Country Flair in Bellaire
Rustic and rural at home in the big city
When most people visualize big city Houston living, they think of the mansions of River Oaks, the quirky abodes in Montrose, the hometown feel of the Heights or the estates of Bellaire. Few of us are able to conjure
a vision of country living or farm-y charm in the concrete jungle of our beloved Bayou City. That is because few of us have the imagination of Shelley Rice.
Shelley, along with her husband, Jim, and their four children have managed to import a true country living experience into the heart of Bellaire. How did they do it? Well, it started with a daydream.
At the time, the Rices were living large in West University where they had been for eight years. “We loved our home there,” Shelley admits. “We had this great 3,400-square-foot home on this big corner lot across the street from Sunset Park, and our home had become what felt like West U Central. My kids’ ages were from 2 to 14, and everybody knew us. People were always stopping by during their walks or trips to the park with kids. I was always handing out water or Band-Aids or letting kids use our restroom. We loved our neighborhood, but there came a point where I thought, ‘We need more space, more privacy,’ so I began shopping for a new home in a new neighborhood.”
Shelley saw a photo of the Bellaire home in a real estate magazine and liked the size of the home (a larger 5,000 square feet), the size of the lot (a whopping 27,000 square feet), the style of the home (appealing to her contemporary sensibilities) and, most of all, she liked the price tag. So began the daydream.
In November of 2006, the Rices moved into their new Bellaire home and Shelley’s imagination began to work overtime. “Though I loved most everything about the house, I knew there were some changes I wanted to make both in the floor plan and in some of the details.” She immediately altered the things she “couldn’t live with” — like the built-ins in the family room. She felt they were dated and dark, plus she wanted to create more space to display art. “Our first big project, though, was to revolutionize the downstairs by opening a wall that was between the original office and living room. We wanted to create a multi-purpose space,” Shelley explains, “to serve as a gallery/dining/craft/conference room.”
The result is exactly that. World class folk and contemporary art adorns the walls and sits atop the furniture; the craft cart (an East Coast antique shelf on wheels) moves in and out of the room at the whim of her younger children; board members from the various charities the Rices support plan events and fundraisers around the table; and dinner parties and family celebrations all seamlessly occur in this great space. The living room with its fabulous furniture, limestone fireplace and even more exciting art fluidly flows from the dining area allowing for easy entertaining. No stuffy parties here.
“I just hosted a 50th birthday party for my sister-in-law and 80 people attended,” Shelley says with a satisfied smile. “The party was actually my impetus to finish some details that I left unattended. In three weeks, we painted, replaced sheetrock and finished out trim work throughout the house.”
In the opinion of many people, the entire Rice home is an art gallery. The abode houses a collection to be coveted and each piece has a story behind it. “Most of our art was purchased to punctuate a special time in our lives,” Shelley says, so when she begins to share the anthology, listeners are quick to realize that their art is a sort of scrapbook of their life.
Like a scrapbook, there is a little bit of everything. Elements of fine art are blended with found objects. Reclaimed treasures and curbside finds are alongside valuable collections from some of the country’s most renowned contemporary and folk artists.
Franny Koelsch, owner of the Koelsch Gallery in the Heights, says, “Shelley and I met in the early ’90s, and from our initial introduction, we have always enjoyed the similarities we have in our visual tastes and the satisfaction we both derive from experiencing the creativity of artists.” She continues, “We’ve worked together numerous times through the years, and I admire Shelley’s creative eye, spirit and ability to combine all of her treasures. Once we were placing a large, beautiful abstract painting by Bettie Ward when Shelley showed me some wonderful folk art objects that she had recently gathered. One of my favorite pieces was a wooden monk that she found on the side of the road. I treasure the experience of working with that range of appreciation.”
The vast Rice collection includes many locals like Cisco Tucker Kolkmeier, Clair Kusack, Vanessa Estrada, Sasha Milby and Janice Freeman. Outside Houston, artists such as Bettie Ward from San Antonio, Sally Bennett, Purvis Young and Mr. Imagination to name a few, have made a distinct mark in the extensive assortment.
When Shelley describes her style influences, she discloses, “Marilyn Oshman, founder of the Orange Show Foundation, is kind of like my art guru. Since 1988, I have been a volunteer and supporter of the Orange Show, and Marilyn’s style has always been an inspiration to me.” Genetics, though, are also in play. “My grandmother, Elsie, was a world-traveler with an eye for function. As a child, I would go antiquing with her and my mom, Martha, from our hometown, Odessa, Texas, to West Virginia. It is from them that I developed an eye for antiques and the unusual.”
One of the most unusual and unique “finds” is in the foyer of the home and was a gift to Cidette, the Rices’ daughter, from her Grandmother Martha. It is an original saloon hall traveling piano purchased in 1978 in Hog Eye, Mo. “The restoration was long and extensive,” says Shelley, “as the vignettes had to be removed. Then the piano was repainted and the vignettes were reapplied, but it was worth it. Now the piano not only sounds beautiful, it looks beautiful, too!”
If Shelley’s eye for art is unusual, then her passion for country living, city style may be considered even more curious. In the sprawling backyard of this home, not only will you find one of the absolute best tree houses ever built, but also you’ll encounter free-range chickens and a couple of bee hives. Shelley’s interest in bees and beekeeping began when she read Sue Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. However, rather than become engrossed with the narrative, she became enthralled with learning about bees.
She enrolled in a beekeeping class from Houston’s community educational resource, Leisure Learning, ordered her bees in December of ’08 and built her first hives herself during her children’s spring break in ’09. On April 4 of that year, she drove to R. Weavers in Navasota (fifth generation apiarists) and picked up four packages of American Buckfast bees. She installed these bees in four hives: two in her backyard and two in Houston’s local community garden, The Last Organic Outpost (www.lastorganicoutpost.com) — just east of downtown in Houston’s Fifth Ward.
Now, in addition to the bees in her own backyard, Shelley keeps bees at The Last Organic Outpost, New Danville (www.newdanville.org), The Blackwood Educational Land Institute (www.blackwoodland.org) and two other local backyards. At each of these places, Shelley volunteers her time as a beekeeper, fundraiser, teacher and supporter.
In April ’09, Shelley also introduced chickens to her backyard farm. She began raising chickens from pullets for family and friends who want fresh eggs. She also initiated a chicken program for the residents at New Danville.
This charming country life in the city doesn’t come without challenges. The Rices juggle the demands of Jim’s job at the international law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP (where he is firm-wide practice manager of the Energy and Global Transactions group) and the many charitable organizations they support, with managing a household of six. Their children range in age from Jake, 18, to John, 12, to Nathan, 10, and Cidette, 6. Each child, of course, has their own interests and needs, but one is extra special — John suffers from Asperger’s, PDD and Silent Seizures. Shelley reveals that her passion for the New Danville community stems from her desire to create a meaningful future for John.
The Rice residence is always a bustle of activity: kids running in and out; chickens clucking in the coup; bees being tended to and honey being harvested from the hives (they expect 150 pounds this month), and events being hosted and celebrated in this gallery of a home. The miracle is the ease and grace with which they are able to pull it off. Though the abode continues to evolve as new pieces of art arrive, new hives emerge, or the kids grow up, one thing remains constant: the atmosphere of comfort, creativity, soul and family.
Text by Cheryl Alexander Photography by J Pamela Photography
Flowers by Darrell Gorski, Village Greenery and Flowers