In a quiet neighborhood, a family compound gears up for the holidays
Just beyond the bottlenecks of west Houston but well within the city limits, a bucolic civility reigns. Horses graze, peacocks strut, and a favorite antique carriage (a three-spring Studebaker trap, vintage 1910) glistens with spit and polish. Lisa and Jerry Simon and their extended family--most of whom live in the family compound--are gearing up for their annual holiday ride through the grounds and along the neighborhood's quiet, tree-canopied streets. Pulling the carriage this season are a pair of matched bays--Socrates, a Danish warmblood, and Roberto, his Dutch doppelgänger. This is the life--and has been for 65 years.
In 1945, Stewart Morris--now a shrewd 90-year-old and still very much the patriarch of both the family and its business, Stewart Title--and his wife, Joella, built a ranch-style home in an undeveloped area where they raised their three children--Lisa, Carlotta, and Stewart Jr. As an adult, Stewart Jr. was the first of the siblings to move back, building his home on six acres.
Two years ago, Lisa and husband Jerry returned. They bought four acres of adjacent land and built a plantation-style house that was influenced by the architecture of the late A. Hays Town--Southern, with a distinctive Creole flavor.
"It was inevitable that Lisa gravitate to this style," says her designer, Sandra Lucas. "She was raised with a love of the traditional decorative arts--her mother founded Houston's Museum of Southern History."
All things Southern segue gracefully into some things antebellum at the Simon home. Friends with the owners of Lousiana's Parlange Plantation--a circa-1750 French Colonial near Baton Rouge--Lisa made several trips there to soak up ideas. One result: Jerry's study, inspired by one of Parlange's octagonal pigeonniers.
"Though they weren't limited by the lot size, Lisa and Jerry had no interest in overbuilding," explains Lucas. They were resistant to excess and kept the home's footprint reasonable (three bedrooms and an open floor plan for entertaining groups). And as ardent recyclers, they embraced salvage. All of the exterior cypress doors are old, and the oak floors are cut from 19th-century beams. Bricks are antique, as are the kitchen's French clay tiles. The living room's limestone mantel also is 18th-century French. The eco-friendly house won the Houston ASID's Best Green Design for 2009.
"We wanted an extensive use of older materials and recycled elements," notes Lisa, president of MFT Interests and the family's foundation, and chairman of the board of Southern National Bank until its sale in 2006. "We scoured the Louisiana countryside to reclaim beautiful, timeless materials that would add the texture and create the interest we wanted in our home. We hoped to convey a collected feel and spent two years designing and planning."
Green design, at its easiest, means reusing what already exists. If there were a green design award for Christmas decorating, the Simons would be shoo-in winners for that, too. Lisa's grandmother crafted the Christmas stockings hanging in the kitchen 50-some years ago. Ditto for the felt holiday placemats and centerpiece. And the peacock feathers ornamenting the living room's 10-foot-tall Noble fir? "Our family's been decorating with peacock feathers for 65 years," says Lisa, pointing outdoors to "the Reverend," who routinely leaves his flock to hang with the humans and proudly show off his brilliantly plumed vestments.
Jerry, senior vice president and managing director for Northern Trust, is a passionate pianist during his downtime, embracing the tunes of iconic Texas musicians. (Texas singer-songwriter Shake Russell recently performed at the house for a fund-raiser.) Jerry's love of music resounds in the house's design. "Jerry's Steinway dictated the configuration of the great room," explains Lisa. The piano required careful placement to facilitate small home concerts and also to provide Jerry with a good view of the TV, so he can jam with televised concerts by his favorite musicians. "Lisa didn't want this huge TV to be visible all the time, though," recalls Lucas. "They compromised by having a hidden TV cabinet custom-built, utilizing a painting already in their collection."
