Real Estate / High-Rises

Disney’s Exclusive, Secret, Members-Only Club Inspires a New Houston Building

Kirby Collection’s Sky-High Tower Built to be a Special Retreat

BY // 07.09.18

Kirby Collection is anything but shy. This massive mixed-use development sits on arguably the most important street in Houston — and everything about it is designed to attract attention. From the distinctive 40-foot tall LED light wall that almost beckons to drivers on Kirby at night to the striking terrace water world that greets visitors on the office lobby level, this is a place with a healthy dose of showmanship.

“We always want what I would call The Disney Wow,” Thor Equities developer Jack Bousquet says.

Still, despite those wows (and its prominent location), Kirby Collection remains something of a mystery to many Houstonians at the moment. Its restaurants and stores have not rolled out in earnest yet. It hasn’t become the hangout of society power players and party girls alike, a la Tilman Fertitta’s The Post Oak.

Right now, many Houston locals just drive by it.

That’s something of a shame. This is a complex with plenty of worthy tucked away features. The Residences at Kirby Collection — 199 units in the distinctive 25-story elliptic shaped, curving tower at the heart of the development — is built around the idea that it needs to be a special place.

Maybe not a Disney castle, but pretty darn close.

Bousquet spent 10 years as an executive at Disney Development Company — and he’s brought many of the lessons of The Mouse to Houston. In some ways, Residences at Kirby Collection is loosely modeled after the idea of Club 33, the ultra-exclusive, once largely secret, members-only retreat at Disneyland that now carries something of an urban legend aura around it.

When Disney first came up with the idea for opening up an exclusive club with membership fees that can approach $100,000, many scoffed at the notion. But the club turned into a huge hit, one with a now legendary waiting list.

That taught Bousquet what a draw exclusivity can be.

Hence when plans initially called for 300 to 400 apartments at Kirby Collection, Bousquet pushed back and advocated for at most 200. The Residences at Kirby Collection has 199 units, including five three-bedroom penthouses and seven two-story townhouses that while in the building come with their own private courtyard and patio mailbox.

“You live here, everything gets taken care of,” Bousquet says. “Everything’s special. You’re special and you have a lifestyle.

“Who gets a private backyard in an apartment?”

Touches like a wine cooler in every apartment, a residents’ entrance that sits on a leafy side street (Lake Street) rather than Kirby Drive, a residents’ parking garage that is separated from the office, restaurants and shopping parking structure and packages brought right to your apartment if you wish, also abound. This is geared to be a setting where everything’s at your beck and call.

Kirby Collection’s Soaring High-Life

Being exclusive comes with perks — and not just if you’re dating Scarlett Johansson. The Residences at Kirby Collection brings an outdoor terrace on the sixth level that takes up over an acre of space, a quarter of the entire floor. This is where you’ll find a pool, a dog park, a lawn big enough for a pickup flag football game and outdoor cooking spaces galore — all with the type of sweeping views usually found on postcards of Houston.

“This was the hardest part to keep in the project,” Bousquet tells PaperCity. “But this is the glue that keeps it together. Without this, the project isn’t exclusive.”

The glassed-in Sky Lounge is another type of retreat (with air conditioning and even better views) that’s given prime real estate on the very top, 25th floor.

Another little touch? Thor commissioned a shade study to determine where it should put the pool. It found that one spot got consistent afternoon sun. So that’s where the pool was placed. This is the rare case where real life dictates the design.

Kirby Collection pool
Kirby Collection’s pool is an oasis in the sky. (Photo by VJ Aripe.)

“A lot of apartments don’t do those studies,” Bousquet says. The developer traces this obsessive detail considering back to his time at Disney, too.

“From working there,” Bousquet says. “I’m not a creative person at all, but from working with a lot of creative people, I get ideas on what truly works.”

Special Vision?

With his white hair and low-key glasses, Bousquet can come off as sort of professorial. But this is a savvy businessman who has oversees $6 billion worth of development in his career. You can be sure he’s done his homework — on everything.

Whenever Thor goes into a market, Bousquet hires a company “to teach me who lives here.” The data he gleamed on Houston — which he largely asked to keep confidential (let’s just say it’s as detailed as a scouting report produced by the numbers-obsessed Houston Astros) — convinced him that The Residences at Kirby Collection should be for rent rather than for sale.

With rents ranging from the high two thousands to $10,000 per month for the penthouses, this tower is geared for a certain, high-end clientele.

Still, Bousquet isn’t all about the numbers. There’s the sense of a romantic as well. The developer clearly gets a kick out of bringing architect Richard Keating, who started his career in Houston nearly 40 years ago, back to do this unique-shaped, curving tower. Bousquet also likes the interplay between Keating and interior designer Dianna Wong‘s visions.

In his mind, special buildings cannot be one-man shows.

Bousquet goes as far as calling Sparq1200 — the little Houston company that he entrusted with making his audacious LED light wall a reality  — “one of the heroes of this project.” Companies that can build a high-tech display like this are plentiful near Disney’s parks. In Houston? Not so much. So Bousquet sought out a company willing to attempt something bold.

The Kirby Collection wall can now display 12,000 different shades of colors. Let’s just say, it took some time to find the shade of Kirby Collection blue that Bousquet fell in love with.

But, what a sense of arrival it brings.

“So when people come in, they know they’re in a special place,” Bousquet says.

That’s the Disney Wow. Right here in Houston. You just need to stop your car and go behind the curtain to see it all.

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