A Peek Through the Blinds
Subtract, Subtract, Subtract
A HOMAGE TO HISTORY AND INNOVATION
by Brittani Sonnenberg
Photographs by Casey Woods
PICTURE RAPUNZEL’S LEGENDARY TOWER, choked in thick vines. Now substitute that tower with a stately historic house in Tarrytown, and swap out the vines with rot, raccoons and a problematic addition done in the seventies. When faced with such a foe, many architects and shining knights would have politely bowed out, or died battling the raccoons. But the two partners of Jobe Corral Architects, Camille Jobe and Ada Corral, simply rolled up their sleeves. The quest? Not to liberate a lady with long hair, but to free a house from itself.
The client (who asked to remain anonymous) initially approached Jobe and Corral about a small-scale renovation of her new home, the so-called “Headmaster’s House,” where Texas Military Academy headmasters had once resided. She wanted to revamp the kitchen and dining room, the upstairs bedroom and the exterior of the addition. The architects had worked with her on a former house, and loved her taste and creativity.
But as they got to work, it became clear that the building required less of a renovation and more of a reinvention. “The addition was dominated by gnarled spaces, and linked to the original building by what looked like a gerbil tunnel,” explained Jobe.
“We had to figure out how to balance a tall addition with the historic house,” added Corral. It was a physical and aesthetical challenge, not to mention a legal headache, since the building was on three lots with complex property lines. “It required a lot of research to find out what we could and could not change, and which forms we were married to,” said Jobe. Call it the architect’s serenity prayer.
Thankfully, the client embraced the expanding renovation, and optimistically referred to elements that the team couldn’t alter as “homages” to the original. “She was an incredibly gracious and inventive person to work with,” said Corral. “She trusted the team, but she knew what she wanted, and could offer brilliant interior design ideas.” Take the unique kitchen tiling, which the client brought in to Jobe and Corral’s office one day. “She showed us these unusual brown tiles, which were hand glazed with round edges. They had a great geometric quality,” said Corral. “We suggested she change the color to gray to match the kitchen’s palette,” said Jobe. “And the effect is wonderful. They look like little moons, changing from waxing to waning.”
Jobe and Corral, along with a favorite local contractor, Woodeye Construction, began trimming away, with magical results. The gerbil tunnel became a light-filled dressing area. The awkward stairs were replaced with a stylish iron staircase, twisting down the side of the addition like a long braid. The clunky balconies disappeared, replaced with a Juliet balcony, off the master bedroom, which the client could use to dry her running gear. (These days Juliet is all about running hills, not waiting around for Romeo to show up.)
Ultimately, Jobe explained, the renovation was an exercise in subtracting, allowing the building’s essence to speak more clearly. Today, in the clean modern lines, sparkling pool, and graceful historical details of the remodeled Headmaster’s House, the client reportedly lives happily ever after… until the next enticing remodel appears.