Island beach house serves as elegant retreat for Houston businesswoman
Beginning with her early childhood in Cuba, Mercedes Perez has always loved the sea. Today, her ocean view is southward from the Texas coast as she looks out from an upper balcony of her elegant beachfront home — past the colorful, well-manicured flower beds, past the Greek-style statuary and beyond the stately black iron fencing that separates her carefully tended back lawn from the sandy dunes of Galveston Island.
“As soon as I first saw this house, I could already visualize myself in it,” she said as she smiles and recalls first seeing it. ”It felt like home from the moment I walked in — I immediately knew exactly how my things would look here and that this was the view, the breeze, the sunset that I wanted in my life.”
As the owner of a Houston-based advertising firm, Perez especially cherishes the tropical feel and slower pace of island time.
“I was born on an island, and for me a proximity to the ocean is essential to my very being,” she said. “Not only do I find Galveston friendly and welcoming, it is also rejuvenating and healing — after the noise and crowds of city life, the island helps me recharge my batteries, so to speak.”
And although she sees her Galveston home as a relaxing retreat, Perez has filled it with special treasures not typical of a seaside abode. Rich tones of purple, green, burgundy and ochre give her main living areas a sophisticated, jewel-box ambience.
A further feeling of luxury is supported through extensive collections of Waterford crystal, Lladro porcelains, Murano glass figures, Limoges and Royal Albert bone china, original, old-world style paintings and antique furnishings that fill the home.
Especially noteworthy is her love of birds, a passion that can be most clearly seen in a large, formal painting by the Houston-based Serbian artist Nenad Mirkovich, showing her with her pet Moluccan cockatoo, Camelot.
“Birds are an important part of the Cuban lifestyle,” she said. “We cherish their song, their vibrance and color, and in this portrait, I especially love the way the artist captured the essence of Camelot’s unique personality.”
Other items that speak to her heart include an antique, hand-carved shepherd and a collection of fairy figures. A series of glass encased butterflies is displayed along one wall leading into the luxuriously appointed kitchen area, its golden veined marble countertop illuminated by a series of crystal chandeliers. A small library area boasts among its reading materials a collection of leather-bound classics and the few surviving family photos from her childhood.
Another striking avian-inspired piece is a copper pelican Perez discovered in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Hand-sculpted from metal sheeting, the piece has been heat-treated to create a kaleidoscope of iridescent colors throughout the bird’s body and wings.
“When I saw him, it was love at first sight,” said Perez, adding that she finds wings — whether they are on fairies, butterflies or birds — both magical and beautiful.
Elsewhere in the home, soft fabrics and seaside colors create a tranquil blue and gold retreat in the master bed and bath suite, where the bed, with its upholstered headboard, faces a fireplace but also offers a view of the beach. Other furnishings include a rosewood settee and chair, an intricately carved rococo-style cabinet and delicate porcelain figures by Giuseppe Armani of Florence, Italy.
The greatest loves for Perez, however, are her twin, 6-year-old grandsons, who enjoy visiting from Houston and romping in the yard with her 3-pound Yorkie named Mercy, and playing with the train and other boy-centric attractions in their private upstairs bedroom. Their mother, a Houston physician, also enjoys these Galveston getaways in an adjacent guest bedroom with its own private balcony.
Of special note is a six-panel folding screen Perez considers a Hurricane Ike survivor. The screen rode out the storm in a ground-level storage area and emerged virtually unharmed except for mud and sand that was easily hosed off.
As with all homes, however, it is the location that Perez finds most appealing about her island home. In addition to the balcony views and spacious, fenced-in backyard, a large, generously furnished club-size entertainment center with a palapa-style bar fills the ground-level area under the house itself.
Perez is especially appreciative that these outdoor furnishings, as with those on her various balconies, can stand up to the home’s beachfront environment, a factor she gratefully attributes to Eddie Kier of Jamaica Beach’s West End Gallery & Decor.
“Eddie has a special talent for selecting furnishings that are stylish but also right for the climate,” she said. “I wanted items that I did not have to worry about — things that I was not having to constantly bring in and take out again every time the weather changed.”
Kier, in fact, had been the Galveston friend who had helped her find this home to replace a much smaller condo she bought in 2000.
“He knew my tastes and what I was looking for in a larger, more permanent residence, and he called it perfectly,” she said.
Perez also credits Kara Wuellner of The Design Firm as a friend and neighbor who has helped her with everything in her house. Fernanda Lee of Lee’s Custom Service is her drapery maker and upholsterer.
“Like many of my friends here who also work in Houston, I really cherish getting back down to Galveston’s more manageable and peaceful lifestyle — after a chaotic week, it’s like we finally get to escape to paradise,” Perez said. “I used to dream that I would retire to the Caribbean, but now I’m thinking maybe this will be it. I do believe in karma, and quite simply, Galveston is magic.”