designed a handsome dressing room for Moritz’s extensive collection of John Lobb bespoke shoes, which also has a hidden door for quick access to their luggage, should the travel bug bite.

Their growing collection of contemporary art, which includes works by Julian Schnabel, Robert Longo, Donald Sultan, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Herb Ritts, laid the basis for the home’s vibrant peacock blue, lemon-curd yellow, emerald green, orange, and, of course, 1920s black and white.

“They wanted a fresh, crisp look, so I used blocks of strong color in each room for more impact,” says Green. Moritz, who was adamant that the colors be clear, not muddy, rejected many fabric and paint samples before settling on a pleasing palette.

The extra effort was worth it — the apartment’s sumptuous colors are one of the first things people notice. Case in point: Cocooned in peacock Rubelli silk velvet, the dining room walls have turned out to be a petting zoo.

“People just want to run their hands all over the velvet, it’s so luscious,” Moritz says. “But it always leaves handprints, and Jon freaks out.”

Finally, the designer came up with a solution: a wide paintbrush to smooth out the mussed velvet nape, which he had slipcovered in velvet and monogrammed with his clients’ initials. Green presented it to them one evening when he arrived for dinner. Says Moritz: “Now, when anyone comes over and touches the wall, I hand it to them and say, ‘Take 30 lashes with the paint brush.’”

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