Puzzle House

This Minimalist Houston Heights Home Is an Ode to Puzzles

From a custom table for play in progress, to interlocking millwork, this Houston Heights home is an ode to a family’s favorite hobby: puzzles.

By Melissa Dalton September 8, 2022

This Houston Heights home is an ode to a family’s favorite hobby: puzzles.

It’s safe to say that Stephanie Kinzel-Tapper’s family was fast-growing out of their Houston Heights home. “We had two kids, two dogs, and the two of us, all squeezed into a 1919 bungalow with 1300 square feet,” says Stephanie, a lawyer. “We just needed more elbow room.” 

After fifteen years in the neighborhood, Stephanie and her husband John Tapper, an artist, didn’t want to relocate, so decided to rebuild instead. “We knew we wanted more space, but we didn't want too much space,” says Stephanie. “We wanted to live in every square foot of the house.” The couple worked with local firm Content Architecture and architect Jesse Hager to strike the right balance, enlarging the house to two floors, with a detached garage and studio for John, and opting for a more modern look in the process.

The result is called the Puzzle House. As such, it seems to interlock form and function in multiple ways – as a modern house fit amongst a street of historic bungalows, interior rooms meshed with exterior lounges, and social spaces dove-tailed with private alcoves. All within a modest 2,984 square feet, with an additional 374 square feet for the studio.

 

The first piece is an inset front porch that appears as though it’s carved out of the house’s larger volume. It and the oversized clapboard siding, a durable fiber cement that will stand up to humid summers and never need fresh paint, are both “nods to the neighborhood, but taking it to a different scale,” says Hager. More exterior spaces are inserted throughout the plan, like a glassed “atrium moment” in the main living areas, which brings in light and greenery from a typical side yard, to the recessed porches off all the bedrooms.

As far as must-haves, the couple’s list was tailored to how they like to live. They needed a guest suite for when their parents visit from out of state, and a proper studio for John, who previously used the garage. “It was dark. It was semi-air conditioned, and he was sharing the space with the cockroaches,” says Stephanie. As for her, she needed better storage, specifically for the vacuum, which had long been stored in the primary bedroom closet because there was nowhere else to put it, as well as a place for the family to spread out for their favorite pastime: puzzles. “Any time I wanted to do puzzles, I had to do them on the dining room table, which basically forced us to have dinner on the couch,” says Stephanie.

Regarding finishes, Stephanie is “admittedly a little allergic to color,” says Hager, so the palette emphasizes neutral, time-tested materials, like concrete floors and a steel fireplace surround, and stained wood floors, storage, and ceiling beams in the primary suite. The abundant cabinetry throughout the home has a surprise detail in deference to the project name: clever custom joinery so the cupboard faces look like overlapping puzzle pieces with staggered gaps for finger pulls.

With the main floor kept open for easy entertaining, designated alcoves allow family members to retreat, whether to the reading loft, John’s studio, or the “Puzzle Room,” which keeps play in progress.

There, Hager designed a custom table, fabricated by Victor Del Frate, which allows the puzzle to be stowed so the kids can also use it for homework. “My mom and grandmother also do puzzles and they’re very jealous of my table,” says Stephanie with a laugh. For Hager, the table represents a lot of the design challenges in the project as a whole, from the need for smarter storage and double-duty function, to its interlocking physical form. “It's really like the house synthesized into one piece of furniture,” says Hager.

 

 

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