Mike Mahlstedt admits that he is a commitment-phobe—at least when it comes to real estate. He’s sitting next to his partner of six years, Kyle Dutton, inside their home in Avalon Place, near River Oaks, built in the 1940s and updated by the pair with a vibrant, contemporary look.
“We did go a little bit bolder on this house, because we thought we were going to stay here for a while, at least a couple years,” says Mahlstedt. “Of course, we’ve been here five months, and we already found another dream house.”
After buying the home in September 2014, the couple lived in a nearby condo for a year while they completely re-imagined the structure, turning a series of small, impractical rooms on the main level into a dramatic open-concept living space while holding on to as much of the historic character and charm as they could.
It’s the latest in a series of houses, most of them in the same neighborhood, that the two have put their stamp on since being introduced by mutual friends. Mahlstedt’s day job as a realtor is an asset, helping them to find prospective properties even before they go on the market (theirs was one of 10 offers on this current home, made the first day it was listed on HAR). After a few years managing their home makeovers in his free time, Dutton left his career in the oil and gas industry in 2014 to focus on renovation projects for friends and other clients.
Through trial and error, they’ve worked out a partnership that plays to their strengths: Mahlstedt takes the lead on design decisions, running his edgier ideas by their coterie of designer friends, and picking up pointers and trends at the impressive properties he sees as part of his day job. Dutton, meanwhile, is the master of spreadsheets, keeping track of the budget and schedule, and communicating with contractors.
“A lot of times when you do these projects you say, ‘I’m just going to do this and spend this,’ and people get into a really bad habit of saying, ‘Well, while we’re at it, let’s just add 500 square feet,’ or whatever. You have to be disciplined,” says Mahlstedt. Still, the pair has been known to let discipline slide for the sake of a showstopper. In this house, that meant going with Mahlstedt’s idea to create a stunning glass-walled wine room between the kitchen and the dining room, in a space that was originally planned as a butler’s pantry. “It’s one of my favorite features of the house, but it was like, ‘If you had come up with that idea six months ago, it would have helped,’” says Dutton.
To bring the house back to life, the couple took it down to the studs to open up the first-floor layout and create a modern, cohesive living space. Still, vintage touches remain, including the original mantle, brightened up by the removal of dated black tile; all the second-floor doorknobs, now covered in chrome to add a modern vibe; and the original wood floors, salvaged and combined on the second floor.
Gone are the tacky mid-century bathrooms with gold wallpaper, pink toilets and leopard-print carpets, replaced by a bold, modern color palette. Brass fixtures in the kitchen stand out against an island covered in dramatic deep-grey soapstone, while cobalt-blue pocket doors peek out from between the formal and informal living rooms.
Outside, the changes are just as striking. Mahlstedt and Dutton demolished a dilapidated greenhouse that had dominated the backyard (the previous owner was a competitive orchidist) and installed a sleek pool in its stead, turning part of the adjacent garage into a covered outdoor living space. In the front, they painted the exterior bricks, added a con- temporary steel door surrounded by sleek concrete, and enclosed a small part of the yard to create a private zen garden, complete with tiny koi pond.
Now that their space is finished, Mahlstedt and Dutton say they love it—but they’re ready to start all over again on the next project and already have feelers out on a nearby property. “I get excited when I see an old house that has good bones but is overgrown,” says Dutton, “and no one wants it.” Mahlstedt agrees: “My passion is taking the old and making it awe- some. I like this house for sure, but once we’ve fixed the problems, I’m like, what’s next?”