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Mid-Century Modernism

| April 1, 2016

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Historic Home’s Meticulous Design Transcends Time And Place
In 1952-53, Lars Bang, one of the first graduates of the University of Houston’s College of Architecture, designed the extraordinary Bendit House in the then-new Ayrshire section of Braes Heights subdivision (now Braeswood Place) in suburban Houston. The home was featured on the Contemporary Arts Museum’s popular Modern House Tour VI in 1957, and it was heralded by local and national media, including the January 1954 Good Housekeeping article, “10 Best Small Houses for 1954” and the April 10, 1957 edition of The Houston Press.

Of the home’s original design, architect Bang said, “This residence was designed so that the house and lot would be integrated into one unit. To accomplish this, the terrazzo flooring, masonry and frame walls and ceilings were carried from inside to outside, further emphasizing the basic characteristic of transparency in the glass walls and affords an apparent gain in the size of the indoors.”

Though it was originally a banner of mid-century modernism, the Bendit House was eventually forgotten along with the other one-story ranch houses that originally surrounded it.

Fast-forward to 1993. Martha and Steve Curry were shopping for a new home to accommodate their young family. Martha, a nurse practitioner in the Texas Medical Center, and Steve, an architect and a founding principal of Curry Boudreaux Architects, wanted a home on a cul-de-sac and something closer to Martha’s job. Martha spotted the home, which had just been listed for sale.

“It was love at first sight,” said Steve, although nearly all of the original surfaces of the house were obscured by paint, gypsum board and fence-board cladding. The couple was immediately captivated by the very open living/dining/kitchen plan and its relationship to the rear yard and pool.

The Currys made an offer on the just-listed house, and Steve began researching the home’s original design. He found architect Lars Bang in the Yellow Pages and dropped by to meet him and found him in the process of closing down his office, clearing out furniture, equipment and files.

When asked about any available documentation of the Bendit House, Bang assured Steve that he didn’t have any project information from that long ago. They discussed the house, which Bang remembered very well, offering several anecdotes from about the original client and construction process. Steve gave Bang his business card and thanked him for his time.

That evening at home, Bang called Steve at home with good news. As he had continued with the clearing out of his office, Bang found the complete original construction drawings for the Bendit House in the back of a file drawer. If not for Steve’s inquiry, those drawings would have followed many others into the dumpster that day. Steve went back to Bang’s office the next day to get the documents to copy.

Armed with those plans as well as copies of the original press and images of the Bendit House, the couple selected Dovetail Builders to oversee their renovation based on its reputation, quality of its subcontractors and willingness to take on the challenges of a multi-phase restoration/ renovation project.

The project’s goal was the total restoration of the original features of the home, along with a new kitchen that would relate to unique aspects of the original, which had been lost to replacement.

That set of original construction documents, obtained more than 20 years ago, proved to be a key reference source and design inspiration for this project. This was supplemented by record photographs and on-site analysis of existing conditions revealed during selective demolition.

Phase 1 was a total roof replacement with contemporary materials, allowing for vastly improved energy efficiency and resistance to Houston’s semi-tropical environment, with respect for the original detailing of fascia, soffit, flashing and skylights.

On-site analysis during demolition of non-original materials and finishes led to a more complete understanding of what was depicted in 1954 Good Housekeeping photos. Original wood paneling and millwork where extant were stripped of paint and restored to finishes of tinted stain, and a plywood ceiling was installed throughout to match original layout and finish.

New materials – such as ceramic tile in bathrooms, cork tile flooring in the study, patterned glass at kitchen hanging cabinets, plastic laminate sliding cabinet doors throughout – were specified to complement to that original color palette.

The interior décor gives homage to the original mid-century modern design. The selected furniture and furnishings are low and relatively small in scale, period-correct for the house and collected over 20-plus years. Many pieces were obtained from area estate sales; some are family inheritances. All contribute to the relaxed quality of the environment, with textures and colors of upholstery fabrics and window coverings specific to each room.

Light fixtures, hardware and other finish details are either original to the house, “new old stock” found from online sources, or were obtained from neighboring demolition sites.

