Laura U Southgate Historic Home Renovation in Houston Texas

A few years ago, Michael and I decided to purchase a charming 1930s home in the Southgate neighborhood, near Rice University. At the time, the home boasted two bedrooms and one (yes, one) bathroom. The configuration was not at all functional for me, Michael, and our young twins. But I had fallen in love with the ivy-covered facade. I made a commitment to restore the home, with practical updates perfect for my growing family of four.

We have since moved from the Dryden Residence. But whenever I look at photos, I’m transported to this home, all the memories we made there come flooding back. And I realized that I never gave Dryden its full home tour reveal on the Journal!

I am finally giving this home the spotlight it deserves. Following the step-by-step design approach we use at the studio, I’m excited to open Dryden’s doors.

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Step #1: The Discovery – Understanding the Personality of Home

Beautiful homes leave a lasting impression because they possess an emotional energy. That energy is articulated visually through great design. It all begins with understanding the homeowner, what interests them, what inspires them, and how they want their home to feel. At the studio, we kick off every new project with an initial discovery session.

We ask about color schemes, patterns they love, patterns they don’t love, and how they like to spend time at home. We also ask questions like, “What is your favorite song?” or “favorite book?” One of our first questions is: “How do you want people to feel when they walk through the door?”

When I walked into Dryden for the first time, I knew this was my home. It was built by Claude Hooton in the 1930s for Randolph and Virginia West. Virginia was a successful interior designer, whose design graced an Architectural Digest home tour in the early 20th Century. I saw that the home had been cared-for throughout the years. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make my own mark.

I wanted the renovation of Dryden to honor its historical roots. Its facade would remain relatively unchanged, diminutive and French in its architectural style. Inside, the square footage would have to be increased to support our family. The functionality would reflect our active lifestyles and the design changes would be bold and timeless. The energy would be dramatic and collected, blending traditional and modern in a fresh, inviting way.

Laura Umansky looks over plans for her Dryden residence

Step #2: Inspiration – Honoring the Past and the Present

For our Dryden home, I wanted a warm and whimsical, low-maintenance, family-friendly space that retained the charm of the 1930s. When building my inspiration boards, I looked to Virginia West’s home tour in Architectural Digest.

The interior was traditional and fashionably Southern. Looking at the images, I could see why Virginia was successful. With a more contemporary color palette, her home could easily be found in the magazines of today. The photographer, Maynard L. Parker, had captured the homes of Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. His staged style was well ahead of its time. Even in black and white, you can sense how the natural light bathes the home in daytime sunshine.

At the studio, our inspiration phase is where we conceptualize designs for each room of the project. We consider function, flow, and the creative pulse that holds it all together. For Dryden, it was important to make our art collection a driving force of the home’s personality. Michael and I remember our wedding anniversaries with the art we find in our travels. These pieces are the visual and tangible heart of our home. But more on those details later on in the full home tour reveal…

Step #3: Design – Pulling it All Together

Using floor plans and concept boards, we present fully developed design ideas in this stage. Based on client feedback, any necessary revisions are made. You would think that this phase is so much easier when you’re both designer and client! But it was a challenge to take on both roles in such an extensive renovation.

Keep in mind, this was originally a 1,409 square foot house, and our new architectural plans doubled the space. To do that, we designed a new addition to replace the detached garage. This new space would become our master retreat. All in all, we expanded the home’s original configuration to one more bedroom, another full bath, and a playroom for the girls.

Challenges

At some point in the construction and renovation process, every homeowner has a meltdown to some degree. Meltdown might be too strong of a word. So let’s say every homeowner has a certain “reaction” to the inevitable setback of historic home renovation.

I thought I would be different, seeing as I handle projects like this all of the time. Turns out I’m no different. I might be worse than most! I had a “reaction” (maybe nuclear) when I saw a huge pile of dirt, pipes, and shingles in the front yard. Of course, this period was temporary, but all the issues starting falling into place at once.

As construction started, we found out we needed to repair the foundation. Dryden was engineered with a concrete slab and concrete walls, which was atypical of the time period. Let’s just say that we’ve made considerable advancements to homebuilding since the 1930s. Before the addition’s foundation was poured, we had to repair the original foundation to match.

Speaking of construction advancements, energy-efficient windows are important for Houston’s tropical temps, meaning that all existing windows needed to be replaced. Keeping with the historical integrity of the home, these newer windows were ebony and characteristic of the late-30s period.

I wanted a new black roof to match the windows. But due to a miscommunication on my part, the builder installed a new brown roof. The three hipped roofs got a second overhaul, and long story short, everything came together beautifully (and historically accurate).

Unexpected challenges are a normal part of renovations. It may seem like they’ll never end, but I promise there’s a light at the end of the tunnel! The home tour awaits…

Step #4: Procurement and Installation – Where House Becomes Home

I LOVE this part of the process! Everything starts coming together and it seems like there is gigantic progress every day. In my design life, the team and I spend about 1-5 days installing the furnishings, art, and accessories. It takes several months, however, to design and fabricate custom furnishings, upholstery, and source those hard-to-find, one-of-a-kind items. In total, this process takes up the majority of our active time.

Dryden was a mix of vintage and collectible pieces. The living room had white floor-to-ceiling bookshelves which were the perfect spot to display books, family photos, art objects, and other cherished memorabilia. I loved using this space to share our family history with the girls. When we hosted parties in this space, the photographs were a great conversation starter.

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A framed vintage scarf

The design hanging in the black frame in my living room may look like a painting or a print at first glance. But it’s actually one of my favorite vintage Hermes scarves. I love branching out from traditional paintings, prints, or photos and using something unexpected. Art is whatever speaks to you.

