Dynamic designing duo creates two-houses-in-one vacation getaway
“Something different” could well be the motto for the personal and professional lives of interior designers Kara and Eric Wuellner.
Marriage in their early years after only a five-month whirlwind romance — followed by a snowstorm introduction to South Texas — has set the stage for a lifetime of adventure and innovation for the dynamic duo.
“We have always looked for a better way of doing things even — or maybe especially — if it was a departure from the expected, and it has usually turned out pretty good,” said Kara Wuellner, as she explained how they came to build a two-houses-in-one vacation home on Galveston Island.
As owners of The Design Firm based in nearby Stafford, and five-time winners of the American Society of Interior Designers’ Prism Award — including “Best House of the Year” — the Wuellners knew they wanted a location on the water to relax from their busy professional lives.
“We had tried Fort Lauderdale at one point, but there were too many people from New York,” Kara Wuellner said with a wry smile.
And although they knew that peace, privacy and a place to unwind was important, they also wanted a second home that allowed them to spend family time with their four children and six grandchildren.
The solution? A spacious structure that encompassed two, fully-equipped residences with separate entrances, allowing for “togetherness” when desired, but also “time out” when needed for the grandparents.
Galveston was a perfect choice for the location as it was only slightly more than an hour from their permanent home. Their search took place not too long after Hurricane Ike struck in 2008, and coming up with a piece of land that could accommodate their unusual idea wasn’t easy.
“We were actually looking at the lot next door when the one we eventually settled on caught our eye,” Kara Wuellner said. “Even though it was still storm ravaged and slightly irregular — and not even for sale — we felt it had possibilities.”
Amazingly, the Wuellners were able to negotiate its purchase. But then they couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work with the type of house they wanted.
“Then, one night, it was one of those things where God wakes you up at 3 a.m. and shows you what could be,” she said.
Working with local architect Michael Gaertner, the plan began to evolve, and today a multi-level main house and adjoining guest cottage offer some 6,000 square feet of living and entertaining space all under one roof. A ground level palapa area further expands the possibilities for relaxation with porch-style swings, hammocks and piles of colorful pillows.
To complement the beach-front location, the Wuellners chose gray shake-style shingles trimmed in crisp white for the front, north-facing exterior of the home, and the back exposure features a window wall that reveals an ever-changing vista of sand, sky and surf.
Kara Wuellner describes the interior design as being in the style of mid-century modern with a base palette of black, white and gray executed in a variety of materials and textures. Sparkle and spice are added through silver-toned accents and the generous sweeps of aqua, citron, amber, tangerine, lemon, fuchsia and cobalt blue contributed through furnishings, original art and accessories.
“These could be called seaside colors with an attitude, and because they are essentially the colors of nature, they work for all seasons or occasions,” Eric Wuellner said.
For double-duty December decorating, the Wuellners eschewed traditional holiday hues and put together a plan inspired by the tropical blue, green and deep rose tones of their home, a combination that can transition easily from “homestyle” Christmas with the grandchildren to a more sophisticated New Year’s Eve celebration with friends.
Once Santa has left, a fresh look for the New Year can be achieved with a minimum of expense and effort by suspending glittering spirals to cascade from the ceiling, hanging a “Happy New Year” banner over a window, draping shimmering streamers on the Christmas tree, and replacing reindeer figures, cookie plates and greenery with gleaming Champagne buckets, sparkling crystal and polished silver serving trays filled with grown-up food.