University Place can be found in the well-sought after West University community of Houston. In this Houston neighborhood, tree-lined streets, large lots, unique boutiques and incredible restaurants draw young families from near and far. Having moved from California to Houston, the owners of University Place are one such family. Open and airy, University Place was the perfect architectural fit for our clients, but the interiors were not quite right. The goal for this project was to transform the existing transitional interior into a casual yet sophisticated space. As you will see throughout this home tour, the LUDC team drew inspiration from the elegant – but approachable – California Cool design style. To create a space that captures the personality and origins of its owners, we worked with The Davis Group Builders. We also consulted with the owners and their design-minded daughter, who helped us get her room just right. In this post, we take our readers through the updated Houston home, detailing each design choice. Join us for a home tour of University Place below.
Bringing Southern California Cool to a West University Home
Given a shift towards stark minimalism amongst movers and shakers in recent years, some might assume “California Cool” to be crisp and clinical. However, the “California Cool” design style is actually rooted in the innovation and imagination of mid-century modernism and Art Deco design. Beginning in the 1940s, Southern California became a haven for artists, architects and designers responding to a booming post-war America. Even before the War, LA was a destination for designers of the Art Deco, Arts & Crafts and Art Moderne movements.
After World War II, Southern California’s population exploded as the economy surged and young professionals poured in from NorCal and neighboring states. The Case Study program was one of several initiatives that supported modernist residential architecture in Los Angeles, San Diego and other SoCal cities. These homes are hallmarked by clean lines, warm woods and seamless transitions from indoor to outdoor. As such, we have Case Study Houses to thank for the California Cool design style. Designed for middle class families in modern America, these homes were both elegant and effortless, casual and sophisticated.
What is California Cool Today?
In his article “California Cool” for The Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz explains. Describing the “uniquely Californian way of living and domestic architecture” captured during this time, Schwarz turns to the work of Charles and Ray Eames. Schwarz writes that the husband and wife duo “invested the astringencies of modernism with whimsy, playfulness, and love of juxtaposition.”
The former were new and experimental while the latter “had long been attributes of the Southern California good life.” Suddenly, interiors were both welcoming and avant-garde, organic and industrial, restrained and expressive. The California Cool aesthetic remains relevant today because it is simultaneously livable and luxurious, deep and uplifting, practical and powerful. In University Place, our readers will find engaging organic textures, Art Deco, Mid-Century and Post-Modern motifs and a color palette loosely inspired by the coast of California.
Houston Home Tour: Taking University Place From French Transitional to California Casual
Before the Laura U Design Collective team transformed this Houston home, its interior was far more French transitional than California casual. For those unfamiliar with the design style, transitional interiors combine traditional and classical elements with others that are more modern and contemporary. French transitional interiors often strike a balance between rustic and sophisticated for a timeless interior that can be refreshed easily. Transitional spaces typically feature neutral color palettes, comfortable furniture and clean lines for a functional yet perfectly tailored interior.
The original University Place interior was bright and beautiful but lacked personality in some spaces and consistency in others. Though the color scheme carried from one room to the next, University Place lacked flow. Most importantly, the interior simply wasn’t the right fit for our clients. Our team took this neutral interior and transformed it into a memorable modern space that is still comfortable and sophisticated. The team drew from Art Deco, mid-century modern and futurist design styles. View the before and after photos of this Houston home remodel below!
Our home tour begins with the stairwell. Above on the left is a photo of the completed space, while the right is a photo of the original interior. The LUDC team worked with local builders from The Davis Group to create a sleek new stair railing. Complimenting the new stair railing is a series by Brooklyn-based artist Andy Blank. Focusing on bold colors and brushwork, Blank’s work embraces simplicity and tactility.
By honoring the materials without any frills or fuss, Blank creates pieces that are both elegant and approachable – perfect for this “California casual” interior. Blank’s Tuxedo Tiles are made from layers of poured resin, which form organic shapes that reflect the curves of the new stair railing. Coated with a high-shine finish, Blank’s Tuxedo Tiles are the perfect eye-catching addition to a glamorous yet understated entryway.
