Friday, March 07, 2014

One Man's Trash...

You won't miss the brightly decorated warehouse at 4300 Harrisburg Blvd.
I have always liked looking through people's trash in search of treasure--not literally, but at flea markets and the like. And since becoming an old house owner in 2008 (Ours was built in 1920.), the salvage yard is somewhat of a new discovery to me.

When we added a family room onto our home, I was very particular about using whatever old house parts I could to make the addition look as seamless as possible. Even though the vaulted ceiling might give it away, the doors and floors and most hardware are all the real deal, salvaged from some little old house that met its sad fate to the wrecking ball.

I found two of my doors at a salvage warehouse in Houston that I did not realize at the time was co-founded by my next door neighbor, now a locally famous photographer. Soon after I bought my doors, the Montrose warehouse went out of business, and my project completed.

Now a few years later, the Historic Houston Salvage Warehouse is back up and running, temporarily I think, in Houston's East End, near the up-and-coming "EaDo" section of our city. Last Saturday I took a gander. It is gigantic and--something I didn't expect--dark. But it is chock full of good finds for your home renovation projects or old house repairs.

I ran into a friend who purchased an ornate mantle to add some charm to a blah addition on her house. I like her thinking! While I didn't pick anything up for myself this time, I will be back as my plans to renovate my kitchen percolate.

Historic Houston's Salvage Warehouse is currently open the first Sunday of every month from 10AM-4PM, and membership is $40+. Everything for sale has been donated, rather than sent to the landfills. So keep that in mind, too, when your contractor plans to haul your old stuff away. Don't forget your flashlight, or download an app for that on your smartphone! Now, a few photos to inspire you...

Cool cast iron sinks

My camera's flash disguises how dark it was in this back corner.

I think this is part of an old bathtub fixture.

Great door with transom window and antique hardware

Antique bricks, perfect for a small patio project

These solid wood boards were super heavy! I think they'd make cool shelves.

Tons of reclaimed hardwood floors and windows

Sublime clawfoot tub hiding in the darkness

Divided light window

And finally, a shout out to the kitty lover in me!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Protecting Our Neighborhood's Character

Two single-family homes are torn down to make room for seven townhomes.
Houston is booming! I have buyers, but nothing to show them. The latest reported housing inventory by HAR was 3.2 months. That means it would take only 3.2 months to sell everything on the market. Bidding wars are the norm. It is a tough time for buyers.

With this is much construction. It seems like a new apartment complex is going up on every other corner. And in neighborhoods with old houses, the wrecking ball is moving in quickly to make way for bigger, and unfortunately not always better, new construction--often at the expense of a neighborhood's character.

In the neighborhood where I live, a quiet pocket in Montrose with houses dating to the early 1900s, we have set out on a journey to protect our neighborhood's character, thanks to some powerful tools made available by City Council last April. Since we don't have historic restrictions in place and our deed restrictions are not yet strong enough to protect our interests, we applied for two ordinances, Minimum Lot Size (MLS) and Minimum Building Line (MBL).

What are MLS and MBL exactly? If 70% of the homes are on 5,000-square-foot lots, 5,000 square feet is the smallest a lot can be. And if 70% of the homes are set back 15 feet from the street, then new construction cannot be any closer than 15 feet. 

Signage announcing our applications
While I am an advocate for preserving older homes, these ordinances really only address the preservation of the neighborhood as a whole, to prevent density where it wasn't intended (i.e townhome development). These protections are available both in and outside the Loop.

Our neighborhood awaits final approval from City Council after a process that has been in the works for about six months. First, we applied with help from the Planning and Development Department. Petitions were signed by homeowners. Signs were posted. A few protests were made, and as a neighborhood, we addressed those protests in front of the Planning Commission. The Commission approved our applications, and now our fingers are crossed that City Council will do the same, which would protect our neighborhood for 20 years.

For more information about this process for your own neighborhood, information is available on the Planning and Development site. Good luck!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Adding On

For the greater part of this year, I was busy working on a home remodeling project. It took a lot of time and energy, but I really enjoyed the process and learning about how homes are built.

We tore down a much-loved covered porch and built a den in its place. This addition expanded our home's square footage by about a third, which when starting at 1,200 square feet may not seem like much, but it has done wonders!

Our goals were to:
  1. Create a new laundry space, which would free up the former laundry space for much needed closet space
  2. Create a space for brooms, instead of having them permanently on display in the kitchen
  3. Create a space for our cat's litter box, previously located in the guest bathroom, which was less than attractive when entertaining, especially for the feline-averse
  4. Create a coat/storage closet
  5. Create a dedicated home office space, so as not to take over the kitchen table
  6. Create an additional place for watching TV and doing yoga/exercise videos
  7. Keep the feeling of the outdoors, since we would be losing the majority of what we had
  8. Create a covered walkway from the garage to the house
  9. Reuse our French doors
  10. Respect the style and character of our 1920s bungalow, including matching the trim work and using reclaimed hardwood flooring, antique doors and hardware
All in all, I would say that we were successful, not only in meeting all of these goals, but also in keeping to our budget and timing. We owe many thanks to my sister, a talented interior designer, and to our builders, Steve, Marvin and Trey, of Morris Hullinger Design Build (MHDB).