A Comfy Green Gray Sofa from Ladco

This sofa is luxurious, comfortable, and big enough for our whole family to use. There is nothing better than curling up on a deep, soft sofa at the end of a long day. The kind when you’ve been wearing that pretty, but painful pair of heels for 8 hours! Ladco holds a special place in my design heart because I began my career with them. It’s that extra connection between a piece of furniture and your life that sparks the “joy” of loving it in your home.

My Favorite Black and White rug is from Stark Carpet

This rug was the perfect way to carry the black and white color palette from the foyer into the living room. I love the pop of red and blue and the feminine touch of the delicate flower and fruit design. This rug is both bold and subdued at the same time, an effortless command of moody, floral, and orthogonal lines.

Vintage Black and White Photos Surround the Dining Room Table

I have collected vintage vernacular photos for years and I love adding to my collection. At Dryden, the majority of this collection was hung around the dining table. It was like inviting the subjects of the photos into my home for a dinner party.

One of these photographs is my absolute favorite: a mugshot of a woman, in her 60s, with black-rimmed cat-eye glasses, wearing a Christmas sweater. Allegedly, she was picked up for theft during the holidays and may or may not have been the matriarch of a Philadelphia crime syndicate. It’s a photo that’s sure to get guests talking. Every time I walk by it I feel connected to this other time and place. I’ve been asked if I’m willing to sell it on numerous occasions. The answer is still no.

Vetrazzo in the Kitchen

The kitchen was one of the rooms that sold me on Dryden. The hipped roof is nearly hollow here, giving the room an expansive height that is open and inviting. The wood-paneled ceiling is painted in Sea Salt from Sherwin Williams, a subtle green shade.

was a rustic finish that stayed in line with the home’s historic authenticity. To fit my aesthetic, I installed a glamorous light fixture. It’s white on white but not in an over-the-top way. By mixing materials and textures (wood, tile, stone), the single color isn’t overpowering.

Before we moved in, I selected walnut countertops. I considered the finish to be natural and charming, complementary to the shiplap. As the twins got older, constant maintenance became less practical for our busy family. (I lead the team at Laura U and my husband owns a tech company). At the end of the day, we want to just enjoy each other. What I thought was functional turned out to be unrealistic, so I made a change.

At the time, I had been working with Vetrazzo on a small collection of terrazzo surfaces. Terrazzo is one of the oldest interior design elements, dating back to the Neolithic time period! But today, most people recognize terrazzo as a Mid-Century style – think the floors of corporate buildings in the swinging ’60s. While this look can easily sway utilitarian, I wanted to evoke the glamorous, everyday elegance of Palm Springs and Miami Beach.

To replace the countertops, I selected the Fair Pearl colorway from the Vetrazzo By Laura U collection. Made from recycled materials and crushed Mother-of-Pearl, this surface is non-porous, stain-resistant, and no sealer was required. I especially love the pearlescent glow the surface makes with natural daylight. From the white of the cabinets to the soft green of the ceiling, the Vetrazzo surface captures and reflects it. The result is sophisticated, modern, and best of all, low maintenance.

My Antique Butcher Block

I found this antique butcher block at a trip to Round Top, a small Texas town well-known for its antiques. This butcher block is one of my most prized decor possessions. It has that elusive character anyone buying antiques looks for: the patina, the craftsmanship, and an Old World durability. It is heavy! And adds a beautiful layer of texture to the kitchen.

Dining Room Chandelier

Against the crisp black and white walls, this brass Mid-Century shaped chandelier from Curtis Jere added a much-needed touch of gold. These different design elements, coming from different time periods and styles, look refreshingly modern in this room.

Step #5: And…the Big Home Tour Reveal!

After the installation is finished, it’s time to celebrate! We unveil the new interior, complete with a few special surprises and a bubbly toast. There are smiles, maybe a happy tear or two. Dryden was no different. I was nothing short of blissful to finally be in a finished home.

Eight months after we started the renovations, we moved in. Getting to check off the last box on our interior design process checklist and seeing everything come together was such a joy. It was even more special to be able to celebrate our girls’ first birthday in our new home!

Laura Umansky's Houston Home Living Room

Southampton Houston Interior Design - Laura Umansky's Kitchen

Southampton Houston Interior Design - Laura Umansky's Kitchen

Elegant, glam inspired dining room design by Laura U Interior Design

Sophisticated master bedroom in neutral color palette designed by Laura U Interior Design

Southampton Houston Interior Design - Laura Umansky's Msster Suite

Southampton Houston Interior Design - Laura Umansky's Twins' Room

Colorful kids playroom with bright rug and unique storage designed by Laura U Interior Design

Backyard design with patio area and courtyard designed by Laura U Interior Design

From Dryden Home Tour to North Reveal…

I hope you’ve enjoyed my historic Home Tour! Influencing the design of this home was fulfilling as an interior designer and as someone who is proud to call Houston home.

Despite the doubled square footage, we grew out of Dryden. Going through the process prepared me for the renovation of North that would come a couple of years later. Which we are finally ready to reveal in the fall this year! Be sure to check out never-before-seen photos of my new home in a new Rizzoli Book coming out on September 24th.

Author

Laura U

Laura Umansky is a story-teller at heart. Her unique perspective and tailored design process empower her to create singular interiors for clients all over the world.

2 thoughts on “Southgate Houston Home Tour: Where Old Welcomes New

  1. Debra Riordan on August 8, 2019 at 2:00 pm Reply

    Wow! I really love this. That girls room is darling.

    1. Laura U on August 8, 2019 at 2:00 pm Reply

      Thank you, Debra! My girls loved it. They have bunkbeds now, though, which I think they like better. 😉

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