Restored 1930s Mansion in Riverside Terrace Remains an Art Deco Jewel
Article by Marsha Canright Photography by Doris Willcox from Emomedia
The French Provincial-style manor house rises like a fairy-tale castle on a third-acre lot situated on Riverside Drive, east of the Texas Medical Center and Hermann Park.
Built of cream-colored natural stone and brick with a turret of limestone travertine, the 4,600-square-foot house is a majestic survivor in historic Riverside Terrace where old oaks line the streets. Houston architect Lenard Gabert designed the house in 1930 for Robert S. Jarett, a wealthy department store owner. It’s an Art Deco beauty with elaborate arches, gables, handsome copper gutters and a red brick driveway.
“The Sakowitz family lived next door, and Joseph Finger's impressive Wesley West House, unfortunately long gone, was across the street,” says Georgina Key, who owns the castle with her husband.
Key says her knees actually buckled when she stepped through the exterior wall and into the courtyard for the first time.
“It was like a secret enclavee, so private, and I fell instantly in love,” she says.
The house was in better shape than many of the homes she had seen. It still needed considerable attention. Key, who owns george + lulu, an interior design and staging company, was not afraid of a fixer-upper.
“There are still moments when I can't believe it's ours; it truly is my dream home, and my husband loves it, too,” she says. “I think he was stunned when I told him they accepted our offer, although at this point in our long marriage, he knows when I set my mind to something, it usually happens.”
Key was eager to tackle such a challenging project, a new adventure, which included hand-restoring 50 sets of original casement windows. The hardware was long gone, but Adkins Antique Hardware carried solid brass fittings that fit perfectly — a lucky find. Initial restoration and updating took about seven months.
For those who love Art Deco architecture and fine-tuned craftsmanship, this house is something to see. It’s roomy, but not over-the-top. There are 16 rooms on two floors with 10-foot ceilings, in addition to a fully converted attic, which serves as a private suite for their oldest son.
The bones of the house are Art Deco/Old Hollywood, but Key’s personal design style is more eclectic and soulful. Matching styles from a single source is not her approach.
“I believe in authentic interiors that reflect the life you’ve lived; it’s a record of landscapes and experiences, a dialogue between your past and present,” she says. “I appreciate a little juxtaposition, patina and wabi sabi.”
The interiors are personalized, but family members respect the original architecture and are diligent in its care.
GRAND ENTRY & MORE
The palatial entry with its domed ceiling houses a sweeping grand staircase with an ornate wrought iron railing. Beyond the entry are the formal living and dining rooms, a study and music room, a downstairs powder room, the informal family room, a kitchen with oversized pantries and a laundry room with an old-style foldout ironing board.
Upstairs are three bedrooms with baths, a library and a second-floor sunroom, which Key uses as a studio. The house also has a large garage apartment and a basement.
“All the walls are original plaster, and there is decorative molding in the formal living and dining rooms,” Key says.
The molding has original picture rails that the couple uses to display their art collection, including works by local artists; Mary Lawton is a favorite. There are more paintings by family members mixed with vintage finds. The house also has arched doorways and ceilings that vary in style.
ART DECO DETAILS
“There are so many details, it’s hard to mention them all, but the Art Deco tiles in the upstairs bathrooms perfectly reflect the period,” Key says. The pink and green tiles were discovered beneath a carpet.
The first-floor powder room has Cole & Sons hummingbird wallpaper and a bead board ceiling with egg and dart molding. It also has an original stained glass door.
An elegant wall-sized marble and plaster fireplace anchors a living room that would be a setting for “The Great Gatsby,” and one bedroom has etched glass Art Deco pocket doors.
The kitchen has original black-and-white wall tile with granite floors and countertops, as well as original cabinetry. Now updated with Bosch and Thermador appliances, the kitchen retains two large walk-in pantries. The couple’s youngest son has his own baking business and one pantry is entirely his domain.
“My favorite space in the house depends on the time of day and occasion,” Key says. “The library is my sanctuary when I want time alone because it’s quiet, removed, small and intimate, and I can be surrounded by our books, which I treasure.”
Key has a master’s degree in English; her husband, in philosophy; and their oldest son is studying English and creative writing at the University of Houston. All are avid readers.
“I gravitate towards novels, but I’m currently dipping into Tony Hoagland’s poetry. I recently finished “Spill Simmer Falter Wither” by Sara Baume, a young Irish writer who experiments with language. Also, Emma Donoghue’s new one, “The Wonder,” and “Grace” by Paul Lynch,” she says.
The upstairs sunroom is also a favorite with early morning sunlight streaming through the windows, and the formal living room has excellent acoustics for music and space for entertaining guests.
Key was born in England and moved to Houston in her teens. “I still feel very English, and that affects my style and approach in countless area of my life,” she says.
Her husband is Filipino, which she says creates an interesting mix of cultures for the couple. Their garden is a source of delight.
“We have a mini-crepe myrtle orchard in the back, and we planted fruit trees when we moved in about two years ago,” she says. “In our last house in the Heights, my younger son grew what started as a tiny stem and became an enormous grapefruit tree.
“He asked if we could take it with us, which was obviously not an option. So I promised him that we'd plant a new one. Now we have a grapefruit, a lemon and an orange tree.”
Before buying the Riverside house, the couple lived for 15 years in the Heights where they enjoyed getting to know neighbors. That’s also a perk of Riverside Terrace.
“It’s quiet and peaceful and our neighbors are absolutely wonderful,” Key says. “There are lots of families who have lived here for generations mixed with young couples starting out and lots of creative types: Musicians, artists, actors, directors. One of our neighbors has a huge fancy Christmas party each year, and we all get dressed up in black tie and enjoy each other’s company.”
Riverside Terrace was developed inside the loop during the late 1920s, primarily as an enclave for wealthy Jewish families who were not welcome at that time in River Oaks, such as the Weingarten, the Sakowitz and the Finger families.
When this house was built in 1930, Houston was a center of wealth, growth and opportunity largely shielded from the worst effects of the stock market crash that rocked much of the nation. With almost 300,000 residents, it was the largest metropolitan area in the state. More than 40 oil companies were located in the city, and the port was the nation’s 8th largest.
ACCESSORIES & FURNITURE
(Lamps and small furniture)
803 Heights Blvd.
The Blue Bird Circle
(Lamps and small furniture)
615 W. Alabama St.
Design Within Reach
(Couches in sunroom and apartment)
4066 Westheimer Road
The Guild Shop
(Lamps and small furniture)
2009 Dunlavy St.
The Printing Museum of Houston
(Letterpress drawers and iron printer’s cabinet)
1324 W. Clay St.
(Couch in family room)
2040 W. Gray St.
713-521-1915 for an appointment
(Metal cabinet in master dressing room)
4030 Westheimer Road
5000 Katy Mills Circle
Adkins Antique Hardware
INTERIOR DESIGN & STAGING
george + lulu interiors
Harmony Electric Co. Inc.
Pfister Pier and Beam
220 W. 26th St.
Tom Pierce Plumbing
Walls & windows
Lone Star Glass