A Moveable Feast
This Home’s Architectural Design Offers Views, Comfort, Visual Interest
By Barbara Canetti • Photography by Claudia Casbarian
Architect Natalye Appel has created an intriguing indoor/outdoor enigma in a Bellaire neighborhood.
From the street, the limestone and ipe wood (a dark, dense wood that doesn’t rot) looks like it belongs to a mid-size, modern house mixed into the eclectic combination of nearby ranch, Tudor and maxi-mansions. But once behind the 8-foot-high fence, a most unusual home evolves.
The first thing a visitor notices is all the open space – three large oak trees spreading shade over a courtyard, planted with ferns and other ornamental plants. But looking at the house – rather, looking through the house – is where the uniqueness of this structure unfolds.
The whole focus of the house is an indoor-outdoor feel: where does the outside begin and the inside end? It is hard to say because virtually all the walls – made of thick, tempered glass – are moveable, eliminating the shell of the house and opening up the sitting room, dining room, living room or study onto the pool or outside kitchen.
Appel, of Natalye Appel + Associates Architects, called the project a “dream job” – saying the owners were adamant about integrating the spaces and, although designed in a modern style, wanted to keep a warm, organic feel to the house with interesting textures and materials.
Basically the two-story house was designed with almost all the courtyard walls being transparent, and the wildly interesting array of large sculptures collected on international vacations, can be seen from every room.
Additionally, the owners support emerging artists by buying their unique creations – many times while they are still in school.
Water is seen and heard in several rooms, from gurgling fountains or the large pool which butts up against the dining and living rooms.
“Actually, the pool and the deck were built before the house. Everything was constructed around them,” Appel says. “They definitely wanted a pool for swimming, but they wanted to hear it too.”
The front wing houses two large offices, each with floor to ceiling bookshelves, and insulated to keep the noise both in and out. One of the owners is a musician and uses his study to practice. Each study was designed with high windows that allow for privacy but also allow an abundance of natural light to shine into the rooms.
The heart of the house in the center – the public spaces – includes a sitting area, living room, dining room and kitchen. But a sliding custom-made pocket door of wood and steel between the dining table and busy kitchen can turn that open space into a private, intimate room for dinner parties.
Almost all the rooms are painted in a soft white color, which complements the large-scale white floors – keeping all of the rooms airy and bright.
Most of the rooms lack overhead light fixtures, opting instead for recessed cove lighting that makes the rooms cozier, Appel explains.
A show stopping floating staircase made of thick laminated wood with glass panels sweeps around the living room to the upstairs bedrooms. It is really the focal point of the downstairs. It is almost a piece of art in itself.
The house is almost completely automated: all the lighting, air conditioning/heating, pool settings, fountains, music and security is monitored through a complex system in the house but easily accessible from the owners’ cellphones.
It is also extremely energy efficient and well insulated: the roofs are planted with ornamental grasses that keep the heat away from the house. And rather than use electrical lights in some areas, the owners had solar tubes installed, which are a type of skylight lined with reflective metal in the flue to keep hallways and closets well lit, using only natural light.
“All the materials used in this house are durable, but it is a fun house to see and a fun house to live in,” says Appel. “It is just so inviting.”
Natalye Appel & Associates Architects LLC
Alvaro Lozado did backsplashes, hardwood and bath flooring, and bath countertops.