Nearly three decades after renovations, island couple still happy with art deco design
The style known as art deco is as noteworthy today in the Galveston Island home of Norma and Sandy Rubin as when first introduced in Paris during the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts.
With an emphasis on streamlined motifs and the incorporation of geometric forms, this new look revolutionized early 20th-century art, architecture and fashion design. For the Rubins, it also became the kitchen redo style of choice for their 1932 midtown-area residence.
When they purchased the property in the late 1970s, the Rubins had been captivated by their home’s original style, especially the three art deco bathrooms that included period fixtures and a vintage glass tile known as “Vitrolite.” The 1960s-era kitchen was another matter, however.
“It was orange, yellow and avocado green, and very dark,” Norma Rubin said. “We weren’t sure what we wanted, but this wasn’t it — our dream was to have something that complemented the rest of the house, but also something that would serve our needs at the time and also stand the test of time.”
As former faculty members with the University of Texas Medical Branch on the island — he was chief of chest imaging and she a professor of anatomy, the Rubins were accustomed to scientific investigation, and soon that same focus was being applied to their future kitchen. It was finally a range hood that caught Norma Rubin’s eye and started the couple on the path to the curvilinear forms and smooth, sleek surfaces that define much of the art deco style.
Working with a design firm that specialized in kitchens, the Rubins removed walls and opened up previously unused spaces to create a focus-forward layout, innovative cabinetry, high-tech appliances and a sophisticated color palette of black, white and gray with chrome accents. In several areas, walls were constructed to emerge “space-age-style” and glide forward smoothly, revealing shallow banks of ceiling-to-floor shelves.
Stark white was chosen for the Corian counter tops, a feature dear to Norma Rubin’s medical professional sensibilities.
“I like being able to tell that a countertop is clean,” she said. “With all white, every spot shows, and that is a positive for me.”
Her medical background also is evident in the sink-side collection of glass beakers — the type found in laboratories — she uses in place of typical measuring cups.
A six-burner range top and a Sub-Zero refrigerator provide plenty of fire and frost power for the couple’s health-conscious style of cooking, an activity in which they both participate.
Other cooking ventures take place on the large, outdoor grill, which is Sandy Rubin’s choice for roasts, chops and briskets. An adjacent garden with avocado, lemon, lime and fig trees also provides fresh herbs and vegetables.
A small side porch is now a wine room that holds a bank of climate-controlled storage units and also acts as a showcase for original tile designs created by daughter Corey Rubin, who has a degree in Studio Art.
Walls and counters display photos and memorabilia from the couple’s wine tours, and a 70-bottle “torched wood” wine rack crafted by Sandy Rubin runs down one side of the adjacent dining room.
The most impressive feature of this home’s culinary story, however, is that its kitchen modeling took place 27 years ago, and its owners — now both retired — are as happy with it now as when it was new.
“We didn’t do this project — and it was a big project, especially for us at that time in our lives — with an idea of it being an investment,” Norma Rubin said. “But the care we put into its design, coupled with quality appliances and cabinetry, has more than paid off — and we still love it.”
Pasta with Red Peppers and Pesto
Courtesy of Norma Rubin
8 ounces capellini pasta, cooked “al dente”
2 cups basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup pine nuts or walnuts
½ cup shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese
Pepper and Romanesco topping (recipe follows)
Pepper and Romanesco Topping
1 medium onion, chopped in medium-size pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 each: red, yellow and orange sweet mini-peppers, seeded and sliced into strips
Salt, black pepper and cayenne (optional)
20 “trees” or florets of Romanesco cauliflower, lightly steamed
Fresh herbs such as sprigs of rosemary, garlic chives and basil for garnish
Prepare pasta according to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, prepare pesto by placing basil leaves, garlic, oil, pine nuts and cheese in food processor and blending briefly.
Drain pasta well and toss with about half the pesto sauce. (Refrigerate remaining pesto sauce for another day.) Season pasta and pesto mixture to taste with salt and pepper, arrange on a serving platter and set aside in warm place while preparing pepper and Romanesco vegetable mixture.
Chop onion. Heat small amount of olive oil in shallow skillet or saute pan, add onion and cook slowly until pieces are soft and almost caramelized. Do not overcook. Add pepper slices to skillet and sauté lightly until slightly softened. Add seasonings to taste. Add steamed Romaseco and toss gently, being careful not to crush florets.
Top pasta with pepper and Romanesco mixture, then garnish with a combination of fresh herbs. Serve with ample quantities of thinly sliced or shredded Parmesan cheese. Makes about four main dish servings or eight side-dish servings.