The Currys love their master suite with its all-glass eastern exposure that allows morning light and excellent star and moon gazing at night. But the central living/dining/kitchen area ­ – the heart of the house – is the couple’s favorite, with light patterns changing throughout the day.

Martha said, “The informal, open plan of the common space is cozy enough for daily life, and also is great for entertaining.” And as with the original kitchen, the view to the backyard is stellar, through a kitchen window that is 8 feet high and 32 feet long.

The Currys also love that their home is close to all the amenities and services they use now – YMCA, grocery stores, Metro bus line – and will also be great for aging in place.

The vintage vehicle in the carport adds to the attention the home draws from passers-by who often wonder if it is a prop. It is not – it is a genuine 1950 Chevrolet Styleline Convertible – Martha’s inheritance from her dad, which coincidentally arrived just as the house project was nearing completion.

The end result of the project include the home being featured in the 2012 AIA Houston Architectural Guide. Stephen Fox, architectural historian and author of the guide, said, “Dating from the first generation of houses built in Ayrshire, this is the perfect Houston house, a forcible reminder of how beautiful and rewarding simplicity and good sense can be.” The home also was featured in the 2015 AIA Houston Home Tour.

The Curry’s home represents and yet transcends its time and place with a design rigor effectively showcasing the optimism of early Modernism. It is futuristic enough to be mistakenly identified at times as contemporary construction – although it is 60-plus years old.

From his architectural perspective, Steve assessed the home’s appeal saying, “The house presents conservatively to the street, while inside we find spatial richness, material tactility, and an expansive quality that belies its humble size. This restoration/renovation project is a tribute to the original Bendit House and its capability to teach and inspire.”

With a 2015 AIA Houston Design Award, a 2016 Preservation Houston Good Brick award and a 2016 Preservation Texas Honor Award, the restored Bendit House is the first residential project ever to receive this combined recognition. On top of the home’s numerous accolades, the Currys love living here. It is their dream home — the perfect combination of location, size and requisite amenities – even as it has become a part of the history of the neighborhood and the city.

Text by Cheryl Alexander | Photography Benjamin Hill Photography | Original architecture by Lars Bang | Restoration architecture by Steve Curry, Curry Boudreaus Architects | Construction by Dovetail Builders |  Landscape design by Martha and Steve Curry, and Teresa Villa, USA Lawns | Interiors by Martha and Steve Curry

TOP IMAGE: The rear terrace features an extension of the interior terrazzo flooring and is the connection between the house and pool. The residence was designed so that the house and lot would be integrated into one unit.

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The home’s street view seems conservative in size, while inside has spatial richness, material tactility and an expansive quality that belies its humble size. All exterior materials were restored or replicated to original effect, including burnished vertical siding, corrugated translucent screen in redwood frame and the front porch flagstone paving between the terrazzo and carport.

 

In the entry, all surfaces are continuous, inside and out – original concrete terrazzo flooring, plywood ceiling/soffit, corrugated translucent fiberglass panels and recessed planting beds. The corrugated panels and planting beds had previously been covered and were reinstalled. The front door in stained redwood framing is original to the house; it was refinished to the original color and upgraded with new hardware.

In the entry, all surfaces are continuous, inside and out – original concrete terrazzo flooring, plywood ceiling/soffit, corrugated translucent fiberglass panels and recessed planting beds. The corrugated panels and planting beds had previously been covered and were reinstalled. The front door in stained redwood framing is original to the house; it was refinished to the original color and upgraded with new hardware.

 

The new job-built kitchen of stained ash millwork, with solid-surface countertops and plastic laminate backsplash, pays homage to the original, lost long ago to an unsympathetic replacement.

The new job-built kitchen of stained ash millwork, with solid-surface countertops and plastic laminate backsplash, pays homage to the original, lost long ago to an unsympathetic replacement.

 

Stained wood paneling and built-in shelving line the home’s only hallway. The terrazzo floor and plywood ceiling is continuous throughout.

