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ABOVE: The original brick and brick and wood screen separates the living room from the entry. Fabric for the slipper chairs is from High Fashion Home. On the coffee table is the book on Hurricane Ike, HIWI: Ike, co-authored by homeowner Dave Thompson.

OPPOSITE: Entry door, unchanged from 1955, except for a new coat of paint, Sherwin-Williams’ “Tanager.”

RENEWING OLD BRAESWOOD

By LINDA BARTH Photography by MIRO DVORSCAK

BELOW: The Thompson’s mid-century ranch-style home in Old Braeswood sits on property that was once horse acreage surrounding the estate of Glenn McCarthy, Houston oilman who built the Shamrock Hotel.

A HOUSTON COUPLE DISCOVERS A CLASSIC MID-CENTURY RANCH-STYLE HOME VIRTUALLY UNTOUCHED SINCE 1955, THEN PONDERS HOW TO UPDATE IT YET KEEP ITS CHARACTER 30

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“No one here ever dies or divorces,” jokes Dave Thompson about the Old Braeswood neighborhood where he and his wife Zoe were desperately seeking to buy a house last year. They’d been living in a house in Montrose they had restored (House & Home, July 06), but with the addition of a third child, daughter Phoebe, to their family, they needed more room. And they wanted to live in Old Braeswood so their children could attend Roberts Elementary School nearby. The problem was they couldn’t find any houses for sale in Old Braeswood, a subdivision begun in the 1920s as the South End’s answer to River Oaks. Its most notable resident was famed oilman Glenn McCarthy who in the 1920s built a mansion there on 18 acres with acreage for his horses. He built the Shamrock Hotel nearby in 1946; as his debts mounted in the 1950s, he sold off bits of his horse pasture and developed houses on the property. As a result, Old Braeswood has a fine collection of 1950s ranch-style houses, along with a few international-style moderns . The Thompsons appreciate homes of that era, and a friend of theirs who lives in Old Braeswood suggested Dave take the initiative and start knocking on doors in the neighborhood to ask home-

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New terrazzo tiles, Agglomerates Blanco Stone by Lenova, transformed the den. Dave insisted on keeping the original mono speakers for the sound system. The sofa, original to the house, was reupholstered by J. Rodriguez Upholstery.

owners if they’d be interested in selling their homes. “Every Saturday morning, I dressed in my most conservative clothes—khaki shorts, button-down-collar shirt—and I took the minivan,” Dave recalls. “I did 12 or 13 homes. Everybody was really sweet, which also confirmed we really liked this neighborhood.” Someone in the neighborhood hinted a 1955 ranch-style house might be coming up for sale. An older physician, a widower, lived there, and his three adult children living in Austin wanted him to move to a smaller apartment. One son would be home visiting his father that weekend, the informant said. The next Saturday, Dave knocked on their door and said to the son when he opened the door, “Hi, you might find this odd, but my family has sold our house, we want to send our kids to Roberts, and would you be interested in selling your house?” The 36-year-old son, as Dave remembers it, walked out onto the porch, practically breathless in disbelief. “I cannot believe you are here on my porch saying this,” the son said. “We want my father to move to a smaller place, and I was just sitting here wondering what on earth


we were going to do with this house.” Dave didn’t have his business card but gave the son Zoe’s business card. Zoe and the son’s wife talked by phone. They discovered that the family who had lived in the house over the past 30 years had children in the same gender and birth order as the Thompson’s three children: Gus, 7; Henry, 6; and Phoebe, 3. They set a date for viewing the house six weeks later. LIKE COMING HOME Dave had told the homeowners before the viewing they shouldn’t feel the need to primp or decorate the house. “All I care about is the structure,” he told them. “The fact that you didn’t do anything to it? That’s good.” The day of the visit, Dave and Zoe brought along their realtor and architect Joe Meppelink, a friend who would be doing the renovation. The daughter who had grown up in the house invited them inside for the tour. “We went into the foyer,” says Zoe, “took a left into the bedroom wing, and the second I walked into that part of the house I got chills all over. I knew that was

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The glory of the dining room is its original 1955 light fixture. All light fixtures in the house are original and were restored and brought up to UL Code by A & O Lamp.


