Designer accentuates surf and sky in condo
The stars at night shine big and bright for Meryl Cohen at her high-rise hideaway on Galveston’s East Beach. There’s also sunrises, sunsets and sandy beaches in between.
With an interior that blurs the line between real-time views of the Gulf of Mexico and memories brought back from Southern California, Cohen’s home-away-from-home and its surroundings provide not only a restorative time out from her work as an author, lecturer and sexuality and relationship therapist, but also act as a creative force.
“I do much of my best work while walking on the beach,” said Cohen, who also teaches at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. “It is a meditative environment, but also where I get amazing ideas, especially when writing grants and speeches.”
This special relationship with the sea intrigued well-known Houston interior designer Kelly Amen. Having worked with Cohen on the Meyerland house she shares with her husband of 46 years, attorney and former judge Murry Cohen, Amen proposed tapping into that outdoor surf-side energy and bringing it inside the weekend condo she bought in 1999 as a Mother’s Day gift to herself.
“The idea was for Meryl to figuratively let her island home become one with the ocean,“ Amen said.
Putting his talents for optical manipulation to work, Amen began transforming the modest one-bedroom space in early 2016, creating a spatial magic that seemingly coaxed the outdoors in and had walls, floors and ceilings retreating into the distance.
By removing the wall between the living and bedroom areas, Amen created one large, multipurpose open space that was then layered with multiple shades of coastal blues and sandy grays anchored with black and white. Large sliding glass doors that offered an unobstructed view of the island’s eastern shores found their vistas reflected back at them from a series of mirrored doors on the facing wall.
“From almost any place in the condo, Meryl can look right or left and see the surf and the sky,” Amen said.
An adjacent wall is dedicated to a giant mural created by University of Houston art student Corey Scott and depicting a La Jolla, Calif., cove that holds special meaning for Cohen. Overhead, a deep blue bathes the ceiling from which are hung a series of “Big Ass” brand fans, noted in the industry for combining sculptural aesthetics with technological innovation. The condo’s floor is paved in a diagonal pattern with alternating blue and gray Azrock tiles, until — in a touch of trompe l’oeil — the tiles appear to climb the double doors that closet Cohen’s Murphy bed.
The placement of the bed between the mirrors and windows is of special importance to Cohen in that it provides her with a magical view of the sky, especially after dark.
“I can wake up in the night and watch the moon and planets move across the sky,” she said.
Elsewhere in the condo, Amen replaced builder-grade fixtures in the bathroom with a custom-configured deep gray granite shower and lavatory area, framed with a combination of surfaces. Including glass, pebble and hexagonal tiles in sandy beach tones. A small, no-frills kitchen provides the basics for Cohen’s scaled-back cooking style.
“I eat simply and I cook simply,” she said, adding that she also enjoys local restaurants such as Saltwater Grill and Mosquito Café, especially on those weekends when she has invited her husband to join her on the island for a “romantic date.”
The condo’s other areas further reflect Cohen’s minimalist approach to beach-front living. A Dick Bjornseth watercolor featuring “Roy’s Food Mart” reminds Cohen of summer holidays when her children were young and the family rented a bayside bungalow on Galveston’s West End. Other furnishings include a vintage school desk and kitchen table the Cohens used in their West University home during the 1970s.
Next to the front door, a pegboard secures hats, jackets, sunglasses, binoculars and other items. Behind the mirrored doors, a wall-to-wall closet holds clothing and other basics, plus Cohen’s well-used and very necessary bicycle.
A lifelong bicyclist, Cohen used to regularly commute from her Meyerland home to a former office near downtown Houston on her bike, she said.
“Bicycling takes me to what I call places of freedom,” she said. “Like the sea itself, it opens my mind and replenishes my spirit.”