David Webster George’s Former House Gets a Natural Update

In 1960, venerated architect David Webster George designed and built his Bluffview home with one eye set squarely on nature.

In a Bluffview hillside, a long and lean glass and timber house is practically plunked into the earth, capturing ethereal views of the lush landscape around it. At the time it was built in 1960, the angular expanse, connoting a refined mountain lodge, was brilliantly sited to embrace breezes and shade. Its indoor-outdoor connectedness and concrete flooring was proclaimed truly progressive for its time, especially when most Texans were more interested in getting their houses air-conditioned and installing wall-to-wall carpeting. For architect David Webster George, who designed and built the house for himself, such organic design was not only in the house’s bones, but also in his. It was a reflection of the work he’d been inspired to pursue during his early days as an apprentice for master architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

LEFT: By removing some of the home’s original rafters and keeping the furniture sleek, Kirsch streamlined the visual flow of the central hallway, which runs 105 feet.
RIGHT: A small creek—conceived to divert rainwater down the sloping property and alongside the house—adds to the home’s woodsy setting in the heart of the city.

In back of the tree-shaded house, Allen Kirsch removed a storage shed that existed under the far right window, helping to open up views of the house both indoors and out. McGuire chairs enhance the home’s interior look.

“I’ve always been motivated by challenging sites,” says George, now 84 and still actively working (see “By George,” below). “When I first walked up to the property, which is 71 feet wide and 300 feet deep, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to position the house,” he says. “My first wife walked up the hill with me, and at a certain point, the land leveled off. A log was there, and as we sat on it and looked around, we got the most wonderful sense that we were being sheltered. Now, that very spot is where the fireplace is,” he says. “If you notice, when you sit in the house, you realize how well you feel. That’s by design. That’s how we felt that very afternoon.”

In 1964, House Beautiful took notice, too, and devoted seven pages to it. Wrote Curtis Besinger, “Windows, shuttered from inside, echoes in reverse the angle of the roof pitch. This motif repeats several times—in windows and doors—as a subordinate melody.” George cherishes that article—and memories of the house. “We loved living in the woods and hillside there,” he says, noting that his wife passed away in the late 1980s. “Without draperies, it was like she and my daughter and I were living in the thick of nature.”

Yet, as with any organic structure, it tends to evolve, and in the case of this home—in which George and his family lived for 20 years, adding onto it here and there—the time had come for it to regenerate. This time, with the help of another talented eye.

In 2000, a prominent trial attorney purchased the house, and he immediately gave Allen Kirsch the task of freshening up the 3,500-square-foot house. To do so, the designer incorporated durable, natural materials as well as modern and custom furnishings. He also modified the structure slightly to play up natural light—all the while aiming to keep its architectural integrity intact.

Kirsch aimed for a “non-color” paint hue on the wood, brick, and scored concrete flooring to help keep the focus on the architecture and exterior. The oversize granite-top coffee table is Kirsch’s design. Lighting, designed by Barbara Bouyea, “was especially challenging because there’s no attic space,” Kirsch says. “It had to be worked in unobtrusively in a variety of ways.”

“By this chapter in its life, the house had a very dark, woodsy ’70s feel, so my first instinct was to beige it out and lighten it up,” Kirsch says of the rectilinear structure, which sits on a little over an acre of sloping land. In keeping with the home’s minimalist aesthetic, the décor’s clean lines and neutral, “almost non-existent” wall hues also help showcase the owner’s supreme art collection, with works by the likes of Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein.

Monochromatic design is the most challenging “because if the paint moves in any one direction, you can get more pink or green or yellow tones,” Kirsch explains. “I was going for entirely neutral. I wanted the land and architecture to speak louder than the interiors.”

LEFT: A Mies van der Rohe chaise is enhanced both by the serene landscape view and the abstract work by legendary American painter and printmaker Frank Stella. RIGHT: Kirsch loved the size of the home’s expansive fireplace, so he emphasized the scale of it with a large and low Emperador marble coffee table of his own design. He also added a custom fireplace screen, built to be flush and unobtrusive.

To further the home’s sense of openness, Kirsch removed some of the rafters and columns that “hampered the visual flow the new owner wanted,” says Kirsch, who also removed all door and window jambs and replaced the entirety of glass. The designer also transformed two bedrooms with a Jack-and-Jill-style bath into a master suite with a new large bathroom and closet. “This house is essentially one large living space with its bedrooms tucked in,” Kirsch says. “It’s the perfect house for entertaining. And it’s especially beautiful at dusk, when it’s all lit up.”

Being able to see into the house from the outside is easier now thanks to the new 3-foot walking path on one side of it, added by landscape architect Naud Burnett. Without sacrificing the home’s desired closeness to the land, it does allow its retaining wall to be set farther back, helping ensure it doesn’t absorb water while also encouraging more natural light to filter in. “What Burnett did to beautifully create that retaining wall in context of the house, and highlight the surroundings on other outdoor levels, is brilliant,” Kirsch says.

LEFT: In keeping with the home’s mid-century modern style, almost all furniture in the house was bought new or designed for it—except for a stacked marble-base table that Kirsch surrounded with classic leather chairs. Roy Lichtenstein art adds vibrancy. RIGHT: The galley kitchen “was not only a small room to contend with, but it also has one of the lowest ceilings in the house,” Kirsch says. “For the cleanest lines possible, we concealed many appliances for uninterrupted views of the spectacular scenery outside.”

Looking at the home as a whole, “it was such an honor to be able to guide this place into more modern living,” Kirsch says. “So far it has stood the test of time on an exceptional level. My goal was to have it continue to do just that.”

In the master bedroom, fine Italian Pratesi linens envelope a Cassina leather bed flanked by “floating” night tables designed by Allen Kirsch. A dreamy pop work by Roy Lichtenstein hangs on a wall covered in fine grasscloth (used throughout the home).

BY GEORGE, HE’S DONE IT

Distinguished architect David Webster George helped put Dallas’ modern architecture on the map. Recognized primarily for such design hallmarks as homes created with a rhythmic system of grids and the use of natural materials that age well over time, “I tend toward patinated things,” he says. “I favor a house made as well as nature.”

For George, 84, architecture has always been an integral part of the land. During WWII, he lived under, and in the attics of, many stone farmhouses in France and Germany. “Architecture sort of got into my bones,” he says.

George is also known for being one of the last living architects who worked under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin and Taliesin West, the legendary houses in Wisconsin and Arizona where some of the most memorable examples of organic architecture were conceived. George was a Taliesin Fellow beginning in 1947 and worked closely with Wright on the Dallas Theater Center, completed in 1961. He also worked with Wright on a number of houses throughout the Midwest until Wright’s death. “He was such an influence,” he says of Wright. “He taught me to respect the environment and nature. That’s remained pretty strong within me.”

Among his many commissions, George designed Horseshoe Bay, a resort community on Lake LBJ in the Central Texas Hill Country, revered for the way it blends into the surrounding landscape. And in the early 1970s, George took undistinguished tin sheds in North Dallas and turned them into visually exciting spaces for craft shops and specialty stores called Olla Podrida. Subsequent projects include the Red Apple Inn in Arkansas and the Green Oaks Hotel in Fort Worth.

At an age when most architects would have retired, George isn’t content to rest on his laurels. He’s furthering his efforts to develop and promote green building projects, and he currently resides “very happily” on 3 acres of land in Southlake with his wife, Elizabeth.

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