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The Magic Box

An honesty of materials is evident in this home. Here, red clay tiles, limestone, a translucent fiberglass wall and galvanized aluminum shingles make up the dwelling’s front exterior.

A wondrous concoction of light and spacemake up this
modern Oak Estates home

Mahesh and Devika Ramchandani were on a mission when they trekked to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth a few years back. Yes, the art was wonderful, but they weren’t interested in that on this particular day. At the suggestion of a friend, they went there to check out its walls. That’s right, massive architectural concrete walls that are every bit as bold and appealing as the displays.

“We had to see them,” says Devika. It was something we were very much interested in doing in our new house, putting up concrete walls. When we saw this, this modern masterpiece, we just knew we had to do it. It was amazing!”

Fast forward a few years and the couple is happily at home in their modern, four bedroom Oak Estates dwelling with a great room that is anchored between thick, arcing cast-in-place concrete walls. It’s just one of many features that make this a standout home. But a thoughtful discussion about how the couple wanted to live, how they wanted to express themselves through their home, is what drove the design principle.

“We wanted something that was a reflection of our Indian heritage, but not in an obvious way,” explains Mahesh. “The idea was to achieve a sense of space that was consistent with our heritage but at the same time kind of respected where we were and understood the fact that we live in the 21st century…. something that was forward thinking.”

It turns out that concrete is used extensively for building in India. “And in many other places in the world,” explains Mahesh. “But usually when it’s poured, it’s covered up with plaster or something like that in order to provide it with a finish. That’s where our design principle came in. One of our stated intentions was that this house should have an element of honesty. If we had poured concrete walls, they should appear to be what they are. The entire house was built on that design principle. And we found architects who understood that and went with it.”

Husband and wife team, Russell and Rame Hruska of Intexture Architects were impressed with their clients. “The really great thing about them is that they really let us be the architects. They talked to us about things that were important to them — the quality and flow of the space, the way they wanted to feel and live — but they really let us do the design. It was a nice, refreshing way to work with clients,” explains Rame Hruska.

The residence was based in part on the ancient concept of a nine-square-grid where the center of a traditional Indian house is a courtyard. So in the case of the Ramchandani home, the great room becomes a central courtyard with other spaces off to each side. This makes for great entertaining potential.

“It’s a very livable space, explains Hruska. “The scale works really well. We’ve been there when they’ve had several hundred people at events and that great room opens up to the back to handle all those people. But you can also sit in the living room with them and have a glass of wine and the scale seems very intimate.”

For a variety of reasons, including the aforementioned great scale, Mahesh refers to the home as their “Magic Box.” The magic of space and light makes this a very spiritual place, he says.

“As the day moves on, the light shifts,” says Mahesh, a cardiovascular surgeon at Methodist Hospital who knows a bit about the importance of lighting. “I notice this when I’m home on weekends. I’m very interested in light. It’s fascinating how the character of the house changes depending on the time of day.”

The way spaces lead into one another is also magical, he says. “I can sit in any one space in the house and look around and see that wonderful connection and flow.”

Indeed, this house has many unique architectural features, including a two-story insulated fiberglass wall on the west side that minimizes the heat while acting as a luminous screen, flooding the home with soft natural light and providing privacy from the street.

A bridgeway on the upper floor connects the private master bedroom side to the opposite side with the gameroom and two other bedrooms. The view from this walkway is spectacular, taking in the great room below and the outside courtyard area with pool. Large orange panels along the fenceline behind the pool direct the view inward, detracting from the property behind the residence.

Devika loves orange and other bright colors, a nod to their Indian heritage. “Indian colors like bright orange, pink, turquoise, things like that … I wanted to incorporate those into the house,” she says. This color influence is seen in bold tiles and accent walls in the home.

Using local materials was of utmost importance to the homeowners, part of a “giving back” principle that made sense to this couple who has made Houston their home for 22 years.

The couple used to live in a traditional Georgian home in West University. They pretty much started with a blank slate when outfitting the new home with furnishings, bringing only a Persian rug, a game room sofa and breakfast table from the previous abode.

The architects provided a holistic design approach, helping with landscaping and interior design for a cohesive look. Furniture from Ligne Roset complements the house throughout, including two, fun low-set tables with colorful cube seating in the dining/ conversation area at one corner of the great room. Airy, translucent screens separate this dining area from the main front corridor. “I just wanted something there without it being a hard wall,” explains Devika.

Beautiful bamboo floors lie underfoot in the great room, while concrete flows through the den, kitchen and other areas of the home. A bar exists just off the great room with another few steps into a study with easy access to the outdoors. A downstairs guestroom with a periwinkle accent wall offers charming seclusion for company. The utility room even gets a splash of color in gray and orange cabinetry.

Especially striking is the couple’s choice of art. Charcoals from noted Indian artist Vrindavan Solanki mix with colorful pieces against the concrete walls. Sculpture is appreciated here as well with a whimsical, fencelike piece by Houston artist Emily Sloan taking up residence near the staircase.

“I had most of my art at the other house, but it just didn’t show up there,” explains Devika. “This is a much better showcase for it.”

The couple loves their home, but doesn’t discount building again with the same cast of characters in the future. They heap praises on Gary Inman of Mainland Construction Inc. and their architects who so closely respected their vision.

“Everyone told us that the building process was so hard, that terrible things could come of it, that it might not be a happy experience,” recalls Devika. “We had the opposite experience. We loved it and loved everyone we dealt with. We would do it again in a heartbeat!”

A two-story insulated fiberglass west wall (left) minimizes heat and provides privacy while flooding the home with soft, natural light.

The backyard is a streamlined oasis with a clean-lined pool and fun, bright panels of orange.

Two massive concrete walls anchor the home’s inner core, the great room that acts as a central courtyard.

Colors prominent in the Indian culture are seen throughout the residence, including this vibrant cube seating in the dining area, an extension of the great room. Furniture from Ligne Roset.

The minimalist feel is echoed in the den with a built in cabinet to harbor speakers. The cowhide chair (one of two) was purchased in Buenos Aires.

To the other side of one of the concrete walls is a sleek kitchen in gray and charcoal Okite countertops. Art pieces by Eric Lee hang to the left.

A colorful, whimsical sculpture by artist Andrew Carson spins in the breeze on the home’s front lawn. • A fence-like sculpture by artist Emily Sloan looks great against the concrete floors. • A Ganesha collection hints at the family’s Indian heritage. Here, a few from Devika’s collection. • A back-painted glass piece by artist Eric Lee pops against the concrete wall.

An upstairs bridgeway provides a view to the great room below and into the courtyard.

The two-story fiberglass wall to the right minimizes heat and infuses the home with natural light. • Windows in the upstairs gameroom are framed by a spectacular shade of green.

A serene green is the color of choice in the master bedroom. Furniture by Ligne Roset.

Green glass tiles contrast with warm Okite countertops in the couple’s master bathroom.

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