Beneath Tuxedo Tiles is a pair of custom ottomans upholstered in a mauve velvet fabric. Beside the two ottomans is a gray-stained rift sawn white oak three-legged table from House + Town. A matte white Circa chandelier designed by Julie Neill and a similar wall sconce with linen shade complete the space. Wainscoting adds a bit of interest to the previously blank wall opposite the stair railing.
Our home tour continues with the study, which is just opposite the stairwell and front door. The layout of this space was hardly altered. However, the LUDC team did redesign the millwork of this space in one of the project’s few major renovations. The finish, hardware and structure of the floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcase was changed completely and nearly all furniture was replaced. The only piece that remains is the client’s existing desk, which lends a sculptural quality to the space.
For the hardware, LUDC designers chose bronze Helmlsey pulls by Jonathan Browning from Restoration Hardware. Inspired by the architectural details of Art Deco design, the Helmsley pulls add a distinctly industrial flair to this moody space. To light the space, our team chose the Kaleen Sculptural Resin Floor Lamp from Made Goods. We also chose a Benit Medium Sculpted Chandelier by Aerin from Circa. With its tapered base and carved tiers, the Kaleen floor lamp recalls a vase in the updated entryway.
Soft Finishings and Accessories
For the window treatments, we chose a limestone linen Roman shade finished with a Galon geometrique braid trim from Houlas. Other soft finishings include a knife edge and down fill lumbar pillow and two beige cushions on the window seat. For the lumbar pillow on the Nigel chair, our team chose Antwerp fabric from Lauren Hwang New York’s Crossroads collection. Inspired by Japanese men’s kimonos, the fabric is a subtle nod to the tailored approach our team took when remodeling this Houston home.
Next to the Nigel chair with an oak natural finish from Lawson Fenning is a full polished fossil stool from Noir. A micro tufted wool Manhattan Area Rug from Jaipur Living Pathways By Verde Home centers the study. Its Art Deco-inspired motif compliments the floor lamp, hardware and Roman shade trim while the soft blue-gray color lends a coastal feel. To finish the space, our clients chose artwork from Gray Malin.
Formal Living Room
Next, we proceed to the formal living room, which features a rug very similar to that in the study. To the right is a photo of the finished space, while the original interior can be viewed on the left. Atop the plush area rug are a Forster sofa, Ella lounge chairs, House + Town cocktail tables and an Evia side table. The tufted oak finish sofa with cushions from Lawson Fenning and custom fabric by Pindler and Pindler recalls designs from the 1950s. Rattan Ella lounge chairs with metal legs and custom fabric seats from Palecek are a fun throwback to the 1970s.
Cylindrical layered cocktail tables with a matte gray white oak finish tie the chairs and rug together. The walls are adorned with Phillip Jefferies Saint Germain Hemp II Gold on White grasscloth wallpaper. Its subtle metallic finish pairs well with the brass curtain rod. It also recalls the flecks of gold in the Serafina Globe and Storm Globe pendant paintings from Zoe Bios Creative.
For the window treatments, the LUDC team chose line curtain panels of Light and Air drapery fabric. We added a Samuel & Sons Somerset collection openwork braid drapery trim from Walter Lee Culp. To upholster the sofa’s seat and back cushions, our designs picked custom flax colored Lawson Fenning and Armstrong fabric from Pindler and Pindler.
Pictured above are before (left) and after (right) photos of the University Place powder room. We replaced the beaded rectangular mirror with a circular Blake Mirror from Arteriors. This iteration of the Blake was crafted from mango wood and finished with black wax. Behind the Blake Mirror is Sedona Wallpaper in Multicolor from ElWorthy Studio.
Originally rendered by hand in ink, charcoal pencil and watercolor, this repeating half-moon motif is printed on matte finish luxe vellum wallpaper. ElWorthy Studio is renowned for its production of FSC certified eco-friendly wallpaper. Our team sourced this wallpaper from Supply showroom. To finish the space (not pictured) is a denim/natural Myra Collection by Magnolia Home rug from LOLOI. We love the subtle diamond pattern, block trim and fine tassels of this rug.
Next in our home tour is the remodeled family room. Our team reworked the existing built-ins – smoothing out the stepped border and replacing the painted shelves with new floating versions made from natural wood. A three-panel cabinet sits beneath the floating shelves on either side of the fireplace. The LUDC team also altered the fireplace – coating the walls plaster by Segreto and adding a wood frame surround.