The idea started with some plans that the former owners gave us when we bought the house, although we did not end up doing what they had planned exactly. From there, I began to visualize the space with our needs in mind using a nifty website called (Online, you can see the designs in 3D, which is really fun, but they don't copy well to the blog.)

Below is the concept design, the one that I showed the builders when we first met in February, followed by two more as needs changed and ideas solidified. (The backyard is still a work-in-progress, however.)
Floorplan 2-20-11

Floorplan 3-24-11
Floorplan 7-20-11
While we have been enjoying our new space since Labor Day, this blog post is actually well timed. Why? Because in sharing this addition with you, we are now also able to share with you that we will be welcoming another new addition to our family in the spring. A baby!

Expected completion date: 4.15.12. We are thrilled!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

My Top Ten Magnolia City Happiness Hotspots Now!

My husband, Chad, has been in London on business for the past week. Given enough notice, I would have tagged along for my dream trip of antiquing and flea marketing between London and Paris. Ahhh, next time, I am hoping... What with hearing about all the city things he is doing in his free time, I don't blame myself for longing to be in a city myself.

You might say to me, "Houston is a city, the fourth largest in the U.S., in fact!?"

But to me, being big doesn't make you a city. A city has:
  1. A public transit system worthy of getting you places you want to go. 
  2. The ability to walk out your front door (whether you live there or are visiting) and walk a couple of doors down or--at most--a few blocks to a coffee shop, food market or book store and not fear for your life when crossing the street. 
  3. More Mom-and-Pop stores and restaurants than Big-Box stores and chain restaurants. 
  4. The freedom to explore by foot for as long as you desire, always returning having discovered something interesting that you had never seen before.
By no means does this mean that I do not like Houston. I do! And there's much to discover here. It just takes a little more work and usually [grunt] getting into your car.

Below is a list of 10 places that--right now--make me happy in Houston, all of which you might find something similar in a great city, a few of which I patronized this weekend in Chad's absence, and all of which I try to frequent to bring me the happiness that I find in cities. In no particular order...

1. The Menil Collection and grounds
Just the exterior of the museum brings me a zen-like sense of peace. I don't know if it's the horizontal siding or the grey color or the perfectly green lawns. I consider myself lucky to be within walking distance of it. I often just make a loop around it by foot or on my bike for a quick exercise fix or sense of calm. Today there was a bevy of hippies dancing around a bongo-playing fellow. I was glad to catch it at that moment. And you can't beat a world-class art museum that does not charge an entry fee!
Photo: George Hixson
2. Memorial Park jogging trail
I rented a dog (one of my mom and stepdad's three) and took her with me there yesterday. I usually go with Chad, a friend or alone. Having a dog makes it a bit of a different experience because everyone seems to acknowledge its cuteness. Plus it's added work. But with canine or not, going to the Park to exercise is always invigorating. People are out and about being healthy. The state of the trees right now is really sad though. It looks like fall, but they are just dying--literally--of thirst.
Photo: Wikipedia
3. Brasil
It just smells good (because it smells like coffee)! There are a few other coffee shops I frequent and one in particular that my husband is obsessed with (I'll let him tell you about it), but for me, Brasil is yummy and close (Remember, walkability is key to my happiness hotspots.). There's always a good crowd of people in there and sometimes live music, too. I got more reading done there this morning than I had in many nights before falling asleep. Coffee shops are just better places for me to read. 
Photo: Katrina Kelly
4. 19th Street in the Heights
If you read my blog with any regularity, which isn't much because my blog isn't very regular, you will know that I have a penchant for antiquing and old buildings. 19th Street has both. It is a place in Houston where you do not feel like you are in Houston at all. I can spend an entire afternoon walking in and out of all its little stores and cafes. There's even an animal shelter to visit.
Photo: Vintage Modern Quilts
5. Tiny Boxwood's/Indulge
As far as I know, they are not related, but you can walk to and fro. The ambiance of this restaurant is just as perfect as the food is delicious. And next door at Indulge, my "wanter" tends to turn on as all the home decor merchandise is, well, wantable! And I noticed the most beautiful birds there the other day that I really wanted, but I don't think our cat, Luci, would be the best companion for them. They were Blue-Capped Cordon Bleu finches.
Photo: Vintage Modern Quilts
6. River Oaks Theatre
This isn't the first time I've mentioned my preference for this architecturally significant theater. It's small [read: easy to get in and out of] and the movies are always good. Plus, you can enjoy a glass of wine while watching!
Photo: Jim Parsons
7. Eastside Farmers Market
Urban Harvest has a good thing going. I've blogged about it before as well. There's not a better place to get your produce for the week than a farmers' market. I wish I went every weekend, not just to buy fresh food, but to enjoy the healthy environment. Plus, now they have fun food trucks there, too!
Photo: Loop Hole
8. Brazos Bookstore
Today I finished reading Tina Fey's Bossypants. The book was a birthday gift, and I was glad to see the Brazos Bookstore bookmark tucked inside. Hands down it's Houston's best bookstore. I've seen a few readings by authors there, including one by a college friend, which of course was fun. Although I admittedly rely heavily on the Kindle app these days, whenever I need to buy a book or more often than that, want to peruse a bookstore, this is the go-to place.
Photo: Houston Chronicle, Karen Warren
9. Rice University and its jogging loop
The old oaks that make a canopy around Rice University provide a serene place to jog or walk. And gazing in at the school's architecture is always easy on the eyes. I especially enjoy seeing the light rail whiz by on the Med Center side. It gives me hope for that transit system I mentioned earlier.
Photo: Houston Under $25
10. Ecclesia/Xnihilo Gallery/Taft St. Coffee
This is a new one on my list to frequent. It's the church that we've been attending for the past few months. To describe it in one word: unique. In another: convenient, which is key for me on a Sunday morning as I am notoriously slow! Located in East Montrose (for now), this church/art gallery/coffee shop is diverse, creative and comfortable. Chad learned about it when he heard the pastor, Chris Seay, speak at TEDx Houston. It's definitely a city church. We're happy to have found it and that it found Houston.
Photo: Ecclesia
I'd love to hear from my readers about places that make them happy here in Houston. Please share in the comments section so that others may enjoy as well!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fancying the Flea Market