Lisa extends the celebration of music to her holiday gift wrap. For this family, it seems that nothing exists or occurs without a purpose steeped deeply in tradition. A collector of vintage sheet music, Lisa dips into her array of melodies to create one-of-a-kind gift tags that she secures to packages with sealing wax. "The original [wax] impressions are those used on my parents' wedding invitations," Lisa explains, nodding at her mom, Joella, who is lovingly known to family by the chirpy sobriquet, Goodmornin'.
The joy of music and merrymaking reappears in the holiday centerpiece on the living room mantel--antique brass and copper coach horns that were traditionally played from the carriage to signal its arrival. With 45 coaches and carriages in their own personal collection, both Lisa's dad and her brother are past presidents of the Carriage Association of America and former chairmen of the Carriage Museum of America. "Stewart Jr. started driving at age 8," says Stewart Sr., "and Stewart III is well on his way." In this neck of Houston, that's how they roll.
Architectural design: Robert Dame, Robert Dame Designs, 7322 Southwest Freeway, Suite 1550, Houston, TX 77074; 713/270-8225, robertdamedesigns.com.
Interior design: Sandra Lucas, Lucas/Eilers Design Assoc. LLP, 1502 Augusta Dr., Suite 220, Houston, TX 77057; 713/784-9423, lucaseilers.com.
Builder: Mission Constructors Inc., 3813 Buffalo Speedway, Suite 100, Houston, TX 77098 713/523-9194, missionconstructors.com.
Landscape architect: Suzy Fischer, Fischer Schalles Assoc., 2306 Woodhead St., Houston, TX 77019; 713/520-1395.
Plasterwork: Leslie Sinclair, Segreto Inc., 713/461-5210, segretofinishes.com.
Floral design: Gelea Copeland Clem, Copeland Design, 832/741-7567, email@example.com.
Sound/media: Soundimage Inc., 713/784-8844, soundimageinc.com.
Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Susan Fox
A mirrored arch in the entry reflects the home's French-Creole Colonial style.
A 19th-century French oak harvest table seats 12 beneath a vintage French chandelier from New Orleans.
Eighteenth-century Venetian bronze doors flank the dining room archway.
The great room's arches are swagged for the season.
Carriage rides under the live oaks are a family holiday tradition.
At the Simon home, Lisa's brother, Stewart Morris Jr., is the whip who drives the carriage for his mother, Joella, and father, Stewart Sr.; Stewart III, the groom, continues the family tradition.
Jerry Simon's' Steinway takes center stage in the great room. Osborne & Little fabric covers the sofa. The medallion chair fabric is Brunschwig & Fils; its blue welt is Schumacher. The palette is pulled together by a large antique Serapi rug.
"Nothing forced or fake" might be the decorating mantra for Lisa and Jerry's home at Christmas. The stockings at the kitchen fireplace were made by Lisa's grandmother, as were the felt camels on the cut-cedar centerpiece. The old iron chandelier was scooped up at the nationally popular Texas Round Top Antiques Fair.
Holiday gatherings around the fire pit typically include, from left: Lisa and Jerry's grandson Connor Wannemaker, 11; Lisa's brother, Stewart Morris Jr.; homeowners Jerry and Lisa Simon; Lisa's daughter, Camella Clements Taylor; daughter-in-law, Jennifer Clements; Stewart Jr.'s wife, Joy Morris; and Lisa's son, Glenn Clements Jr.
Reclaimed 19th-century colored cement tiles back a Wolf range. The island augments seating for family festivities.
Roman shades fabricated by Durham Draperies in a Bennison print cover the master bedroom's French doors.
The tufted custom headboard is dressed in a Cowtan & Tout fabric. An antique bench at the foot of the bed goes subtle in a Fabricut solid trimmed with Scalamandré gimp. The blanket cover and shams are from Hamburg House. Softening the room is a Tabriz rug.
Recycled 19th-century Verona marble adds character to the bath.
A dog's paw print in the brick is a charming testament to the comfort and joy a four-legged pal can bring to a household.
Turned wood adds character.
The ultimate in snug warmth.
What a lovely powder room!
The grounds beckon.