The new terrazzo tile floor is smooth and perfect for dancing, Zoe and Dave have discovered. Their flagstone patio awaits guests for their Mad Men party.

my house. I could just tell that a happy family had been raised there. I thought our children would be happy there. It was like falling in love. I just knew this was my house. Everything else was kind of lagniappe at that point.” Dave recalls turning a corner and seeing the family room with a large bar and soda fountain at one end. “I cried when I saw that bar,” says Dave, perhaps with a bit of hyperbole. “It was Sinatra and Martin in Tahoe, 1955.” The masculine wood-paneled den, with ledgestone fireplace and built-in TV, opened onto a flagstone patio and large backyard, perfect for daddy-o on the patio grill parties. Built in 1955 on the horse pasture land developed by Glenn McCarthy, the house has a dash of Hollywood glamour that McCarthy loved to cultivate. With premium light fixtures, a built-in intercom system, built-in TV, a wet bar, custom kitchen cabinets, five color-coordinated bathrooms and a master bath with 10 shower heads, this was no ‘50s tract house. “It was fancy,” says Dave.

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“It was a fossil from 1955,” says Meppelink. “They carpeted it once, and that’s it.” The house had all its original linoleum, wall-to-wall bedroom carpets, custom drapes, light fixtures, windows, kitchen appliances, everything. A mixture of upscale 50s and early 60s styles that recall I Love Lucy, Leave It to Beaver, Ocean’s 11 and Mad Men, the house was not high modern, but definitely incorporated modern details and layout into its structure. Dave and Zoe made an offer on the house after a quick walkthrough by their contractor, John Galvin of Kerry Galvin Homes, and the family accepted their first offer. WHAT TO DO? Joe Meppelink of Framework Design Studio says his firm had three design goals in renovating the Thompson’s new house: “Retain the things that were great, edit the things that were not great and replace them with things that weren’t a kitschy imitation. All parties were part of this editing. It’s about finding the voice of this house.

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Architect, builder and homeowners gather for a mini-reunion. “It’s a really fun house,” says designer Sarah Hannah. “Ending the project I was sorry to be done with it.” Left to right: Zoe Thompson, builder John Galvin, Phoebe Thompson, Sarah Hannah, Dave Thompson, Joe Meppelink. In foreground: Gus, left, and Henry Thompson. The built-in 1955 TV, non-operable, is original to the house. New metal valances behind the bar are lasered in a Champagne bubble pattern.

“Anytime we do a renovation, it’s peering back at history,” Meppelink says. “I think the original owners of this house might have been conflicted. It has an asynchronous style—modern lighting and layout—but then some more historic stylism. Some of the trim, the valances on the bar and speakers, the cabinet pulls in her closet were less modern and more decorative.” Meppelink posits that one spouse may have been a modernist while the other may have leaned more toward decorative interior details. Meppelink’s wife, architect Marisa Janusz did all the planning and drawings for the renovation; Framework’s Sarah Hannah handled interior finishes, working closely with Zoe on paint colors and fabrics. “We made very few moves architecturally,” says Meppelink. In an area off the den, a wall between a home office and children’s playroom was removed to provide more space for a breakfast room and play space. The master bedroom needed more natural light, so a sliding glass door to the patio was added on one wall. The kitchen needed to be opened up. “It had no natural light,”

says Hannah. One small window opened into the carport. The opening between the kitchen and dining room was widened, as was the opening to the breakfast room on the other end of the kitchen. All sliding glass doors to the patio were replaced with Fleetwood glass doors. “They move like butter,” says Meppelink, The linoleum in the den had to go, he says. “We felt like this floor really wanted to be terrazzo,” he says. Framework found a beautiful terrazzo tile in 2- by 2-foot squares, Agglomerates Blanco Stone by Lenova, that cost half of what regular terrazzo would cost. Meppelink wanted to set the tile on the den’s subfloor, but Galvin insisted the subfloor wasn’t strong enough, and he ripped up the subfloor and set the tiles on the original slab. Framework recommended a high-tech sound system for the den, but Dave wanted to keep the ancient monoaural speaker mounted on the den’s wall. He and Meppelink argued back and forth, but Dave won, and now he plays his Miles Davis and Stan Getz standards on his I-pod, which feeds into the 1955 mono speaker on the wall.

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The kitchen previously opened to the dining room through a door. Framework Design recommended the opening be widened to join the kitchen to the dining room better. Cabinets are original to the kitchen, but were repainted Sherwin-Williams “Passive.” At right, the vent hood and stainless countertop surrounding the cooktop are original to the kitchen. At left, the rectangular steel panel beyond the sink hides paper towels; it’s part of the original kitchen’s fixtures.