A child watches the traffic on Elgin from inside the Urban Market.
Flea markets have been one of my favorite pastimes for some time now, at least all of my adult life. Chad sent me this New York Times article last weekend about the explosion of flea markets in New York City. I love this line: "In a city that thrums with opportunity and a veritable buffet of wonderful things to do--theaters! museums! parks!--flea markets have somehow emerged as many people's first choice of a way to spend the weekend." When I lived in New York, there weren't as many as there are now, but I visited the ones in Chelsea and on the Upper West Side as often as I could. I almost always found myself coming home with some thing that I didn't know I needed.

A dream of mine is to travel to London and take the Chunnel to Paris with the sole purpose of shopping all the flea markets. I walked down Portobello Road when I was in London once before, but unfortunately I wasn't there on a Saturday for the big market, so will have to go back. For now, my flea market passion is satiated with Houston's Urban Market and when I can swing it, Round Top, just an hour away. 

While technically an antiques market and not a flea market per se, the Urban Market is held three times a year. Last weekend, the weather could not have been more ideal for it. Now in its new location in Midtown, it truly is more of an "urban" market. Before it was in the grassy fields north of the Heights, which was fun, but probably a pain for the vendors in inclement weather. I wish we had a market that was every weekend though, or at least once a month.

Last weekend I was on the hunt for an old wine bottle, and as is usually the case when you have a goal in mind at these markets, I successfully found my treasure--an old Bordeaux wine bottle circa 1886. I learned that these old blown glass bottles are referred to as "carboys." My plan is to make mine into a lamp for the new room we are currently adding on to our house. (More on that in a later post.) 

My carboy, ca. 1886
There is a mini-farmers market also happening at Urban Market. A friend from my Houston Magazine days, Janice, of Words & Food, was offering a special "Urban Market Sandwich," which my mom and I split after tasting many samples of olive oil and balsamic at the booth next door. The sandwich was delicious with Janice's famous pimento cheese, plus turkey, bacon and cole slaw, if I remember correctly.

I ran into a lot of people whom I knew. Funny enough, almost every single one of them was in the real estate business. Must have something to do with our mutual interest in homes.

The next Urban Market will take place October 22-23. I have already marked my calendar and am looking forward to it. Maybe I will even see you there!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Win-Win at the River Oaks

Yesterday I read that Mark Cuban of Dallas Mavericks fame would be putting up his Landmark Theatres company for auction. What exactly does that mean for us Houstonians? I think it means that the River Oaks Theatre is threatened--yet again.

Courtesy txnco38 on Flickr
Coincidentally, my husband Chad and I had planned to go there last night to see Win Win. (We tried to see it last weekend, but it was sold out--for good reason.) 

