Tours start this weekend

Rooms with a $10 million view: Four emerging designers re-envision Houston House's retro modernism


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Photo by Chris Nguyen
News_Houston House_Richard Sanchez
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Richard Sanchez
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Richard Sanchez
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Saba Jawda
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Saba Jawda
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Saba Jawda
Photo by Jill Hunter
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Photo by Richard Payne
News_Houston House_Chris Nguyen
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Chris Nguyen
Photo by Richard Payne
News_Houston House_Chris Nguyen_Bedroom
Photo by Richard Payne
News_Houston House apartment_Chris Nguyen
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Kristen Johnson
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Kristen Johnson
Photo by Jill Hunter
News_Houston House_Lobby
Photo by Richard Payne
News_Houston House_view
Photo by Richard Payne

As its $10 million dollar renovation draws to a close, the iconic Houston House — located at 1617 Fannin — is poised to enter a new chapter of its storied five-decade history. To entice new apartment renters, the building’s management team opened the doors to four emerging Houston designers, each selected to re-envision the residential high rise’s modernist legacy.

Saba Jawda, Kristen Johnson, Chris Nguyen and Richard Sanchez were assigned small apartments ranging in size from 601 to 825 square feet.

Their instructions were to interpret the building’s new maxim: “modern elevated.”

The iconic Houston House at 1617 Fannin

“We were given $1,500 to design the entire space in about a week,” Sanchez explained when we entered the 619-square-foot one bedroom apartment he designed.

“Designing the space itself was the easy part. It was the amount of time that was challenging,” he laughed.

Designer Richard Sanchez

Sanchez added large blocks of black and green paint to the corners of the living area to achieve the effect of making the room feel larger. In the bedroom, a platform bed hugged a dark accent wall, highlighting the adjacent floor-to-ceiling window.

Richard Sanchez's living area design features his own Eames shell chairs and a mid-century modern borrowed from Re|Mod.

To maximize his budget and time, Sanchez used a combination of personal and borrowed items – Philippe Starck and Herman Miller chairs from his own apartment as well as artwork on loan from girlfriend, Houston artist Stephanie Toppin.

Local mid-century specialists Re|mod loaned several items, as did Houston designer Jean Paul Plauché.

Seating arrangement by Richard Sanchez

An abstract painter as well as an interior designer, Saba Jawda took a softer approach to the modern aesthetic in the design of her 610-square-foot space, emphasizing flowing lines and a muted palette.

Designer Saba Jawda

“I went to school for design, but painting is my first passion,” JawDa said, pointing out her large canvases placed throughout the living and dining area.

Living room design by Saba Jawda

Mirrored surfaces and light earth-toned wall colors help expand the space, allowing surprisingly large pieces of furniture to feel perfectly placed – even a large organic bed on loan from local eco-home store New Living. Two white aluminum greyhound statues from Mecox Gardens rest on the living room balcony, drawing attention to views of the Toyota Center and Discovery Green.

Saba Jawda's bedroom design with organic bedding from New Living

View to the northeast, including the Toyota Center

Chris Nguyen had the honor of working with the smallest apartment of the group, measuring 601 square feet. An avid mid-century modernist with a popular blog called Analog|Dialog, Nguyen took advantage of the long, low lines of mid-century furniture and the minimalism of contemporary design to maintain a sense of openness.

Designer Chris Nguyen

”It’s less about space and more about the quality of living,” Nguyen explained. “I want to offer people an opportunity to live well differently in a smaller space than they might have expected.”

Living area designed by Chris Nguyen

To stay within budget, a large shelving unit running the length of the living room was constructed from inexpensive pieces of metal piping and darkly stained planks of wood. Nguyen filled the shelves with a variety of vintage cameras and calculators purchased on Etsy.

Chris Nguyen's bedroom design, including a Bertoia wire chair and Eames reprints from House Industries.

“I want to make the design as accessible as possible to help people get ideas for their own apartments,” Nguyen said. “I sourced items from places like CB2, Amazon and Urban Outfitters. The couch is actually from Macy’s.”

Chris Nguyen's living area design, featuring his own wall art and a modern sofa purchased from Macy's

With the largest apartment, a two bedroom with 825 square feet, Kristen Johnson had the luxury of space to help draw attention to her art and furniture selections. Working from an eclectic concept she dubbed the “Collected Aesthetic,” Johnson combined classic mid-century pieces from Eero Saarinen and Harry Bertoia with 19th- and early 20th-century items from Joyce Horn Antiques — including a console said to be made from a banister of the original Paris Opera.

Designer Kristen Johnson

Unfortunately, Johnson’s show-stopping white leather Florence Knoll couch was temporarily offsite during CultureMap's visit, but it will be returning for the public tours of the four designer apartments running this weekend (Friday through Sunday) and Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

Dining area designed by Kristen Johnson

Lobby interior re-design by Kirksey Architecture 

Northern view towards downtown