Industrial Materials and Architectural Details Light the Family Room
The lighting program for this family room is sleek and architectural. Made from fiberglass, the Vertigo Pendant Light by Constance Guisset from Petite Friture is both delicate and industrial. Next is a columnar Bailey floor lamp in gray leather with an off-white linen shade and antique brass detailing from Arteriors. Last is a pair of sculptural Ansley table lamps in midnight and whitewash terracotta – also from Arteriors.
Opposite the built-ins is a rift sawn white oak block console from House + Town – custom-made to fit the sectional. Custom-designed specifically for this space, the Vanguard Furniture sectional has a pebble path base finish. The sectional also boasts hand tied feather lux seat cushion and back filling. Moonstone-colored Davenport-pattern upholstery fabric from Pindler and Pindler pairs beautifully with the oak console and toffee tones throughout.
Furniture Surrounding the Main Seating Arrangement
Surrounding the primary seating arrangement are fun and funky String Attached Lounge Chairs in Grey from Palecek. These were upholstered with Opuzen Memoir pattern fabric from Allan Knight. The whitewashed rattan Enzo swivel stools just in front of the fireplace are also from Palecek. We finished these with chenille upholstered cushions in a striking lapis lazuli shade. The fabric is from Jab Balou. A whitewash pencil rattan Hewitt side table from Palecek and a rift sawn white oak accent table from House + Town finish off the arrangement.
For the window treatments, our team chose lined drapery panels in Bespoke-pattern fabric from Joseph Noble. The drapes are accented by a Samuel & Sons La Terre printed border in Flax from Walter Lee Cup and brass hardware installed by Heines. Beneath the seating program is a dark-toned layered rug from Madison Lilly.
Next on our University Place home tour is the dining room. Pictured above are photos of the finished space (left) and the original space (right). The original looped filigree-style chandelier was replaced with two Everly pendant lights with chains and Candelabra base bulbs from Palecek. The coastal taupe color of the fine strand Abaca Rope tiers is perfect for a California-inspired space. Roberta Schilling Cava chairs were upholstered in a custom blue fabric that resembles vinyl. These dramatic dining chairs surround a sleek wooden table with a subtle gloss finish.
Behind the dining table and chairs are lined drapery panels similar to those found in the family room. The Joseph Nobles drapes and their brass hardware were installed by Heines. The drapes are accented by an umbra embroidered border trim in bronze from Samuel & Sons. Our design team had Heines mount the curtain rod high on the wall to create the illusion of a taller ceiling. Silvestreswall pasted Phillip Jeffries Vinyl Woven Sisal wallpaper in Ecru Way on each wall of the dining room. Paintings by Andy Blank tie in the texture and geometric patterns of the dining table, wallpaper and flannel-colored rug from MMCarpet.
Butler’s Pantry and Kitchen
We move from the dining room to the butler’s pantry, which then leads into the kitchen. The photos above and below show the kitchen before (left) and after (right) our Houston home remodel. While we did not alter the layout of the kitchen, we did rework the island, cabinetry and countertops. We replaced the existing subway tile with Ann Sacks mosaic tile for the backsplash in the kitchen and butler’s pantry. Beneath the backsplash are Silestone countertops by Constentino. Above the backsplash are repainted cabinets with satin brass finish Emtek knobs.
We reworked the millwork of the existing island, transforming it into a waterfall island with an apron front sink. This structure better accommodates the seating arrangement. Above the range is a custom plaster vent hood by Segreto. An easy-to-clean Nirvana polypropylene indoor-outdoor rug from Jaipur finishes the space.
Instead of simple wire-base bar stools, we added Fritz rope counter stools in fog white from Palecek. These were upholstered in a custom Haze color Cordova pattern fabric. We painted the underside of the island in Black Fox from Sherwin Williams to create contrast and depth. Our founder Laura Umansky was appointed to the Sherwin-Williams Design Council in 2021. When interviewed about her top Sherwin Williams shades, Laura called Black Fox her “absolute favorite.” She noted the color is “striking and sophisticated with a lot of depth and coziness.”
