BEAUTY IN SYMMETRY
Little Jewel Box in Garden Oaks Was Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright
By Natalie de la Garza Photography By Benjamin Hill Photography
If you’re a fan of a certain great American architect, there’s a home in Garden Oaks you’ve got to see. It belongs to Nautilus Real Estate’s Carol Toups, whose husband brought her to the lot on West 41st Street more than three years ago, guessing correctly that she’d like it.
“I loved the lot. It’s a pie-shaped bifurcation between two streets, and it was loaded with beautiful trees. The only thing is they had this ugly little ranch on it,” adds Toups with a laugh.
Though no fan of the original structure, there was one aspect Toups did admire.
“I really did respect the fact that the original builder really looked at the land and built the house so symmetrically on the unusual lot,” says Toups. “That just got our mind working to the only person we know that thought like that — Frank Lloyd Wright.”
Inspired to do a “little replica,” the Toups family seized upon Wright’s ideas on symmetry, adding eight square feet so the house would be perfectly symmetrical and installing all the doors and windows the same width.
Since the home lacked features to build upon, the Toups incorporated their own, including a brick wall that penetrates both the inside and outside of the house, while also changing the entire floor plan and removing the ceiling in the front room.
Tongue and groove pine ceilings now continue throughout the house and give the appearance of going through the glass, both bringing the outside in and taking the eye and leading it through the space.
“If you’re a good builder and a good architect, you lead a person through a home,” says Toups.
“They don’t have the option, because the natural response when you walk in is to look up and look out. You’ll follow the lines.”
In addition to the ceilings, other examples of woodwork can be found in the home, including rift sawn oak cabinets and interior walls, and a floor made from 20-foot-long longleaf pine boards acquired from St. Anne Catholic Church.
“We wanted that warmth that comes from wood and brick and earth materials,” says Toups.
One of Toups’s favorite pieces is an old commercial cabinet she bought at auction. Originally made for a mercantile to store dry goods, the piece features glass drawers adorned with little gold medallions that say the word “out,” which years ago would have let a shop owner know it was time to reorder. Toups now uses it as a pantry.
“I grew up in an old store like that,” says Toups, “so it had meaning to me.”
The cabinet was one piece Toups knew she wanted to incorporate into her next home, but she admits she and her husband had much to choose from as the couple was downsizing from 3,800 square feet.
“We took the things we particularly liked the most of all of our things because we were more interested in things that meant something to us,” says Toups.
They were assisted in their efforts by the decision to forego a garage, adding instead two carports, each leading to an enclosed brick patio on either side of the house.
“Every garage I’ve ever had in my life has been full of junk and there’s no room for any junk,” says Toups, adding that she finds her car stays cooler and that the space can be used to entertain guests.
Outside the home visitors will find a four-foot-high green wall on one side of the living area — “It’s our screen rather than having draperies,” says Toups — but there’s one thing that won’t be found.
“One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s features is that you’re not supposed to know where to enter,” says Toups. “Wright did that on purpose because he wanted you to observe everything prior to you going [in].”
Though there’s no obvious entrance and no doorbell, there are some clues, including several slate steps and slate pillars with number signs. Still, Toups laughs, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a person come to my door.”
Looking back, Toups says it was when they finished designing the house — which she calls “the little jewel box” and saw just how unique it was — that they realized it was just the place for her and her husband.
“We really realized that smaller living is so much simpler. It un-complicates your life a lot, and we felt that in retirement that’s something that we really appreciate,” says Toups. “It’s just a small house packed with a lot of good things.”
Escamilla Iron Works
(Fabricator of wall and retaining wall)
Grogan Building Supply
(Tongue and groove pine)
300 Garden Oaks
Mason’s Mill & Lumber Co.
(Rift sawn oak)
(Green wall panels)
16405 Air Center Boulevard