A Texas Farmhouse
Modern city dwelling honors tradition
The 2016 AIA Houston Design Award Home Tour on Oct. 29-30 showcases the finest residential architecture in Houston. One of the homes, 4153 Oberlin Street, is also the recipient of a 2016 AIA Houston Design Award for Residential Architecture.
The house is the second award-winning home that the architect, Natalye Appel, designed for her parents, Tom and Carolyn Caldwell. The first one, designed and built 25 years ago on the West End of Galveston Island won a Southern Living award, an American Wood Council award, graced the cover of Architecture magazine (among others) and was featured on HGTV.
“We always enjoyed seeing our children display their talents and sought ways to provide avenues where they could stretch themselves without boundaries,” said Carolyn.
“When we got ready to build what will be our last home,” said Tom, “we knew we wanted another unique, one-of-a-kind home that would illustrate Natalye’s talent just as the Galveston project did.”
With light, health and aging-in-place, durability and sustainability goals combined with the desire to create a place for extended family, community and nature connectivity, the Caldwells, a couple in their late 70s, decided to build a home where they could spend the rest of their days.
For 30 years, the couple had owned a 6,000-square-foot corner lot formerly occupied by a small, outdated cottage that they loved, but it did not suit their purpose. They wanted simplicity, modernity and use of nontraditional materials in their new home, as well as a light-filled environment; ease of maintenance; and application of aging-in-place, ADA and LEED design principles.
For both the Caldwells and their daughter, the starting point for the design was twofold. First was visiting the Donald Judd Foundation in Marfa together.
“Hearing my mother relate so well to the simplicity of the structures gave me insight,” said Natalye. “The preexisting buildings there were merely emptied out to provide maximum space and clarity of light.”
The second starting point came from knowing how much the couple loved the design of the small rental home that had been on the property originally.
“The cottage had a steeply pitched roof, white siding, and a porch,” Natalye explained, “which combined to give a feeling of living in a more rural time in small town Texas.”
Another architectural goal was to design a house that fit well into the traditional neighborhood and that would provide ways for the Caldwells to interact with their neighbors through architecture. To achieve this, the design includes the generous, covered front porch on Oberlin Street and large kitchen windows with open cabinets facing West Point Street, a heavily-used pedestrian thoroughfare. The cabinets are filled with colorful glassware that can be seen from the street and cast beautiful color through the kitchen at various times of day.
The large covered back deck is outfitted with huge pocketing doors and screens that are flush with the threshold in order to provide wheelchair accessibility, if required, and to allow a connection with nature and access to the garden spaces.
Downstairs the open living, deck, dining, kitchen and master suite are designed for ease of wheelchair access. The master suite opens to the deck and is equipped with an ADA-compliant bath area. The couple’s favorite space is the common area, which is one large entertainment space with a full view to the backyard. Here, their collection of American antiques and decorative heirlooms are showcased, and a two-sided fireplace and red stairwall provide anchoring and definition. As a foil for these bold elements, the design is based on a spare, essential geometry. The white siding and trim inside and out provide balance.
Carolyn especially fancies her kitchen where the space can be separated by a pocket door from a room that houses the refrigerator, freezer, washer and dryer and butler’s pantry. Other kitchen appliances are under the marble countertops to create open views.
An upstairs study and bedrooms for visiting family and future caregivers come together in a balcony overlooking the tall living space. All the guest rooms have en suite facilities.
“I really appreciate the views from each bedroom’s windows,” said Tom. “Some are deeply shaded by the back porch roof overhang. One room’s window looks onto the large tree canopy on Oberlin Street.”
One of the home’s unique design elements is the eclectic aesthetic that is created by merging modern design with warm antiques, old-fashioned interior transoms above doors and shiplap (a type of wooden board used commonly as exterior siding in the construction of residences, barns, sheds and outbuildings walls) on the living room walls and the ceiling. Modern and antique lighting are also interchanged throughout.
Outdoors, the rafter tails with half-round gutters and rain chains are distinctive. The garage also makes a statement with its street-facing overhead glass panel door and sliding barn doors inside concealing storage. Designed for dual-purpose, it houses the automobiles but is also completely open to the backyard to substitute as an entertainment patio.
“I like the architect-designed fence,” said Carolyn of her daughter’s idea to create a fence that would complement the home’s geometry. “It enhances the beauty of house and the garden.”
Natalye likes the gardens, designed and maintained by her mom, that define each outdoor space.
The achievement of LEED Gold Standard certification also sets this home apart. To accomplish the sustainability and green living goals, daylight and fresh air, healthy materials, durability and low energy usage were primary considerations. One hundred percent of the former cottage and garage was deconstructed and donated to Habitat for Humanity. As well, the project taps into community resources and connectivity; utilizes vent skin construction and high efficiency mechanical systems; uses local, regional and no-VOC materials, native plantings and rain water collection devices; and solar panels are equipped with a battery backup system for hurricane outages. Though the process was challenging and time-consuming, these details provide a peace of mind that comes from knowing the owners live in a healthy home that will allow low maintenance and low energy bills for the long term.
On what they enjoyed most about the project, the Caldwells and Natalye agree: getting to work together again.
“Collaborating with our daughter and working with her team were wonderful,” said Carolyn.
Tom agreed. “Anytime we have a chance to allow our children to shine, we are equally illuminated.”
Text by Cheryl Alexander | Photography by Benjamin Hill and Claudia Casbarian | Architecture by Natalye Appel, Natalye Appel + Associates Architects, LLC | Interiors by Carolyn Caldwell , with NA+AA | Structural Engineering by Peter Hurley, PE, LLC | Landscape Design by Carolyn Caldwell, with The Office of James Burnett (OJB) Landscape Architects and NA+AA
TOP IMAGE: In the living area, a grandmother’s quilt is displayed on an antique trunk. American antique furnishings include armchairs and a mirror-hat-rack-chair combination at the front door. Walnut floors, whitewashed shiplap; Minka Aire fans and LED track lighting from Lighting, Inc.
A Texas Farmhouse