A 2018 GOOD BRICK WINNER
Architect and Homeowner Team Up to Renew an Abandoned Heights Cottage
Article by Barbara Canetti Photography by Ben Koush
There was just something about that rickety old Heights house: The graceful lines, the wraparound porches, the over-sized lot and the general character of the home. It was abandoned, leaning and probably termite infested. But Genevieve Withers saw something more: She saw potential.
And she was spot on! With the help of architect/contractor Ben Koush, this little Queen Anne cottage — named the Blazek House after its original owners — went from a neighborhood blight to an award-winning reconstruction. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, as Preservation Houston recently awarded Withers and her partner James Souza a Good Brick Award for 2018.
GOOD BRICK AWARDS
Since 1979, Preservation Houston has presented Good Brick Awards to recognize outstanding local contributions to the preservation, rehabilitation and enhancement of Houston’s architectural and cultural heritage, says executive director David Bush. This modest house in the Houston Heights West Historic District was a good candidate because judges were impressed with the care that went into planning this project, as well as the owners’ commitment to preserving the home’s historic character.
“The new addition complements the historic house, unlike so many projects in the Heights, where the new construction overwhelms the original building,” says Bush. “By maintaining the scale, style and materials of the original house, the renovation succeeds in preserving both the historic character of the Blazek House and the historic character of the neighborhood.”
Withers says much of the interior of the house had to be updated or replaced, but so many of the architectural characteristics were preserved.
“When it rained, it rained inside the house. It was a wreck, but I fell in love with it. I knew it could be a lovely house again, and it is. It just needed a little TL,” she says.
Actually, it needed more than a little TLC. Koush says the restoration of the 1909 house was a major undertaking. But what they found inside were intact shiplap walls, which they painted and preserved; dysfunctional sliding pocket doors that needed to be repaired; and floors, doors and transoms that had never been painted or changed but required refinishing and renewing. It took a year, but the end result is amazing.
“So much of the house was salvageable. And if something was missing — hardware or molding — we either had it made to match or found replacement parts,” says Koush. “We were very excited by this project that we could celebrate this house still being there.”
The living and dining rooms required a minimal amount of work, mostly replacing windows and refinishing the walls and floors. The kitchen, however, needed the most attention because nothing from the original could be rescued. But it was redesigned with a nod to the character of the house while using modern materials and making it suitable for today’s needs.
One of the exterior porches was enclosed and converted into a master bathroom with a stand-alone tub and glass-walled shower. Large windows and a skylight pour natural light into the room. A mudroom was also built in this space, and then a new porch was erected in the rear of the house facing north.
The second bedroom was transformed into a study, again utilizing the old shiplap wood walls. Withers notes many people are afraid to reutilize the old wooden walls because of age-old scars and rusty nails on them.
“Paint the wood with oil-based paint and the nails won’t rust and the walls will look great,” she says. Insulation was blown in behind the shiplap, making the house more energy efficient. A wide center hallway was converted into a makeshift library, with floor-to-ceiling shelves lining the walls.
“I had to make use of this space. I have so many books!” she says.
A structurally unsound workshop/garage in the back that was constructed in the 1950s and a total disaster was torn down. The driveway was moved from the southeast side of the property to the northwest side, and a large carport was erected, with an adjoining office/guest quarters and bathroom. This corner property, fairly large for the Heights at 8,200 square feet, left lots of room for a garden and landscaping, which are still in the works.
Koush says the house required a structural engineer to assist in the reconstruction because so much was wrong with the house.
“It is a rare survivor among super-sized new houses and overwhelming additions,” says Koush. “The rehabilitation of the Blazek House demonstrates how a small house (1,322 square feet) can be sensitively reconfigured for modern living without destroying its historical character. As such, it’s a model for other homeowners seeking to rehabilitate similar houses in the Heights and throughout Houston.”
ARCHITECT & CONTRACTOR
Ben Koush Associates
(also bathroom fixtures
2940 Ferndale St.
House of Antique Hardware
2415 Taft St.
8721 Clay Road
802 FM 1960 Road East
GLASS SHOWER WALL
Custom Glass Solutions
6341 Ashcroft Drive
HARDWARE FOR WINDOWS & DOORS
The Home Depot
Installed Building Products (IBP)
Ben Koush Associates
with Travis Peiffer (registered landscape architect)
Weather Shield Windows & Doors