On the Market

The quirky mansion: This $5.7 million home has its own Byzantine chapel and Vatican tub

The quirky mansion: This $5.7 million home has its own Byzantine chapel and Vatican tub

Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Front
The North Boulevard home retains its original 1925 facade, a serene edifice with curb appeal. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Pool
The addition to the back of the house is a surprise with its meandering pool lined in Roman-style statuary. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Spa
The "Vatican tub" in the spa is an exact replica of one on display in the Vatican Museums. Antique stained glass windows and trompe l'oeil painting provide unmatched opulence. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Studio
The performance hall seats 90 and is outfitted with theatrical lighting and surround sound. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Side Entrance
The side entrance to the garden looks to be straight from Italy. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Florentine Room
Elaborate ceiling and wall murals belie the Florentine Room's pracitcal use as an entertainment center.  Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Loggia
The second-floor loggia, complete with a vast summer kitchen, overlooks the interior courtyard. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Living
The traditional living room appears almost quaint in light of the opulent additions.  Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Kitchen
The up-dated chef's kitchen is ample enough for large-scale entertaining. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Front Doors
Front Doors Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Dining
The traditional dining room remains much as it was when the house was built in 1925. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Breakfast
The breakfast room addition was designed after a 17th century wine cellar, the ceiling inspired by an Austrian church painting dating to 1790. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Front Closeup
A close-up of the front entry belies the elaborate interiors. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Pool
One more look at the Tuscan villa interior courtyard. Photo by Rob Muir
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Front
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Pool
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Spa
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Studio
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Side Entrance
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Florentine Room
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Loggia
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Living
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Kitchen
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Front Doors
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Dining
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Breakfast
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Front Closeup
Shelby, On the Market, 1604 North Boulevard, June 2012, Pool

Editor's Note: Houston is loaded with must-have houses for sale in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. In this continuing series, CultureMap Editor-at-Large Shelby Hodge snoops through some of our faves and gives you the lowdown on what's hot on the market.

1604 North Boulevard

At first look from the tree-shrouded lanes of North Boulevard, the house appears to be a traditional Tuscan-style villa, its original lines from the 1925 construction carefully preserved.

But wait. Major additions including a fully-equipped performance hall, a vast Florentine-style spa and loads of architectural antiques, decorative tromp l'oeil and antique stained-glass windows from Europe transform the ordinary (if anything on North Boulevard could be called ordinary) into the extraordinary.

Additions to the rear, in 2005, more than doubled the size of the house and included a meandering pool lined with European statuary. The ambience is pure European fantasy. It's difficult to imagine that such a unique home exists in the heart of Houston. Welcome to Villa Maria.

Walk through:

The original bones of the house are only slightly changed so, as was tradition in 1920s vintage houses, the living room is to the right  of the entry hall and beyond is a sun room. The dining room is to the left and straight ahead is the updated chef's kitchen and the addition of a breakfast room, the design based on a 17th century wine cellar and highlighted by a frescoed ceiling copied from a convent in Romania.

 A hallway and series of stairs leads to the meditation tower, described by the owners as "a small Byzantine chapel."  

Master and guest bedrooms fill the second floor of the original structure. 

From the second floor, we enter the new construction, an elaborate maze of columns, porticos and turrets, guest rooms and entertaining spaces, all constructed around the perimeter of the pool. From the loggia room with its summer kitchen, we look down on the back courtyard and piazza, decorated with Roman mosiacs, fountains, Greek caryatides and Renaissance statues. 

A hallway and series of stairs leads to the meditation tower, described by the owners as "a small Byzantine chapel." Stained glass windows were salvaged from a church in Italy, wall paintings are based on 19th century religious works from Europe. Throughout the tower and new parts of the house, the intricate work of artisans and artists from Europe provides the authentic detailing demanded by the exacting owners.

Also on the second level, the large performance hall — complete with theatrical lighting and sound equipment — is designed as an octgaon with 20-foot ceilings, the height necessary for a grand European tapestry, woven in Brussels in 1622. Elaborate, European-inspired murals (many exact copies of those in European chapels) and trompe l'oeil paintings cover the walls and ceiling. 

Back on ground level, the Florentine Room is a prime example of the workmanship involved in every aspect of the home. Beyond the contemporary uses of the vast room with its video equipment, surround sound and fully-operating bar, the grand room is replete with wall and ceiling murals evoking the richest of European palaces. 
 
In all, the house has four bedrooms, six full and three partial baths and a magnificent spa that looks as if it came from ancient Rome. The spa ceiling is a replica of an elaborate work found in a duke's palace in Mantova, Italy. The astonishing features continue with the "Vatican tub," an exact replica of a first century sarcophagus unearthed in Pompeii and currently on display in the Vatican Museums
 
The dressing room leading to the spa features a stained glass panel salvaged from a 19th century Italian hotel on the Adriatic Coast. On a practical note, an exercise room adjoins the spa.
 
Amazing: The amount of elaborate wall and ceiling murals, the beautiful antique stained-glass windows at every turn, the rich detail covering every square inch of this house makes it truly unique.
 
Someone special: It will take a particularly focused buyer to fall in love with this house that is as theatrical as it is unusual — a Tuscan fantasy with Byzantine embellishments. 
 
Square footage: 7,985
 
Asking price: $5,785,000
 
Listing agent: Mitch Beasley with Heritage Texas Properties