Editor's Note

Those Isabella Nights

Editing this year’s apartment guide brought back Midtown memories of my first real place.

By Catherine Matusow February 5, 2016 Published in the February 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Jeff Balke

The year was 2002, and I was living in an apartment on West Clay Street in Montrose, a couple of doors down from the famous Reality Bites house. The fourplex featured dingy window units, a terrifying attic filled with junk, and a couple living below me who, judging by their nightly screams, needed to get a divorce immediately. My niece declared the front hallway “spidery.”

But it was the very first place I had all to myself, and I liked it well enough. I assembled a hodgepodge of furniture and even framed some of my mom’s old artwork and hung it on the wall. It was a stab, anyway, at making the place homey. But like many twenty-somethings, I didn’t spend much time there. Most nights, I spent what disposable income I had going out with friends.

Then I made a new buddy, Vernon. The first time he came over, he peeked inside my fridge—strewn with forgotten takeout containers and an old jar of mustard—and laughed so hard he almost cried. Then, in a flurry, he took down all the frames I’d nailed up, rehung them, and rearranged all of my furniture, moving my teetering pile of magazines away from the wall heater with a shake of his head and a short lecture.

Months later, when Vernon had me over to his own apartment at Isabella Court in Midtown, I felt … inadequate. The 1920s-era, Spanish-style building was gorgeous, with colorful tile work, wrought-iron balconies and stucco walls. Its open-air, plant-filled atrium, right off Main Street, felt like a secret. Vernon’s apartment, meanwhile, was grown-up, containing such adult novelties as throw pillows, mixing bowls and art books. I knew immediately that I wanted to move into the complex, too.

When a unit came up, Vernon not only got me in but, with his now-husband, Adam, helped me decorate. We found a red chaise longue at T.J. Maxx, a set of vintage director’s chairs at a junk shop, bookshelves and curtains at IKEA. We covered my grandmother’s carved-wood chairs with fabric from High Fashion Home. As for the artwork from my old place, we hung it together, collage-style, on a single wall.

I adored simply being in that apartment, and, wanting to hang out at home more, I took up cooking. Several evenings per week, I’d throw open the kitchen windows and try out recipes for curry and chili and stir-fry. When Vernon and Adam popped in, they’d get a bowl of something. Soon, I’d not only developed a whole repertoire of dishes but found I was saving money, even though my new place was more expensive than my old one.

Finding the right place to live, the one you actually enjoy spending time in, can enrich your life immeasurably—which is why I consider this month’s guide to Houston apartments and condos a tremendous resource. But that’s not to suggest that anyone become a stir-frying recluse. Everybody has to get out of the house on occasion.

Thankfully, as our cover story on neighborhood bars attests, wherever you live in Houston, there’s sure to be a cool little watering hole around the corner. For those of us at Isabella Court, it was The Big Top on Main Street, two blocks away. The place has everything: good music, a great patio, fun regulars and friendly bartenders (speaking of which: Hi, Donna!). Though I’ve moved across town since my Isabella Court days, I still stop by The Big Top from time to time. It may not be my local anymore, but it still feels like home.

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