Lovely to See You Again
By Susie Tommaney | Photos by Gary Zvonkovic
There’s no denying this Texas family had wanderlust in its heart — they had traveled to exotic locales like India and Africa and Indonesia — though their roots were firmly planted in the sprawling countryside not too far from Houston.
But when they called on Adams Architects, Inc. to update the family ranch headquarters, while also creating a space for the vast collection of art they had collected along the way, something magical happened.
“The original house did not acknowledge its place,” says Joseph H. Adams, principal/partner along with Gail Hood Adams, noting that the home didn’t embrace its magnificent surroundings with century-old live oaks, horses and cattle.
Borrowing a page from his childhood in Muleshoe where the children clamored to sleep on the back porch, the Adamses designed a sophisticated 100-foot veranda along the home’s north side. Instantly the family home became one with its surroundings.
“It is our motive, it is our constant goal, to acquaint these owners [who are] sometimes very distant from their beautiful property. To ingrain the architecture with the property,” says Joseph. “This is the bedroom wing of the house. You can walk out anytime night or day, your guests can walk out; [it’s] a community convivial space. They have a spring-fed lake in the distance, the horses are grazing in the foreground, cattle in the distance, on the cool side of the house.”
As for the home itself, Joseph says they added considerably to the structure and totally remodeled the domestic part. “It was a complete, almost from scratch, renovation.”
In creating a space for the family’s art collection, the Adamses designed a separate museum that is positioned in concert with the existing home in a sort of lock and key configuration. “We are very sensitive to the spirit of the place, [it has] eveything to do with the sun, the breezes, particularly when we’re dealing with an art museum with museum quality light.
“Texas has a an abundance of natural light; we have to tame it. [We call on] indirect, what we call benign light, which Texas has in abundance. To give our client the quality gallery feel and professional museum-quality spaces takes it above and beyond a room to stick collectibles in,” says Joseph.
The couple studied under Louis I. Kahn (the acclaimed architect who infused light as a theme for Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum) while at University of Pennsylvania. Joseph tells us that Kahn did his own thing during the era of Modernism. “He was more about the quality of the light. The quality of the spirit of the place. He is kind of our artistic forefather.
“If it’s going to be integral with this house it has to be close but not too close. Separate but not too separate. And in use. The owner takes a cup of coffee from his breakfast table and walks through India and walks through Africa and it’s a building that is part of the musing day-to-day life of this residential structure. It’s a museum/residence/collected memories. We didn’t want it to be sterile and ‘look but don’t touch.’”
Stone quarried from Mexico and cut to a “T” by master craftsmen was used to form the elliptical arches, a motif that is carried through in the backlit limestone arches of the wine room as well as the custom copper stair railing near the la cornue exhibition kitchen in the galleries.
“We worked that out bit by bit, rod by rod, and gave them full-sized templates,” says Gail, adding that they worked directly with the metal fabricators.
Those elliptical arches also hold a secret: “[They] are doing work, subdividing the galleries, they are enfilade, in file, as you walk through them. Those arches are hollow, bringing up air conditioning from down below,” says Joseph. “They are re-exhaling air out of those spaces.”
As architects and planners for this project, the Adamses thought they were finished once Kenneth Wuensche & Company had finished construction and James Williams had selected the interiors.
But no, there was still one more task. For a long time the collection had been in storage, not easily accessible to the very family that had fallen in love with those objects long ago. The homeowners basically said, “You’re the architect, you know the space, who better to install the art?”
“We had one exciting day when we were unpacking boxes,” says Gail. In the end, the couple arranged the artworks primarily by region, though visitors will discover a hollowed out canoe from a tribe in Africa over the doorway. “That’s actually in the gallery, as you’re looking from the south. The high triangular window is behind you, filling the room with blue light. The south is shaded by an oak tree.”
So in designing the Museum Residence, not only did the Adamses reconnect the family with the flora and fauna of their expansive estate, they reunited them with the curated memories of their travels.
This is the third project from the Adamses’ oeuvre that Houston House & Home Magazine has covered from their 40 year career as architects. While Adams Architects, Inc. is looking back and reflecting on four decades of work, one common principle stands out: their gift for identifying genius loci, a location’s distinctive atmosphere.
“Every place has an essence,” says Joseph. “And if you live in that place, communing with that place, and you miss the essence, shame on me the architect and shame on you, the homeowner.”