Carol and Joe Toups renovate homes all the time, whether it be the homes they own or those they work on for clients through Carol’s company Nautilus Ventures. So when they bought a home in Garden Oaks at 938 W. 41st Street, their first thought was to flip it. Then, they decided to move from the Heights to make it their forever home, downsizing from 4,000 square feet to roughly 1,600 square feet.
The reason for this had to do with the proportion of the lot, which is shaped like an arrow head. This shape led them to adapt a design inspired by their admiration of Frank Lloyd Wright, specifically, his love of symmetry. The existing ranch was nearly symmetrical down the axis and only required an extra eight square feet to be exactly so.
During the design process they used Wright’s Usonian homes as a guide. The Usonian homes were part of a Wright planned community in New York and were a way of making his designs more affordable to the masses.
A 1984 New York Times story said that “the building materials were stone, natural wood untouched by paint and large expanses of glass. Each house is different, but most have flat roofs, carports, big stone fireplaces and open floor plans.”
Another 1981 Times piece talked about Wright’s dismissal of the interiors of traditional homes. He called them “boxes beside boxes or inside boxes, called rooms.” Instead his idea for a more organic house was one “that would live in a quiet relationship with the ground” and would be “one that is integral to site, to environment, to the life of the inhabitant.”
The Toups define their house as a mid-century modern. They added the eight feet for perfect symmetry, and even opted for his and her carports and patios on either side of the house to keep the balance. Every window and door is the same width at two feet, six inches wide – another part of the symmetry.
Wright’s use of glass, wood and brick was also important to the Toups, who added an interior brick wall running the width of the house. The brick runs inside and outside of the house, guiding the eye to the exterior. Joe Toups said they taught the masons how to lay the brick in a linear fashion as Wright would have done it.
The glass elements extend directly to the pine ceiling. The cabinetry and wainscoting are rift oak. The floor is antique pine which was salvaged from a demolished church rectory near Minute Maid Park.
The Toups’ preference for antique pieces comes into play throughout the house. The bathroom lighting fixtures are hand blown feathered glass. The kitchen features a mercantile display case from the late 1800s.
The case was designed into the kitchen. Carol said that much of the kitchen cabinetry was made like furniture and is not affixed to the dweling because it would be impossible to do so against brick. Instead, it can slide in and out of the specially designed spaces.
They have added a pond with lilies and instead of window treatments have installed a metal trellis, where plants will serve as a natural covering.
As you might imagine, all the open space necessitates a clutter free house which was part of Wright’s idea.
“He didn’t want to design closed spaces, such as garages, to collect junk,” said Joe Toups.
One of their favorite things about their house is that no one ever knows how to enter. What looks like a wall of windows actually has multiple door entry.
“Wright liked that sense of discovery,” said Joe.
The Toups say that while their home is “totally uneconomic,” it is exactly what they wanted.
“The small design and market revolution is developing, but it is hard to do,” said Carol.
More about the Garden Oaks Home & Garden Tour
Katy Hall Wyly with John Daugherty Realtors was the volunteer chair last year for the tour and this year is sponsoring it, as an extension of John Daugherty.
“I live and work here, so I do whatever I can to give back,” said Wyly.
When looking at homes to feature on the tour Wyly said they were looking for a mix of styles. She says that she is happy with what they ended up with – modern homes, those in the French Country style, and more traditional houses. Some homeowners are restricting the tour to the downstairs.
Of the Toups home, Wyly says that although it is new and unique, it feels like it fits.
“It strikes the perfect balance,” said Wyly.
For those looking into the Garden Oaks housing market for the first time, the entry level is nearing the $400,000 mark.
“There are lots going in the $300,000s and on the other end there’s a house on the market in Garden Oaks for $1.4 million,” she said.
For more on the home and garden tour visit gardenoaks.org/gocc-home/events/home-tour/.