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The open, light-filled layout at 705 Merrill.

Image: Benjamin Hill

How do you design a contemporary house for an historic neighborhood? As the old joke goes, very carefully.

Mixing in the old with the new was a major factor in the design of a contemporary Heights house by McIntyre + Robinowitz Architects, one of nine architect-designed houses selected by a jury of their peers to be a part of the AIA Houston Home Tour on Oct. 29 and 30. 

The clients were active residents of the neighborhood that had searched for a property they could make over after their previous residence was deemed a poor candidate for renovation. They ended up tearing down a dilapidated property just outside the Heights historical district and purchasing the adjacent corner lot, but they still wanted their new residence to have historic touches, says Mike McIntyre, the lead architect on the project.

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Image: Benjamin Hill

To that end, they removed the original floors of the house before demolition and made them a feature throughout the new space: as flooring on the second level, as benches for the kids in the mudroom and as paneling and bookcases in the study. 

"It's part of the old charm, the old energy," says McIntyre. They also brought in reclaimed beams from barns in Pennsylvania to use as flooring on the main level and antique brick from a building in St. Louis used as an accent in the open kitchen and outside as a surround for the grill. Vintage-style glass orb pendant lights add an unexpected element in the main living space, otherwise defined by the open layout and virutally floor-to-ceiling windows that offer an airy 180-degree view of the outdoor space, with a wall designed to recede completely between the dining space and the outdoor Ipe deck for refined indoor-outdoor living.

To stay consistent and respectful of the neighborhood aesthetic, McIntyre designed the house in an elongated T-shape with a modest frontage along the street and the second story only rising up towards the rear of the house, mimicking the composition of the street's many bungalows that have detached two-story garage apartments in the back. 

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The street-facing elevation minimizes the home's 5,700-square-foot footprint to stay in scale with the neighborhood's historical bungalows.

Image: Benjamin Hill

One area where the clients opted for some contemporary indulgence? The spa-like master bathroom, outfitted with a 16-foot half-barrel vault ceiling and a tile mosaic that extends from a deep blueish-green to white in a subtle ombre. The bathroom is open to the master closet, which has stately upgrades like walnut woodwork and painted cabinetry to create an upscale environment. McIntyre says the master bathroom and closet is probably the room that will most wow tour-goers, but there's another less obvious feature he hopes they don't miss.

"There's a little surprise at the top of the stairs, a beautiful view from the kids' playroom, an L-shaped window that frames this beautiful old oak tree, but people have to go upstairs to see it," he says. This is the third project by McIntyre + Robinowitz Architects to be featured on the AIA tour—one year McIntyre's own home was on display.

"What's great about [the AIA tour], and what's unique about it is there's a lot of homeowners looking for architects and designers, homeowners in the middle of construction looking for ideas, builders coming through, so it's good for us to catch up. It's nice to get together with some of our peers and show them our projects. It's really an open house for us."

The AIA Home Tour takes place Oct. 29 and 30, 12-6 p.m. Tickets are $25 per person, $20 for bike riders and $10 for admission to a single house.

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Image: Benjamin Hill

 

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