Glenbrook Home Radiates Hollywood Glamour from its Groovy Circular Sunken Living Room
Article by Sandra Cook • Photography by Anthony Rathbun
Kim and Alan Whittington discovered Glenbrook Valley, set along Simms Bayou, shortly after moving from New York City to Galveston after both of them had finished school. The now-protected, mid-century modern neighborhood was originally laid out by landscape architects Hare and Hare and developed by Fred McManus in the 1950s.
Precision Industries Inc.Alan, an actuary, initially took a job in Galveston, and Kim, a jewelry designer, worked in central Houston, so Glenbrook Valley was a happy medium of a home base. The couple and daughter Remy have grown to love their one-of-a-kind home, its well-preserved neighborhood and its friendly “mod squad” residents.
While they had eyed multiple homes in the post-WW II historic district, the Whittingtons fell in love with the truly unique abode known around the neighborhood as “The Swankienda,” so-dubbed by Glenbrook historian and realtor Robert Searcy. Set on a rounded corner lot, this 1958 home was designed by Houston architect J.D. Dansby Jr. with a distinctive round hub inspired by the lot’s unique geometry and elevation. The cylindrical core is set off with stacked flagstone in various browns and grays, while the additional exterior walls stand by in straightforward beige brick.
The residence is one of several homes in Glenbrook Valley originally built for members of the Montalbano family (of the local lumber company). The Whittingtons are only the third owners of the house.
The home’s grand, 40-foot-wide, circular sunken living room is anchored by — what else? — a double-sided round fireplace. Clearly built for grown-ups to entertain fabulously, the living room, with its central hearth and room-dividing breezeblock wings, makes up 1,500 square feet of the entire home’s 4,100 square feet. The opulent design aesthetic, known as Hollywood Regency style, includes poured terrazzo floors laid out in a rounded grid, reminiscent of the lines on a globe.
“We walked into this huge, round living room and saw the big flagstone fireplace in the middle,” says Kim of the first time she and Alan stepped inside the house. “It was so different from everything we had ever seen. We loved that most of the home was original and had so many large windows. At that moment, I knew I really wanted it.”
PRESERVE & PROTECT
The Whittingtons were thrilled to find a mid-century home that was largely intact, with original kitchen and bathrooms. The design features were fabulous, but the more than 60-year-old house needed some work. When the couple purchased the house in 2012, their mandatory first step was to have the old asbestos ceiling abated. Once that was done, the couple went to work removing peeling layers of paint on the walls and trim themselves, with additional help from Kim’s father on further spruce-ups.
The couple wanted to keep the original kitchen and bathrooms intact as much as possible. While house hunting, Kim was especially taken with colors in the master bath.
.“I really like vintage bathroom tile,” says Kim. “I like the happy and cheerful colors, so the master bathroom was a big thing that drew me to this house. I loved the aqua tile with all the green accents and that sunken tub — and loved that it was all original.”
Kim says she was also excited by the kitchen upon her first tour of the house. “It’s so open, has good flow and storage space, and I couldn’t resist the gold-flecked aqua Formica.”
The kitchen was already nicely laid out with a logical flow and ample space and even included a triple-window over the large sink. The kitchen is equipped with a multitude of cabinets, many with their original, built-in organizational features, such as pullout shelves and shelf dividers, naturally covered in sparkling aqua Formica. These enduring features serve as a testament to the genius of 1950s design.
For years, Kim has been an avid estate sale treasure hunter. The same can be said for her parents, grandparents and other family members, thus the vast majority of the decor was acquired through the family’s selective scavenging.
Kim digs most every theme and shape found in mid-century decorative items, but she leans toward the 1960s end of the style spectrum. She is especially drawn to mid-century ceramics shaped like animals and atomic shapes. She and Alan also acquired many items directly from their grandparents’ homes.
