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Inspiration From the Outside In – West U home takes its cues from Mother Nature

The dining room/library once was the living room, but the glass doors on two walls along with views of outside made this room a seamless conversion. The painted floor design on the diagonal by Decorative Arts adds elegance to the dining experience. The timeless mirror here is one of the first antiques ever purchased by Linda and she has used in four homes over the years.

In West University Place, Georgian-style architecture may not surprise you; tree-lined streets may not surprise you; small town charm may not surprise you; but when you stop by the home of Linda and Robert (Bob) Walker during the upcoming West University Home Tour on May 1, expect more than a few surprises. The home is full of them — from a wonderful garden enclave to the home’s interesting layout and even the story of its renovation.

Linda and Bob Walker were looking for a new home that would be suitable for empty-nesters. Linda relates, “We knew exactly what we were looking for in a home. I had previously owned a home in River Oaks and Bob, in Southampton, so we both wanted something sophisticated; we needed an expandable house for when our grandkids visited, but wanted something that would seem small enough for just the two of us; it had to have an open floor plan with light pouring in. We also knew we wanted a corner lot.” No short order.

They had been looking at homes for a while when Linda’s realtor, Victoria Minton of Martha Turner Properties, invited Linda to view a home just listed. “I knew this was our home the moment I saw it,” says Linda. “Not only did it fit our criteria, but it had such good bones AND it was underdone, so I immediately had the vision of what it would eventually look like. The simplicity of the floor plan would be easy to renovate and customize.”

Linda and her realtor were only the second visitors to the home its first day on the market, and Linda was so afraid that the others would make an offer that she called Bob off the golf course to come and see what she had found. It’s a good thing, because three offers were made on that home that day and the Walker’s was accepted.

Once Linda and Bob moved into their new home, the renovation of the home itself didn’t commence for a couple of years; however what they did first — redesigning the courtyard — set the tone and inspiration for everything that was to follow. Viewing the home from the exterior gives no hint to the wonderful surprise that meets you when you enter any of the living spaces of this extraordinary domicile. Each looks out of huge windows into the outdoor Provençal enclave, which was designed by the landscape architect who worked for Linda’s son, Brock Gillman, who then owned a landscape design firm.

Linda says, “I had a photograph of this wonderful home in Provence with a sunken pebble courtyard. I gave that photograph along with an antique tub and old capital from Kuhl-Linscomb to the architect who used those details as the muses for the design of our courtyard.” The couple then set out to let the beauty of their outdoor room influence the evolution of the home’s interior renovation.

Linda began working with Rudolph Colby Design to soften the then contemporary façade into what is now a Regency style exterior with stucco, metal windows and custom designed iron doors. “I knew I wanted to work with Rudy,” shares Linda, “because his greatest influence is the work of the late John Staub—one of Houston’s architectural icons. Rudy’s style is reminiscent of Staub’s work at Bayou Bend and Rienzi, and I love how he, like Staub, analyzes the role of space, structure and decoration in his creations.” Inside the home, too, there is symmetry of design, with everything built-in behind a shutter or cabinet door. “It’s all so proportional and functional,” Linda continues, “and it helps me maintain a sense of order.”

Though renovation inside did occur, it involved little reconstruction. The transformation involved adding molding and arches, new cabinets, new paneled doors throughout the home and beams downstairs, as well as shifting the function of a few rooms. For instance, in order to take advantage of the view of the courtyard, the former living room became the dining room/library. What was formerly the dining room, now serves as the family sitting room.

One of the structural details of this house that at once captivated Linda was the breakfast area, a windowed niche off the kitchen on the east side of the house. She confesses, “I fell in love with it immediately due to its eastern exposure. I adore the light pouring in; so upbeat and therapeutic. Light enters this little space from three sides and it encompasses all the charm of the courtyard. It is the best place to be in the house. Plus, it is just across from the kitchen.”

The kitchen, too, is unique. Though it is exposed and right in the middle of the house, the elegance of the space makes it quite inoffensive in its visibility. Formerly stark and modern, the renovation here brought warmth, texture and detail to the space which makes it more welcoming and “homey.”

Ann Andrews, Linda’s sister and interior designer, says, “I love the self-contained feel of the home. Because the floor plan essentially wraps around the outdoor space, there is this open feeling, yet no privacy is lost. The home is both big and small enough to be inclusive and charming all at once.”

When asked about the style design of the home’s décor, Ann continues, “The interior décor has a sophisticated, yet comfortable feeling; a mixture of antiques with modern design. The fabrics are simple linens and cottons which never go out of style. They balance well with the French and English antiques and fine art to make a very livable home.”

Linda adds, “Because the living areas look out to the courtyard, the colors are all nature-inspired.” The earth tones set against the soft greens and blues extend to each room of the residence and influence the art, fabrics, rugs and incidental details. From the Wolf Kahn original in the living room bathed in winter whites, to the Jonathon Adler rug and the 18th century French reclaimed mantle or the framed pressed flowers and watercolor seaweed art, each element of the décor whispers softly back to the original inspiration: the outdoor garden, the surprise courtyard; truly an example of inspiration from the outside in.

Text by Cheryl Alexander | Photography by J Pamela Photography | Original Architecture by Joe Carroll Williams, Architect | Architectural re-design by Rudolph Colby Design | Renovations by Dieciedue Construction | Interiors by Ann Andrews Interiors (Washington, D.C.) | Landscape maintained by Prewett Read & Associates

The light, bright island kitchen offers lots of counter and cabinet space for the cook. The collection of plates above the sink is antique creamware from the late 18th century and one of Linda’s sentimental favorites — a gift from her sister.

The sunken garden with ornamental pebbles and limestone stepping stones. Linda’s favorite colors for the garden are greys and greens; she prefers the flower colors to be soft and unobtrusive.

The breakfast room table set for lunch overlooks the fountain wall. The antique capital used as the crest atop the fountain, along with the old watering trough beneath to catch the water, were finds from Kuhl-Linscomb. The oak table is from Watkins Culver, and the toile upholstered banquette was designed for the room and made by Quang Tran of Antique Upholstery.

Rather than match patterns in the living room, Linda’s sister, interior designer Ann Andrews, pulled out a common element and let it work around the room. The underlying theme is organic, with colors from nature in the adjoining garden. The mantle is 17th century French purchased from Watkins Culver. Pale Powder by Farrow and Ball Paints is the beautiful soothing background color on the walls.

A 19th century shutter door becomes a wall hanging in the stair landing — a flawless fit in a space that needs an oversized occupant. The Italian door with stencil-like painting on one side and panels on the other is a treasured find from Watkins Culver Antiques. Linda bought it for the living room only to find out when she got it home that it was two feet too tall for that space, but found it picture perfect for the landing.

The gate in this home’s secret garden enclave is a reclaimed antique elevator cage door.

A toile wallpapered guest room offers visitors a French Louis XVI style bed, complete with the original paint. The oval ash metal folding table from Indulge joins the others from the owners’ extensive collection.

This feminine guest room is where two of the Walkers’ nine granddaughters stay on sleepovers. The antique headboards and 19th century Swedish table are from Marston Luce Antiques in Washington, D.C. Linens and chandelier are from Indulge and pillows are from Kuhl Linscombe. The Botanicals are from Neal & Co.

An over-sized watering can given to Linda from Bob is handy in the garden.

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