Block Party!

By thinking outside the box, Ron Guillard creates a Montrose-area home with sky-high style.

Ron Guillard and Bill Brosius

The house of Guillard and Brosius had no redeeming features when they bought it. So down it went and in its place is a home filled with unexpected design elements starting with a canary yellow front door. The driveway has a staggered walkway and an inset grid of zoysia grass that breaks up the visual mass of concrete in unexpected ways. A computerized system of weatherproof theatrical LED lights creates various moods.

Guillard created the illusion of an indoor/outdoor living room by separating the living area and balcony with glass walls. He then installed two lookalike fireplaces in each space and connected them with a beefy porcelain tile
hearth shelf.

The homeowners’ collection of modern art delivers strategically placed
pops of color.

Wherever seated on chairs by Design Within Reach, guests see impressive art. An oil on canvas by Bill Jonas seemingly floats atop the turquoise wall. Tucked into a corner on the opposite side of the space is Art Shirer’s steel and concrete sculpture, “The Open Doors Swing Both Ways,” made of pieces of the Berlin Wall and exhibited at Dallas’ Trammell Crow Center before the homeowners purchased it.

A window wall frames the verdant view and delivers the treehouse wow the homeowners sought.

Topping the must-have list for the homeowners (who cook and entertain large groups) was a kitchen like the pros have. This one delivers with multiple prep areas, an island so large it doubles as an extra dining table, a wall of Thermador appliances and a built-in bar just steps away.

At first glance, Ron Guillard and Bill Brosius’ home looks pretty much like other contemporary ones popping up throughout Mandall Place in Houston’s 1920s Montrose neighborhood, once known for its charming bungalow abodes. However, there’s more to this house than meets the eye. Behind the mahogany door is a home grounded in style, yet, not exactly on... the ground.

“When guests see the house for the first time, we do often hear, ‘It’s a tree house!,” says Guillard, whose topsy-turvy approach was the jumping-off point for the home’s design. Guillard, an industrial designer who’s worked on products from children’s educational toys to fire trucks, acted as his own contractor, but didn’t go it alone when designing his home. When researching a nearby home he liked, Guillard came across retired architect Bill Anderson, who he learned had designed and built it for John Connally IV, the grandson of former Texas Governor John Connolly, Jr. Guillard recruited Anderson to provide concept sketches that he turned into control drawings and a 3-D computer model. Guillard also hired a registered architect to create construction drawings and a structural engineer whose involvement was crucial because cantilevers and elevated second floor spaces were part of the plan. Together, they designed a 3,600-square-foot house with most of the living space up the stairs. Viewed from above, the home is essentially an L-shaped second floor lying on top of a small, square first floor that houses a hallway from the carport, two guest suites and an elevator. Atop is a great room, kitchen, master suite, study, powder bath, laundry and 300 square feet of balconies. A pavilion-style carport is beneath the master suite with a porte cochere under the kitchen/dining area. The screened balcony cantilevers over the front yard, for a layout both practical and rewarding.

“Locating the primary living areas on the second floor takes better advantage of natural light than if these rooms were on the first floor,” explains Guillard. It eliminates view and privacy issues created by small urban lots with setbacks. The design also delivers beautiful unrestricted views in many directions—a rarity in a relatively dense neighborhood like this.  For design inspiration, Guillard channeled the late Luis Barragan, a 20th century Mexican architect who so deftly used pops of bold color, simple surfaces and water features that his work became known as “emotional architecture.”

Inside and out, neutral surfaces direct the eye to occasional large expanses of color that elicit a range of sensory responses. There’s the warm yellow front door, a calm ocean blue wall bridging the living room and kitchen and an energetic orange exterior wall. “The color palette is very Luis Barragan with a little license (like the metallic paint in the blue wall),” says Guillard. “Notice, there are no greens. I seem to recall Barragan as saying that he leaves the use of green to God.” Red oak flooring is used throughout for continuity and to add visual warmth to rooms punctuated with glass and metal. “Most of the metals, though, have a very calm, brushed finish, whether nickel, aluminum or stainless,” notes Guillard.

Accessories are well-edited with a focus on an impressive art collection, mostly by recognized regional artists whom the homeowners met during weekend travels. With near-gallery precision, the pair made display decisions at the onset of the project—a mind-boggling idea to most homeowners but not to these out-of-the-box thinkers. “I designed the home with Google SketchUp (a 3-D program), which enabled us to place the artwork and play with it early on in the design process,” explains Guillard. “As a matter of fact, we knew where most of it would go when construction began.” Large glass walls, sliver windows and clerestory windows fill the home with strategically placed natural light. To help establish a sense of place for the dining room within such a large, open floor plan, Guillard also installed a computerized color-changing LED light system in a cove over the dining table, then repeated it to dramatic effect along the front exterior. By toying with design in illuminating ways, Guillard created a home that’s both enlightening and uplifting.