Good Brick Award Winner
John Staub Home Designed for Family Attracts Couple Who Lovingly Restore It
Edited by Susan Fox • Photography by Peter Molick
Eric Nevil and Jim Reeder were first attracted to the house on Meadow Lake Lane because of its unique design. While they bought the house aware of its architectural and historical significance, they initially were completely unaware that it was a John Staub-designed home.
At the time of their purchase, the house had minimal updating from its original condition and had experienced significant weathering that was addressed as part of the eventual restoration effort.
The restoration really focused on capturing the details of Staub's work (brick coursing, muntin configurations, trim, handrail, etc.) and in maintaining the proportion of the spaces.
The restored Meadow Lake residence respects Staub’s attention to detail, proportions of the interior spaces, and the relationship to its site. The project, directed by Dillon Kyle Architects, strives to preserve the historically significant design while maintaining a functioning and lively home for its occupants.
The restoration took a total of two and a half years from design to move-in. Architect Dillon Kyle further discusses the project in a Q&A below:
Can you provide some history on the home? Who were the original owners – and what was their position in Houston?
In 1947, John F. Staub designed a home for Margaret Wiess and James A. Elkins, Jr. Located on a corner lot in River Oaks, the home featured an L-shaped plan and embraced the increasingly casual, family-oriented lifestyle of the post-war generation.
Elkins, born and raised in Houston, was the son of “Judge” James A. Elkins Sr., the founder of the law firm Vinson & Elkins in 1917, and First City National Bank, originally founded as Guaranty Trust Company in 1924. Elkins Jr. rose to be president and senior chairman of First City National Bank.
Margaret Elkins, also born and raised in Houston, was the daughter of Harry Weiss, a founder of Humble Oil.
The Elkins sold the home to Alice Anne “Sanny” and Frank Bellows in 1963, when the Elkins moved into their new Staub-designed home located in the Memorial area of Houston.
Frank Bellows spent his career with his father and brothers at the W.S. Bellows Construction Company. The current owners bought the home from the Bellows in 2012.
How did the home evolved architecturally over the years?
In 1953, when owned by the Elkins family, a one-story addition for servants’ quarters was constructed and connected to the main house by an open-air breezeway.
In the 1960s, the then-owner added an additional bedroom and bathroom on the second floor to accommodate their growing family. The addition required modifications to the existing third bedroom.
After years of weathering and minimal updating, the home was purchased by the current residents — Eric Nevil and Jim Reeder, whose modern young family embraced the spirit of Staub’s original design and his intent to create a comfortable home focused around family.
What are some of the changes the current owners made to restore and update the house?
Working closely with the original drawings, the team at Dillon Kyle Architects came up with plans to completely update the Meadow Lake residence.
The 1953 addition was removed and replaced with a new one-story addition that expanded the informal living spaces with a breakfast room, garden room, guest suite, and covered terrace. A new pool enlivens the yard and underscores the outdoor living for its occupants. The 1960s second-story addition was also removed, and the third bedroom was returned to its original footprint.
Although the original house did have air-conditioning, the original chilled-water cooling system and boiler-heating system were replaced and the building envelope was insulated.
The original casement and jalousie windows had been replaced in the 1970s with aluminum windows.
Exterior fenestration was replaced with new windows; these were coordinated with the brick coursing and muntin configurations of the original casement and jalousie units.
The roofing material was returned to cedar shake as was originally specified. Similarly, the brick for the new addition was carefully color matched, and trim details replicated those of the existing house.
Anchoring the south end of the addition, the covered terrace reapplies Staub’s detailing from the original roofed loggia outside the living room. The canted soffit with banded paneling, vertical louvers, freestanding brick column, and a new garden gate create a seamless new space.
What was the full scope of the job, both inside and out?
The original footprint of the house had been changed by previous owners: a major portion of the project scope included removal of a previous addition and replacing it with an addition that was more sympathetic to Staub's original design of the house.
The second-floor addition was also removed. Additionally, closets and built-ins that had been added in all bedrooms and hallways were removed, returning each room to its original footprint.
The original second-floor mechanical room housing the chilled-water air conditioning system was reduced in size by half because of the efficiency of the new system, thus allowing the space to be divided to accommodate a new laundry room inside the house. Likewise, the boiler room for the heating system was converted into a mud room for new access between the garage and kitchen.
Similarly, the HVAC system was completely replaced with an energy-efficient system; this had to be accommodated within the clearances of the original structure.
In the existing house, on the first floor, no walls were moved. The door between the kitchen and dining room was moved to accommodate the new kitchen design as was the door between the hall and the kitchen. The original kitchen was a large galley design with St. Charles metal cabinetry and seamless stainless steel counters and backsplash. Although the new owners wanted to try to keep the original cabinetry and counters, their function had deteriorated beyond restorability. The original flooring in the kitchen was vinyl tile on top of vinyl sheet. The flooring in the kitchen and throughout the new addition is a peach-colored flagstone that matches the original flagstone used throughout the exterior hardscapes of the house. The ceiling in the kitchen was also raised a foot, made possible as a result of removing the fourth bedroom addition on the second floor.
The living room has a wood ceiling intricately designed by Staub, which had over time been painted over a number of times, diminishing the architectural impact. The ceiling was stripped, cleaned and re-painted.
As is so often the case with a restoration, one thing led to another, and the restoration of the living room ceiling led to the restoration of the wood ceiling over the loggia in order to maintain the continuity between the two. A previously added bookcase was also removed from the living room. The massive floor to ceiling sliding doors in the living room were cleaned and restored to working condition.
The family room had been updated by the prior owners with the removal of a closet and the original bar. A new bar was designed and the walls were paneled in eucalyptus. Vinyl tile was replaced with carpet.
Walls and ceilings throughout the house were plaster, thus acting as a deterrent to structural modifications, as well as to modifications like new recessed lighting, electrical outlets, and HVAC ducting and registers. Original semi-flush mount fixtures were used in each of the bedrooms and in the halls to the guest bedroom and pool loggia.
Original freestanding vanities, tubs, medicine cabinets, and bullet- shaped vanity lights were used in their original location or relocated to new bathrooms.
What is the square footage?
The original one-story addition and the later added second-floor addition comprised approximately 1,000 square feet. The new one-story addition added approximately 1,000 square feet. Consequently, the overall square footage of the house remained constant at approximately 6,000 square feet.
Were there challenges? If so, what were the solutions?
Remodels, particularly where historic restoration is involved, often reveal problems resulting from foundation changes. A rusted balcony, and a need for extra brick to match the original design were among the challenges.
Why is this house special?
Staub's design for this house, as much of his later work, was really centered on family and a casual lifestyle with emphasis on the outdoors. The current owners worked with the design team to preserve this home and adapt it to address the same priorities for their own family. The house is special because it is and always has been filled with love. When the daughter of the second owner came through the house after the restoration, she walked into what had been her bedroom to find the owners’ 17-year-old daughter studying. With tears in her eyes, she said: “Grace, there have only been three little girls that ever lived in this room…and two of them are sitting right here together.”
What do you wish to point out to those touring it?
Seamless connection between the original structure and the new addition.
What prior preservation experience does DKA have; strengths that helped make this project successful?
Dillon Kyle Architects previously won a Good Brick Award in 2013 for the 1912 Larchmont Residence, so we were familiar with the need for attention to detail. As with all of our projects, we prioritize the goals that our clients –the owners – have for their homes, and we are practiced at translating their desires into built space.
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