A San Leon homeowner carries on the work of a home and garden magazine founder
There’s a certain vibe that Julie Hall felt when she first saw the San Leon house she bought in 1998. Built entirely of concrete blocks, it wasn’t much to look at with living quarters sitting atop an unfinished area below. But it had a water view and it spoke to her, she said.
“I had been longing to move from Houston and live near the water,” said Hall, who searched for a coastal place for more than a year.
She knew the house needed work, but once she discovered the previous owner was Mark Inabnit, who launched and sold a variety of publications, including the glossy Houston Home and Garden magazine, she knew she was the perfect person to complete what he had started.
Originally built after World War II, the structure was once a plumbing business downstairs with living quarters upstairs. It had several owners before Inabnit, who was in the process of converting the lower bays into housing units when he died in 1997.
“He died in the midst of building his dream home, and I felt a calling to finish his project,” Hall said.
And she’s been updating the place ever since.
With Hall’s background in interior design, she has turned the two-story structure into an artsy showplace and has made remarkable improvements over the years.
The downstairs features two vacation rentals — The Gallery and Windhaven — and Hall lives upstairs.
The place came with challenges, however, especially after Hurricane Ike 10 years ago.
“I had a lot of damage, but with a house constructed entirely of concrete, I fared better than most,” said Hall, who raised the upstairs ceiling by more than 1 foot.
The exterior of the house is painted a soft teal, and is surrounded by tall bamboo and tropical plants, including a vine-covered arbor. Bronze angels flanking a doorway are from a bridge in Paris. Yet, the most striking feature is the tall windmill atop the roof, built by Hall’s long-time companion and friend, Rod Clifton. The house is appropriately named Windmill Gardens.
The two rental units have Hall’s trademark touches — beautifully furnished and accessorized — with walls full of exquisite art.
“I inherited a tremendous amount of fine art a while back, and only had so much room for storage, so I ended up building a small structure out back for display,” said Hall, who opens the studio twice a month for viewing.
Much of the art has found its way into Hall’s home filled with antiques, art deco items and eclectic treasures. The front door opens into a combination den/music room that Hall likes to call her piano room, referring to a 1903 Wm. Knabe & Co. baby grand piano that was played by Liberace, a previous owner said.
A Deutsch Brothers Louis XV style settee in eggshell blue is a rare find Hall stumbled across at an estate sale. She has it grouped with a vintage cello, 18th-century French cabinet and English empire chair — all nestled next to a cozy corner fireplace.
Although just 1,400 square feet, the space seems much larger because of a loft that runs the entire width of the home. The loft is filled with décor and art.
“I opened up the loft area, and added a master bedroom and bath,” said Hall, who made it a point to include a few curved walls.
The den/music room flows directly into the open living room/kitchen area where faux Venetian walls and more art. A colorful kitchen of caramel and cobalt blue, architectural embellishments and a 1939 Chambers stove beneath a hanging rack of copper bowls are
testament to Hall’s eye for placement.
“The stove belonged to Inabnit and I was adamant that it had to stay or I would not buy the house,” Hall said.
Snaking around the corner and through an office area is the guest room — Hall’s former master bedroom before the additions. With a traditional four-poster bed and Tiffany ceiling fan, the adjoining bathroom includes a hand-painted, vine-leafed shower stall Hall designed and a Talavera sink.
The new master bedroom and bath can be found through open French doors to the right of the den/music room. A queen-sized sleigh bed, antique chest, writing desk repurposed as a vanity, and gauzy white curtains reflect Hall’s style. A ship’s ladder makes it possible to make the steep climb to the loft.
The master bath in shades of teal and gold, Venetian ceiling, a Jacuzzi framed with glass tiles, and walls of glass blocks add light and serenity.
The art studio, built with a combination of bleached and raw wood, makes the perfect setting for all the art Hall has acquired. It’s small, but enchanting, housing a mix of lithographs, serigraphs, oils, etchings, prints and vintage posters.
Although Hall has been a nurse, top furniture sales associate and owner of an insurance agency for 25 years, her main passion has always been interior design, she said.
“People have told me that I could make a mansion out of a shack,” she said. “I’m totally in love with what I’ve created. I could never leave this place.”