UNIQUE CHARACTER TO EVERY HOUSE
After living in Glenbrook Valley for five years, Kim and Alan appreciate their neighborhood is very friendly and it feels like a community. “The people are neighborly and active, and there are a lot of families with kids Remy’s age. It’s a good place for a family to grow up,” says Kim. “I like the proximity to downtown, Midtown and Montrose and all the restaurants and culture in those areas.”
Kim is happy to have found such a community that’s not out in the suburbs, and says she enjoys driving through the neighborhood and admiring each home for its individuality.
“Glenbrook is a special enclave of Houston,” says Kim. “The neighborhood itself is like a big family where each house is a distinct character. From the front doors and architectural details to the landscaping and how each house is set on its lot, there’s a lot of character — that’s what I like about an old neighborhood.”
Robert Searcy Properties
Bagdad Oriental Rugs
5869 Westheimer Road
“TIME CAPSULE” TOUR
Step inside six homes, including the Whittingtons at 8035 Glenforest Court, during the 2017 Historic Glenbrook Valley Home Tour and marvel at Houston’s three-dimensional encyclopedia of mid-century modern architecture. The tour, set noon-4 p.m. Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, showcases several “time capsule” homes, including a vintage tiki living room, as well as homes with updates that reflect modern-day living blended with mid-century style.
Glenbrook Valley is Houston’s largest historic district and Texas’ first and largest designated post-WWII historic district. In 2013, “This Old House” named Glenbrook a top pick, the only neighborhood in Texas on the list.
Tour tickets are $25 per person in advance; $30 at the door. The tour benefits Glenbrook Valley Civic Club neighborhood markers honoring the historic designation of the neighborhood and the new updates to Broadway Boulevard, which runs through this residential district to Hobby Airport and the 1940 Air Terminal Museum.
For tickets and information, visit www.glenbrookvalley.org
• 8015 Glenforest Court
Owner Tara Pogue has worked to preserve the original features and character of one of the neighborhood’s most iconic homes, known as “The Sputnik House” for the Sputnik light fixture hanging above the front door. The fixture was custom built by the original owners, the Stotlers. The home features pecky cypress exterior trim, extensive poured terrazzo and many original features from light fixtures down to drawer pulls.
• 8214 Glencrest St.
A later build, circa 1975, this was originally the second house in Glenbrook built by Elmer and Myrtle Richardson, who also built the metal-roofed modernist home at 7911 Santa Elena St. Designed to be reminiscent of South American styles, it centers around a 25-foot-square main living area, anchored by a stone fireplace and accented with rustic beams. Entry is through an enclosed courtyard; the home is roofed in Italian tile. Jackson Parker acquired the home this year and has added Saltillo tile flooring and lightened the color palette to create a very open, casual home setting.
• 8115 Stony Dell Court
This mid-mod, split-level design takes advantage of the unusual hilly topography. The current owners, Humphrey and Onyii Brown, have taken on major remodeling. Fashion designer Onyii applied her design talents to undoing years of inappropriate alterations to the home to create a sleek, modernist interior rooted in the mid-century aesthetic, but fresh and modern for today.
• 8002 Arletta St.
Cliff Talley and Larry Rucker rescued this flagstone rambler from its formerly derelict state to return it to its former glory. One of two homes originally built for sisters of the Caliva family, the home had changed hands over the years and required a complete renovation. The updated interior features sunken living areas and en suite baths with all bedrooms. It is a great example to show how these homes can be adapted to 21st-century lifestyles.
• 7642 Glenview Drive
A mid-century French contemporary centered around an atrium with a built-in koi pond, this house’s interior holds a bit of a surprise. Robin Berwick, the current owner, artist and proprietor of Double Trouble Caffeine and Cocktails, has turned the home into an exotic tiki paradise. An original lava rock waterfall greets you in the front courtyard. The sunken formal living room now serves as a full-throttle tiki bar. The breakfast room wall is adorned in a fun nod to the paint-by-numbers set so popular in the 1960s. You’ll be craving a Mai Tai after visiting this gem!