Stained wood paneling and built-in shelving line the home’s only hallway. The terrazzo floor and plywood ceiling is continuous throughout.

 

Between the dining area and the kitchen are a bar-height counter and ceiling-hung, sliding, glass-faced cabinets. Vintage barstools are by Umanoff; dining furniture is by Conant Ball. At the brick wall, a restored recessed planting bed under skylight is mirrored by adjacent features outside, creating a smaller-scale effect of that at the entry.

Between the dining area and the kitchen are a bar-height counter and ceiling-hung, sliding, glass-faced cabinets. Vintage barstools are by Umanoff; dining furniture is by Conant Ball. At the brick wall, a restored recessed planting bed under skylight is mirrored by adjacent features outside, creating a smaller-scale effect of that at the entry.

 

The feature brick wall, now stripped of paint and with period sconce installed, is book-ended by large fixed glass in stained redwood lumber frames. The new credenza, designed of the same materials as the new kitchen millwork, provides storage space and conceals the TV when not in use. Reupholstered furniture, furnishings and artwork have been collected over a 20-plus year period. Vintage coffee table, and end table of wrought iron and maple, are by Paul McCobb for Winchendon; stool is by Florence Knoll.

The feature brick wall, now stripped of paint and with period sconce installed, is book-ended by large fixed glass in stained redwood lumber frames. The new credenza, designed of the same materials as the new kitchen millwork, provides storage space and conceals the TV when not in use. Reupholstered furniture, furnishings and artwork have been collected over a 20-plus year period. Vintage coffee table, and end table of wrought iron and maple, are by Paul McCobb for Winchendon; stool is by Florence Knoll.

 

This bath features a vintage sink and medicine cabinet obtained from a nearby demolition site, on new four-inch-square ceramic tile wall. The light fixture above is “new old stock” — 60 years old and never been used.

This bath features a vintage sink and medicine cabinet obtained from a nearby demolition site, on new four-inch-square ceramic tile wall. The light fixture above is “new old stock” — 60 years old and never been used.

 

The study is furnished with two vintage Texas-made Sevacraft daybeds with built-in storage. Original redwood paneling under the windows was stripped of paint and then restained, replicated by new paneling on the far wall. The flooring is new cork tile, which continues into the adjacent bathroom.

The study is furnished with two vintage Texas-made Sevacraft daybeds with built-in storage. Original redwood paneling under the windows was stripped of paint and then restained, replicated by new paneling on the far wall. The flooring is new cork tile, which continues into the adjacent bathroom.

 

Original millwork, all of stained ash lumber and plywood, features fixed shelves with clerestory glass at the ceiling and frames the pocket door to the hall with floor-to-ceiling storage. All rooms, including this one, are furnished with period-correct furniture obtained in neighborhood estate sales and from locally-based dealers, including David Lackey and Don Browne.

Original millwork, all of stained ash lumber and plywood, features fixed shelves with clerestory glass at the ceiling and frames the pocket door to the hall with floor-to-ceiling storage. All rooms, including this one, are furnished with period-correct furniture obtained in neighborhood estate sales and from locally-based dealers, including David Lackey and Don Browne.

 

The original large-scale handmade brick at the bed headboard continues from inside to outside, creating a walled private garden to the east. All original framing – stained redwood lumber at fixed glass, and painted steel at sliding glass – was refinished to original specifications, and period-correct light fixtures were installed inside and out.

The original large-scale handmade brick at the bed headboard continues from inside to outside, creating a walled private garden to the east. All original framing – stained redwood lumber at fixed glass, and painted steel at sliding glass – was refinished to original specifications, and period-correct light fixtures were installed inside and out.

 

The partition between the master bedroom and bath is the original redwood framing with clerestory glass above a pocket door. Other existing interior surfaces and features were restored, refinished and complemented with new plumbing fixtures and four-inch-square ceramic tile.

The partition between the master bedroom and bath is the original redwood framing with clerestory glass above a pocket door. Other existing interior surfaces and features were restored, refinished and complemented with new plumbing fixtures and four-inch-square ceramic tile.


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