“It’s not even stereo,” Meppelink says, “but Dave was right, so right. It has a mellifluous sound.” Debate over whether to remove the kitchen cabinets ended when Galvin insisted that the cabinets remain. The kitchen appliances were replaced, except for the vent hood. The stainless steel countertops around the cooktop were left in place, though new countertops were added elsewhere. Much of the work involved scrubbing and cleaning surfaces. Dave and Meppelink marvel at Galvin’s cleaning specialist who scrubbed all the aluminum trim on the house’s existing windows, the wood paneled walls in the den, and the bathroom floors and tiles. The surfaces look like new. But most of all, Dave and Meppelink marvel at the work of contractor John Galvin. The entire remodeling job, a large project which involved totally rewiring the house, redoing the floors and repainting surfaces took only 10 weeks. “That’s unheard of,” Meppelink says. “I cannot stress that enough. This project could’ve taken eight months to a year to finish.” Says Dave, “One day I came home from work at lunch, and we had 37 people working in the house.” “Intense” is the word the two use to describe Galvin’s work style. “If you like strong coffee, he’s espresso,” says Dave, in admiration. At the end of the project, Dave recalls sitting with Galvin on the hearth in the den, looking at what they had done. “Galvin said, ‘How could we have worked so hard, and it doesn’t look like we did anything?’” 36

Exactly, says Meppelink. “Good design shouldn’t draw attention to itself.” SETTLING IN The layout of the house has changed the way the Thompsons live together as a family in several ways. In their Montrose house, they didn’t sit down to dinner every night. In Old Braeswood, they do. Opening the wall between the kitchen and the dining room has made it easy and inviting to serve dinner in the dining room. “We eat together there every single night,” Zoe says. “We talk about our day. Dinner has become more of a treasured ritual.” The only TV in the main house is the non-working vintage 1955 TV hidden behind cabinetry in the den. They definitely wanted to keep that TV for its historic charm. The only operable TV is in the guest suite by the carport. “The importance of the TV has diminished even more,” Zoe says. “I think that’s a positive thing for us.” The children can play freely in the large fenced backyard, and they have many friends to play with. “Within 100 feet of our house there are six other boys under the age of 10,” she says. “The first week in the house we were sitting at dinner and Dave said, “’I felt my shoulders have dropped for the first time in a year and a half,’” Zoe says. “We’re home. We can finally relax. It’s really become a bit of a refuge for all of us.” Dave enjoys making sodas—real sodas that fizz—for the kids at the fully restored soda fountain at the bar. In the evening, when adult guests gather round the bar, he shakes a mean martini, daiquiri or Manhattan.

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The bathroom was remodeled, though the man’s dressing room, seen through door, was left intact with its original cabinet door and drawer pulls. Bathroom countertops are Equator marble from Walker Zanger.

Dave is proud of the den’s restored soda fountain. “My dad had to teach me how to use it,” he says. His father was a soda jerk in his youth. The lever must be pulled down for carbonated water; it’s pushed back for gas to make the soda foam.

This month, Dave and Zoe plan to celebrate their birthdays at home with a Mad Men party, inspired by the AMC-TV series about the advertising business in the early ‘60s. Appropos, as Dave is in the advertising/marketing business; Zoe is a business consultant. The Mad Men theme is also a good fit because their house could be a stage set for the TV series, acclaimed for its mid-century interiors and period clothing. “All the women are looking for pointy bras,” Dave reports, of his party preparations. The Drapers Thompsons are ready to entertain.

RESOURCES Joe Meppelink Marisa Janusz Sarah Hannah Framework Design Studio 713.426.3640 John Galvin Kerry Galvin Homes Inc 713.683.9642 Apex Electrical Services 281.808.3725 J. Rodriguez Upholstery 713.226.8991 New Look Wood Floors 713.283.2996 Geovani Guadado, Tile 281.8850.0608 Vicente & Edgar Guillen, Painters 713.269.0908

Dave pours Zoe his famous pink daiquiri, not too sweet with just a bit of fizz. 37

Renewing Old Braeswood  

A HOUSTON COUPLE DISCOVERS A CLASSIC MID-CENTURY RANCH-STYLE HOME VIRTUALLY UNTOUCHED SINCE 1955, THEN PONDERS HOW TO UPDATE IT YET KEEP ITS...