A Concrete Example of a Livable Scale and Layout
As if anticipating the wish lists of today’s home buyers, a mid-century home in Garden Oaks features an open floor plan, a lot of natural light and ample access to outdoor living.
Modestly proportioned by today’s standards, the home’s thoughtful, efficient layout accommodates three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a combo living-dining room and a sunroom, now used as an office. Several rooms open to outdoor decks, which extend the living space as well as the views of a large lot.
Unlike today’s housing, however, the building material is concrete blocks, inside and out. The only stud wall forms back-to-back closets between the secondary bedrooms.
The “Century Built Home” home is one of four designed by Houston architect Allen P. Williams Jr. and one of three remaining in Houston. Architectural write-ups on the distinct, bunker-like homes say the use of concrete may have been part of an effort to find an alternative to prevailing wooden frame construction during post-war housing material shortages and also to integrate post war materials and design.
Although cited as a ‘40s vintage home in appraisal records and media accounts, its original blueprints are stamped 1950, reports homeowner Beth Wiedower Jackson. She’s senior field officer for the National Trust of Historic Preservation’s Houston office.
She and her husband, Adam Jackson, are the property’s second owners in residence. They were charmed by the home’s unique qualities and manageable size, just shy of 1,700 square feet. A detached, one-story garage is also made of concrete, and its two bays hold their cars and storage just fine. In fact, it’s where the home’s original window screens and other materials had been kept.
“Bigger does not equal better,” she said of the home’s footprint. The floor plan has many features still in demand, though at a different scale.
The couple also appreciates how the home’s simple lines and lack of details, such as crown molding or chair rails, help focus the aesthetics on the design and materials.
They purchased the home in 2013 soon after a renovator had rescued the aging, mid-century property from likely demolition, given the go-go real estate market of the time. That redo paid homage to the home’s original design while updating some features. The scope included removing a section of interior wall between the galley kitchen’s breakfast nook and the living room, adding modern kitchen appliances (as in a dishwasher and stacked washer and dryer) and freshening up the bathrooms with new tile and fittings. The cleaned-up deep tubs are original.
Since there’s no attic beneath the flat roof of poured concrete, a dropped ceiling in the central hallway and in the kitchen’s fur down accommodated new ductwork for heat and air conditioning to replace the window units. The lack of attic also explains why there’s only one overhead fixture in the entire house, a retro fan in the sunroom.
The couple has continued restoration efforts, such as repairing interior plaster and repointing the chimney and surrounding brick. Their punch list includes restoring the original steel casement windows affected by placement of window units.
“It’s an ongoing process,” she said.
Concrete construction provides surprisingly good insulation and a very solid structure. However, just hanging a picture on the wall requires thoughtful planning and placement, she said. The couple hopes to avoid ever needing to move around wiring or plumbing since it is located in hard-to-access conduit running through the hollow centers of the concrete blocks.
Having hit its mid-60s, the distinct home just might make it to the 100-year mark, or so the preservationist homeowners intend. They’ve initiated getting it designated as a City of Houston protected landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We’re stewards of this home and we feel an obligation to care for it as best we can,” she says.“We want it to have a future after us.”
The Century Built Home is included on the 2016 Garden Oaks Home and Garden Tour on Sunday, April 24, from noon to 6 p.m. For tour details and tickets, visit www.gardenoaks.org.
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One of the award-winning historic home restorations featured on Preservation Houston’s 2016 Good Brick Tour is in a Leader neighborhood and will be open noon-5 p.m. on April 30-May 1: 714 Sabine St., in the Old Sixth Ward District. The current owner rescued and relocated this 1872 Carpenter Gothic cottage and added new construction inspired by Texian pioneer houses.
The home’s history is one of survival. It sat on the eastern edge of Houston’s Sixth Ward, survived demolition of the surrounding neighborhood, and ended up in the parking lot of the Houston Police Department headquarters, tour materials say. The current owner paid $1,000 for the house and moved it to where it sits today.
For tour info or tickets, visit www.preservationhouston.org.