Next on our home tour, we travel to University Place’s private quarters. We begin with the guest bath, where LUDC designers reworked finishes, replaced the mirror and updated the hardware. The “before” image can be seen above on the left, with a photo of the remodeled space on the right. To replace the existing silver mirror, our designers chose a highly textural molded plaster Jamie Young Astor Wall Mirror. They updated the granite with a blush pink scalloped tile backsplash and sleek white counter.
Button-shaped Spritz Collection lacquered burnished brass knobs from Restoration Hardware compliment the taupe gray paint of the vanity. Roman shades in Light and Air fabric from Joseph Noble were installed by Heines. An Abelle Design rub from Jaipur completes the space.
From the guest bath, we head into the owner’s suite which was unfurnished when our design team arrived. Beginning with soft finishings, we chose drapes crafted from Joseph Nobles fabric with a Samuel & Sons Moonlight embroidered crystal border trim. Matte black hardware creates contrast and references the bed’s headboard. The headboard of the bed – which is a maple wood Chatfield California King – was upholstered in custom ivory fabric from Vanguard.
A Brier Collection parra colored hand knotted rug from Jaipur sits beneath the bed and two swivel chairs. We chose a muted blush Crown Jewel fabric for the upholstery of these Adriana Hoyos Rumba swivel chairs. These chairs boast a beautiful Seike taupe cod base finish. They are an intriguing alternative to the bench or trunk usually found at the foot of a bed. Down fill and knife edge lumbar pillows from Heines are propped against the headboard. Some are of Rubelli Tatlin pattern fabric from George Cameron. Other pillows are of Larson Fletcher pattern fabric from Watler Lee Culp or Geology pattern fabric from Pollack. The begie pillow in the center features a Samuel & Sons sabine cord trim.
Between the swivel chairs is a Hollis side table with charcoal gray finish from Palecek. Flanking the bed are two stacked box nightstands with grass inset and an oak finish from California brand Lawson-Fenning. A Dune dresser finished by Vanguard provides extra storage, though it is not pictured. Above the bed is a Quinn chandelier from Palecek. COCO beads surround a powder coated metal and hand sewn wooden frame. On the walls are artwork from Gray Malin and Maya Romanoff Ajiro Fanfare wood veneer and platinum color wallpaper.
From the primary bedroom, we move into the primary bathroom. A before photo can be viewed above on the left, with a photo of the finished space above on the right. We chose a Coco Magnolia hanging pendant with off-white finish from Palecek to replace the existing silver and transparent glass orb. The petals of this pendant light are both delicate and striking. We replaced the tub with a sleeker version and updated the window treatments. For the windows, we chose flat operable Roman shades – also installed by Heines – in a snow colored fabric from Joseph Noble.
The cabinets were repainted in a dove gray and the hardware was replaced with flat rectangular drawer pulls. We updated the vanity counter, added a gorgeous backsplash and topped it all off with gray molding to complement the built-ins. We opted for a floating polished nickel mirror from Restoration Hardware that would not distract from the Kelly Wearstler for Ann Sacks Obelisque tile. Architectural ribbed glass and polished nickel Elyse sconces from Arteriors complete the vanity area.
Girl’s Bedroom & Bathroom
We close out our University Place home tour with a suite designed for the owners’ daughter. Secure in her own distinct style, the owners’ daughter worked closely with our design team when creating this space. Most of the furniture in the girl’s bedroom was existing, but we updated the window treatments, wallcoverings and light fixtures.
We chose operable blackout lined drapery panels in a Joseph Noble fabric with a Samuel & Sons Sloane hot pink velvet trim. Heines installed the drapes over satin brass finish hardware. For the wallcovering, our designers chose a Zoe Bios Creative for Tempaper mural. Founded by Minh Nguyen and Caitlin Dinkins, the Zoe Bios Creative collective is based in LA. To finish the space, our designers added a Capiz scalloped chandelier from Serena and Lily. We also picked a retro-inspired Avery aged brass/pink pendant from Hudson Valley Lighting.
In the girl’s bathroom, the design team again opted for age-appropriate glamour. The bath knobs are Lambeth crystal with a lacquered burnished brass finish from Restoration Hardware. The chandelier is from Circa and the Canillo mirror is from Uttermost. Beneath the mirror is a Millennial pink scallop ceramic tile backsplash. The floor boasts a mini scallop mosaic. Both are from DalTile.