Retired Couple Gets The House They’ve Always Wanted
by linda barth
photography by david christ
reprinted with permission
Houston House and Home Magazine
He’s 73 and a connoisseur of modern design and good Baccarat crystal. She’s 72 and a traditionalist who loves collecting fine antiques, old pottery, pewter and American primitive furnishings. They’ve been married a lifetime and have reared two fine sons. But they’d never mixed their collections in their home until recently.
Newly retired, they decided their home in West Houston, which they moved into in the summer of 1979, needed a little work. It was a fine two-story house with a nice yard and pool. But the master suite was upstairs, and the insidiously advancing arthritis in her knees was making it almost impossible for her to climb the stairs.
“We were either going to have to install an elevator or move,” her husband recalls. He began talking about other parts of the house that could use some freshening up and remodeling.
“My dear,” she confides in her soft Southern accent, “he had to pull me kicking and screaming into this remodeling project!” She decided that if they were going to remodel, they should hire a good interior designer.
By coincidence, during a visit to her dentist’s office, her dental hygienist mentioned a designer she’d hired for a remodeling project in her house and with whom she was very pleased.
“His work is so exciting,” the hygienist said and handed her a note with the telephone number of designer Kelly Amen.
The couple called Amen, met with him, liked his ideas, and the project began. Amen could see the house needed more than a cosmetic touch-up. “We were going to do just a clean-up,” Amen says, “but because of some structural problems, such as rotted wood in some places, we got into full-scope construction.” The couple moved into an apartment while the renovation was under way.
USING SPACE WISELY
Amen is an ardent advocate of people using every square foot of their homes. “Everything we did in this project is about them living in and enjoying the space,” Amen says. He respected their lifelong collections of precious objects and thought about ways to combine his and her collections and display them attractively on shelves. “There are layers and layers of intricacies in this house,” Amen says.
While every room in the house was touched up in some way, the remodel focused on three major areas: 1) adding an elevator unobtrusively in an area that once served as closet space so that the couple could easily access the upstairs master suite; 2) recon- figuring the master suite so both he and she had separate bathrooms and so that the bed had a view of the sitting area with fireplace; 3) updating the kitchen and breakfast room.
The entire downstairs needed new flooring. “There were five levels of flooring in the downstairs alone,” says Amen, “and in all different colors and textures-carpet, linoleum and marble.” The floors were leveled and covered in earthy slate. “A uniform surface makes the space look bigger,” he says.
BOLD COLOR CHOICES
Amen worked with the couple on color choices, though the husband was reticent about some of the colors Amen was recommending. “He’d put a wild color on the wall,” the husband recalls, “and I’d say, ‘Isn’t that a little.bright?’ And Kelly would say, ‘Just wait, we’re not done with it yet.'”
Decorative painter Theo Ostler gave the house’s walls and ceilings several coats of paint. The wall of the garden room, for instance, looks mint green, but closer examination reveals that it is a turquoise base paint with lime green coat combed over it.
The husband says he now likes the colors, which he would not have chosen on his own.
Through Starck Carpet, Amen ordered silk rugs in jewel tone colors made in Tibet for the floors of the living areas downstairs. All furniture was reupholstered. Amen cleverly used one old wall tapestry the couple had to upholster a loveseat and chair in the guest bedroom upstairs. The husband is proud of the loveseat, so wittily re-covered. “That used to be my grandfather’s,” he says, “and my dad courted my mother in that loveseat.”
For the bookshelves around the fireplace in the master suite, Amen commissioned sculptor Omar Perez to design the intricate woodwork. The fireplace was refaced with a rustic cast-stone.
Among the wife’s collections of pottery on the shelves are her green spongeware and Myer pottery pieces made near San Antonio.
In the master suite and other rooms are paintings by the couple’s grandson, Zachary Murphrey, of whom they are so proud.
In the fireplace room downstairs, Amen had bookshelves built around the fireplace for the husband’s Baccarat collection and the wife’s pewter collection. Before the remodel, the crystal and pewter had not sat on the same shelves, but Amen mixed the pieces together. “We love the way that looks,” the wife says.
THE END RESULT
The husband enjoyed being involved in the remodeling process. “I think he’s been dreaming about this for many years,” his wife says.
She resisted the renovation at first but now says, “I could not be more thrilled. I had no idea I would love it this much. It has been a real awakening.”
Some people as they age resist change-the familiar is more comfortable. Kelly Amen’s sensitive makeover of this couple’s house keeps their prized possessions intact-in fact their things are displayed better now than they were before. Amen’s design honors the couple’s past, and gives them a fresh and beautiful “new” house to enjoy, as well.
“This project kind of evolved,” the husband says, when asked why he was open to a major renovation “We’re in relatively good health, and we did this on the premise that we’re going to be living here a long, long time.”