Win Win 
Making a night out of going to the River Oaks, the last historic movie theater in Houston that is still used for its original purpose, to me, is always a treat. I won't argue that the smaller upstairs theaters could use some retrofitting, especially now that we Americans are not only super-sized but also accustomed to either the recliners in our home media rooms or the cush seats with cupholders at our more recently built multiplexes. Hands down and blind-folded though--on any night, Chad and I would choose two hours of feeling a bit squeezed to watch a grade-A film (with a glass of wine, if so inclined) over the crowds, pay-for-parking and often so-so selections at our local megaplex.

Courtesy Houston Deco
We had dinner before the movie and decided on visiting Tony Mandola's in its Miracle Location on Westheimer. While we would normally have chosen somewhere walkable in the River Oaks Shopping Center, we wanted to patronize the former tenant in its temporary locale. We're looking forward to Brasserie 19 opening in its old place and, of course, to Mandola's returning nearby on Waugh. Often overlooked, and with less fanfare, Epicure Café is a such a gem. We enjoyed a fresh mint tea and shared a slice of cheesecake there after the movie. I always feel like I'm in a European café there, which is an accomplishment worth noting in our sprawling city.

Epicure's pastry display courtesy
Call me a "Preservation-preferring sentimentalist," but if the River Oaks Theatre is ever demolished, it will be such a shame for the Magnolia City. I so respect Bryan Caswell for making El Real happen in the old Tower Theater on Westheimer. (If you haven't been yet, it is scrumptious, no-frills Tex-Mex and a great use of the space.) And hopefully something good will become of the Alabama Theater. But with what Weingarten did on the northwestern corner of the River Oaks Shopping Center, where Three Brothers Bakery used to be, not to mention putting in a third Starbucks within a baseball's throw (two visibly located across the street from one another and the third inside Barnes & Noble), I can't help but fear the future of the theatre and our city's oldest auto-oriented retail center. If we're going to be a city made up of strip malls, at the very least, shouldn't we protect our first?

El Real in the old Tower Theater
But I'll climb off of my soapbox and give two thumbs up to Win Win, a terrific movie starring Paul Giamatti and showing now at the River Oaks. Whatever ends up happening to the venue, I'm thrilled to know that indie films will be available Downtown soon, when my first movie star crush Robert Redford's Sundance Cinemas takes the place of the old Angelika. There's a bevy of great stuff happening Downtown, and this will most certainly be a strong addition. They signed something like a 50-year lease, so no endangerment in my lifetime at least! But for the River Oaks, it will take more than that for our future generations to enjoy it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bettering Our Bayou Trails

Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail 
I have an affair with Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) in Austin. Don't worry, my husband Chad knows! We both love Austin, but it's the lake and its hike and bike trail that get me every time. I love watching the kayaking, rowing and stand-up paddlers, the dogs, the strollers and exercisers, the soccer players at adjacent Zilker Park, the bats at Congress Avenue and the Austin skyline, ever-changing. While we both wouldn't mind living in that great city again one day (We both lived there for college.), for now we will just be visiting. While Houston has no Colorado River running through it, we do have a very prominent bayou: Buffalo Bayou. Sadly, we have not given it the attention it deserves.

So, what is a bayou? According to, a bayou is:

 –noun, plural -ous. Chiefly Lower Mississippi Valley and Gulf States.
1. a marshy arm, inlet, or outlet of a lake, river, etc., usually sluggish or stagnant.
2. any of various other often boggy and slow-moving or still bodies of water.

I strongly believe that our marshy arm and the hike and bike trail around it could be so much better than it is today. Maybe it will never be the caliber of Lady Bird Lake, but it can most certainly be better than it is today. After all, we have the skyline, the bats, the exercisers, the dogs and the occasional strollers.

While Houston gets a bad rap for its hot, humid weather, just this week we have had some bluebird days. Perfect days for a bike ride, wouldn't you say? There aren't many cities where you can go on a pleasant bike ride this time of year. New York City, for instance, received 19 inches of snow yesterday, God bless it.

Last month we had some similar beautiful days, so Chad and I decided to go on a bike ride around Buffalo Bayou along Allen Parkway and down Memorial Drive. I brought my camera to document the ride. I felt a bit like Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. (Great movie, by the way!) Look at these photos--the sad trails and happy improvements--and imagine the possibilities.

Sad trail
Happy! A new pedestrian bridge at Montrose 
Sad trail along Memorial Drive, great skyline
Sad trail under Memorial Drive nearing Downtown
Happy! Improvements underway, connecting to the Heights
Happy! Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade

Sad trails headed west toward Waugh
Oh-so-sad trail at Montrose and Allen Parkway
Sad trail along Allen Parkway and by the Wortham Fountain
Close-up of the Wortham Fountain and a happy, hopefully inspiring, image to leave with you
While the Buffalo Bayou Partnership has made tremendous strides the last several years in improvements, there is still a long, long way to go. Think about Austin's Town Lake. I know we can get there. While this blog's namesake harks back to an old Houston nickname unbeknownst to many today, the "Bayou City" is not. Let's own up to it!


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