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.
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.