The sitting area in the living room has an antique French sofa covered in beige linen that was purchased at the HADA Show. On the 1960-era smoked-glass-and-chrome coffee table sit ceramics by Eva Zeisel, who inspired Jonathan Adler, along with ceramics by Adler. Above the sofa hangs a collection of lithographs in shades of black and white by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Matisse, and a Rembrandt etching made during the artist’s lifetime. The Kramers began acquiring Old Masters and 20th-century works on paper in the early days of their marriage; Lauren’s parents, Francey and Dr. Martin L. Gecht, left a celebrated collection of post-Impressionist and modernist prints and drawings to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Antique French buffet from Chateau Domingue. Covered-glass footed compotes purchased from Jerry Spencer, “whose vast collection graced all the Houston antique shows until his death several years ago,” Lauren recalls. A saber-toothed tiger skull lends a note of Surrealism, as does the painting by Dan Griggs, a New Mexico artist.
The Kramers in the living room of the villa designed by Walter Murphy and Kirby Mears of Murphy Mears Architects. The room’s defining piece, the coffee table filled with crumpled gold leaf, was designed by Yves Klein; it was a find during Art Basel Miami Beach. They had admired it in a New York Times article but were deterred by the cost; when they saw it in person during the fair, it was a different story. “It was so beautiful, Steve bought it on the spot. Well, he did bargain a little …” Lauren says.
A glass table and chairs from Design Within Reach are in the two-story library. Over the fireplace is a pencil-signed and numbered Fumar lithograph by Picasso. An antique telescope sits at the window. The collection of volumes testifies to the Kramers’ interest in travel, world affairs and other cultures. Lauren says of the couple’s 46-year marriage, “We have gone to some off-the-beaten track places like Myanmar, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia.”
The living-room mantel is sparely installed with two treasures: a pencil-signed and numbered lithograph of Frau Dr. Linder by one of Lauren’s favorite artists, Edvard Munch, and an antique rococo clock inherited from her grandmother. The antique pewter fireplace tools were purchased in New York.
In the foyer, two contemporary works by Houston talents: a Joseph Havel sculpture from Hiram Butler Gallery fills a niche, and a Rob Reasoner painting from McClain Gallery hangs over the 19th-century French console table purchased at the Theta Charity Antiques Show.
A touch of Surrealism and dark humor in the butler’s pantry: “Buildings of Disaster” series by Boym Partners industrial designers, created around the turn of the millennium.
Welcome to the Memorial mansion of Lauren and Steve Kramer. She’s a travel-obsessed attorney turned avid art collector with a trove of majolica and a secret stash of Bakelite jewelry; he’s a physician and pharmaceutical entrepreneur who’s equally eager to hop a plane and serves as straight man to his wife.
Within these serene interiors, important 20th-century drawings and lithographs by Edvard Munch and Milton Avery encounter an antique Ethiopian lunchbox. A gold-leaf filled Yves Klein coffee table makes an understated statement in the living room, while a Joe Havel sculpture at the entrance exerts a ghostly presence. Flash back more than 45 years, to one evening at a glamorous cocktail party in Manhattan. Chicago-born banker Lauren Gecht, who was taking grad courses at Columbia, met Stephen Kramer, a Boston-born doctor who was just starting on his path to being a psychiatrist. Lauren was there with another date but ended up plopping down on a chair close to her future husband because she was still recovering from a broken leg incurred in a skiing accident. A phone number was exchanged, which led to a date. Two months later, they were engaged.
After four and a half decades of marriage, cross-country moves, two children, and two grandchildren, the rest is history. Following a stint living in Alabama for Stephen’s Air Force medical service, the couple landed in Houston, where Lauren became an attorney while raising their sons. (She has now moved on from law to image consulting.) Stephen co-founded a pharmaceutical company to develop game-changing psychotropic drugs. And the successful Kramers, who have collected art since their days as a young married couple, needed a new abode.
A handsome, tree-filled lot in Memorial was acquired, and they tapped Houston firm Murphy Mears Architects to create a dream house — a contemporary, light-filled take on a Mediterranean villa.
The new house would serve as a receptacle for a sublime collection of 20th-century works on paper, artifacts gleaned from their travels, well-placed antiques, and contemporary sculpture and painting. The 16,250-square-foot house, despite its grand size, has a minimalist bent.
Nine and a half years ago, the Kramers moved in, and designer Cherry Curlet was enlisted to create orderly room vignettes that honored the expansive volumes, perfect symmetry and ample light invoked by Murphy Mears’ architectural design. While art and finds have been added to the original design within the past decade, the bones of the home and its remarkable restraint have remained consistent (except in Lauren’s closet, where her love for pattern and textiles, handbags of all size and form beyond designer names, and an exuberance of vintage Bakelite is very much in evidence).
“I collected photos for years after building our first very traditional house in Piney Point village,” says Lauren, “in case I ever got a chance to build again. Steve selected the home’s windows and doors and the grain of the wood on our floors. He also selected his bathtub and everything having to do with his garage and shoeshine shop (yes, we have one, and Steve does the shining).”
Best of all, the Italian-informed house has been opened up on many occasions to the causes that the Kramers support. Among the most active members of Houston’s chapter of the World Affairs Council, the couple has made their villa the scene of many cocktails for World Affairs’ board members, supporters, and speakers including a reception for Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
The house also hosts more vernacular occasions — family entertainments where grandsons mindfully race around the house, navigating a drapery sculpture by Glassell School director Joe Havel by the spiral staircase in the circular entrance hall.