Real Estate / High-Rises

A White Palace in the Sky

This Stunning River Oaks Retreat Makes You Feel Like You’re Floating

BY // 09.07.16


Garrett Hunter
Garrett Hunter

Interior designer Garrett Hunter often jokes with visitors to his fifth-floor apartment in Houston’s Regency House that they should bring their sunglasses — even at night. With brilliant-white walls and concrete floors bathed in white yacht paint, the River Oaks-area residence is a luminous palette that sets off furniture and art.

“Everything just floats,” says Hunter, 33, who lives here with his partner, Jaime Loera, 33, co-owner of Joey & Jaime apparel company. “At night, the space glows,” Hunter says. “Sometimes you can’t determine the difference between the floors, walls, or ceiling. Objects become almost airborne.”

For Hunter — who has lived in a succession of dark spaces, including his photographer-parents’ chic 1970s house with black floors and black and gray walls, and most recently a brooding downtown loft with green and black walls — the white slate proved liberating.

“It’s a blank canvas; you can do anything with it,” he says of the apartment that he has transformed into a dynamic stage set with ever-evolving collections. “I’m not interested in good taste. I’m interested in rooms that theatrically unfold — rooms that are assembled, but not precious.”

The overall impression is sublime and laid-back. “Jaime and I were interested in telling all kinds of different stories here, with its pristine set of white volumes providing the perfect binder,” Hunter says. The narrative includes rugs and blankets from trips to Marrakech and hundreds of art and design books that belong to both, along with Hunter’s 20th-century French and Italian collections that include a Jean Prouvé Potence wall lamp and a sleek vintage Gio Ponti side chair. Other elements, such as a pair of ornate 19th-century Chinese benches and a singular Maison Jansen leather sofa, were culled from Tienda X, the buzzy art and design boutique that Hunter opened with architect Michael Landrum.

Hunter is known for placing furniture and objects together sparingly in ways that make each piece sing; here, everything feels even more special set against the stark backdrop. For instance, in the dining room, an ornate Mexican chandelier with rusted-tin drops dangles over a chunky James Brummett-designed zinc and wood table, while a wooden figural work by Charlie Roberts hangs above a gilded, carved Peruvian tabernacle that serves as a console. In the living room, the elegant swoops and lines of a massive floor-to-ceiling work by Aaron Young play off the sensuous curves of a vintage French chaise lounge and a pair of sculptural chairs from London designer Faye Toogood. A Jean Prouvé wall lamp angles its way dramatically into the room. Each was chosen for its beauty and pedigree.

“I geek out for important design, but I also look for things that just feel right,” says Hunter, who often discovers treasures on trips. “I prefer to curate and source things personally for both my own home and clients’ homes.”

A hot-rolled steel table from Tienda X holds an apple from Busy-Being Austin.
A hot-rolled steel table from Tienda X holds an apple from Busy-Being Austin.

Hunter’s awareness of design blossomed early, when he announced to his mother (at the age of five) that he wanted to be an architect. His parents, both photographers, encouraged his interest. “I never went to Disneyland. Instead, we would go on group tours to Frank Lloyd Wright and John Lautner houses, things like that.”

He began collecting furniture while still in grammar school. A worn leather trunk, which Hunter bought at a River Oaks estate sale at age 11, was his first vintage purchase. It serves as a chest in the master bedroom now. “It has been with me everywhere I’ve ever lived,” he says.

Growing up, movies sparked a passion for interior design. “Anything from the blue sofas in Mommie Dearest to the bizarre postmodern remodel in Beetlejuice, I was fascinated with incredible sets.” Later, he co-curated the “Texas Design Now” show at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, which honed his talent for creating exciting interiors.

The cinematic storyteller in Hunter is always waiting in the wings, and he begins by asking clients what they want to feel when they come home. “I build upon a story based on that individual. I’m more interested in assembling a choreographed experience and a fantasy, rather than decorating.”

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