Two sequential owners restore League City house thought to be architect Edmund Furley’s only surviving coastal structure
Over the past several years, restoration expert William “Bill” Caudell and prominent plastic surgeon Steven Hamilton each has contributed many chapters to the complete story of the showplace home on Cove Park Drive that now shines like an architectural jewel on the south shore of Clear Lake.
But it began with a simple Sunday afternoon drive.
“A 5,000-square-foot architectural relic” is how Caudell describes his first impression of the property as he came across it in a secluded waterfront area in League City.
“The gate was closed, and the house — obviously no longer in use and painted a depressing deep battleship blue — was partially obscured by an overgrowth of tropical plants,” he said. “There also was an ugly black box of a boathouse in back that I initially thought might be a water treatment facility.”
Caudell was intrigued. Amid a flurry of obstacles — including a hurricane in the Gulf — he purchased the property, but not without raising a few eyebrows. A number of his friends wondered aloud if this time the restoration expert made a mistake.
Mistakes aren’t Caudell’s style, however, Hamilton said. Since taking ownership of the home, Hamilton has made his own contribution to the property through the creation of a garden wonderland on the home’s spacious grounds.
“The importance of this home’s restoration cannot be underestimated,” Hamilton said. “It is thought to be renowned Houston architect Edmund Furley’s only surviving coastal structure, and its restoration is an important achievement for not only the home itself, but for honoring this very special architect who made such an impact on our region’s architectural history.”
The home’s midcentury modernist style is considered to be an outstanding example of Furley’s work. The first graduate of the University of Houston’s school of architecture and a devotee of the architectural style of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Furley served 34 years as a professor at the school and is credited with helping introduce his hometown to the “new” streamlined, clean style of minimalism.
“Bill has a natural gift of seeing a space and rethinking it,” Hamilton said. “Only a person of great imagination would have been willing to take this project on. But from the very beginning, he saw the house within the house.”
As walls were removed and ceilings elevated, one observer described Caudell’s approach as “exploding the architecture.” Drawing inspiration from the home’s structural elements, he removed obtrusive elements, such as a phalanx of yellow shutters and created a mélange of cube-on-cube, white-on-white surfaces with interweaving shadows. Some interior rooms were repurposed to make better use of the home’s waterfront views, and clerestory windows were installed in the main living room to release light and air.
Dimensional interest was achieved through the incorporation of multiple planes, including the installation of a narrow architectural “reveal” throughout to unify the home’s interior spaces and draw the eye through multiple layers of architectural detail.
In keeping with the Miesian philosophy, Caudell also honored the home’s original natural materials. Despite well-meaning suggestions from others, he refused to plaster over a massive quartzite boulder monolith from West Texas that rises intact through the home’s two levels, from foundation to roof.
Artwork throughout the home includes five original lithographs by Michael Ray Charles, known for his pictorial confrontation of racial prejudice. Other artists represented include Kipp Stewart, Jedd Garet and Billy Haines, and Hamilton’s own drawing of a “winged creature,” created when he was 17.
Furnishings include designs by the home’s interior decorator, Randall Powers, plus van de Rohe chairs, a Tommi Parzinger table of lacquered oyster shells, a 17th century Japanese screen, 19th century Chinese stools, a 20th century display table from Barneys New York and a chair made of wild game antlers.
When time came to find a new owner for the house, Caudell knew it needed to be a special type of person — one who would appreciate not only its beauty but its history. So convinced that Hamilton was that person, the transfer of ownership consisted of not much more than the two men meeting in the Andalusian town of Ronda — where Hamilton was visiting — and Caudell’s handing the keys to him.
As the new owner, Hamilton immediately launched the next stage of the home’s re-emergence.
“I saw it as an ongoing nurturing process,” Hamilton said. “I wanted to continue what Bill had started and put the house into a setting worthy of its importance. Although the house was perfect as it was — even today, the furnishings and much of the art work remain just as when I took ownership — I felt it needed a garden to launch it into today.”
An artist at heart, Hamilton, now one of the nation’s top plastic surgeons, had initially been drawn more to the stylus than the scalpel. Long an admirer of renowned medical illustrator Dr. Frank Netter, Hamilton had entered medical school with an eye to pursuing a career in medical art before realizing that plastic surgery could be an art form, too.
This same love of the creative process and appreciation for beauty was soon being combined with Hamilton’s studies of gardens abroad, and today, the home’s spacious side lawn has been transformed into a magical venue of lily ponds and alternating 10-foot squares of lush green grass and crushed white marble, reminiscent of the cubistic 1920s landscaping style of the famous Villa Noailles on the French Cote d’Azur.
And that black box boathouse? In its place, a two-slip building at the end of a long dock today shelters The Wilson, an electrically powered and luxuriously appointed pleasure craft kept at the ready for leisurely outings on Clear Lake.
As the two men got together with friends at the home recently, their shared adventures with and commitment to the house and grounds dominated the conversation. Amid laughter, a setting sun and one story tumbling out upon another, a consensus emerged soon to be repeated by all: “They took something that was good, and made it very, very good.”