Islanders enjoy the charms of essentialist living in historic downtown building
As soon as the third-floor corner loft of the 1896 Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Building in downtown Galveston went on the market, Kevin Smith and Michael Woody acted.
They had seen the loft in the daylight, but Smith and Woody wanted to go back in the evening to see what the view was at night from architect Alfred Muller’s Victorian landmark at the corner of Church and 22nd streets that was built for the Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Co.
“We wanted to make sure streetlights weren’t flashing in,” Smith said. They didn’t see any irritating flashes or glare at all, but they did discover the unexpected beauty of Galveston lit at night from a charming angle.
“It feels like a Manhattan loft,” Woody said.
They bought the property in October.
Elegant and gracious, the tall arched windows fill the remodeled living space with natural light. From his home office, Smith can hear children play on the Trinity Episcopal School soccer field across the street.
White and neutral contemporary furniture combines with dark-wood antiques in the sitting spaces throughout the loft.
“We love the blend of it,” Woody said.
Smith and Woody blended their collections, belongings and histories as part of remodeling the loft and starting a new life together. They are two people who like to collect things who came together at the same time they were downsizing, Smith said.
“We gave up yards,” Smith said. “I gave up a garage full of stuff.”
Smith, who retired from Cardinal Health Inc. in 2011, now is chief operating officer for New York-based Andrew Mellen Inc. Mellen is a professional organizer who helps people declutter their lives.
“Stuff isn’t your problem,” Smith said, explaining Mellen’s philosophy. “You are.”
Moving into the loft meant a lot of editing for the couple. They both got rid of a lot, but they kept sentimental and functional items. Smith kept his art. Woody kept his grandmother’s chair and his father’s temple relief wall sculptures from Thailand. The key is balance, Smith said. It’s about having not too much of something and making sure there is a home for everything.
“I’ve always fantasized about being a minimalist,” he said. “Now I am an essentialist. What is essential to you? What do you love? What do you want to keep? Live with essential things you love and use.”
They also decided to rotate some of their art in a few spots periodically.
“We can enjoy them differently,” Woody said. “It’s fun to trade things out.”
Some of the art stays put, such as the wall that features “Poolside Gossip,” a Slim Aarons photograph that’s as bright as a fresh watercolor. Other artwork surrounds the print, including paintings, portraits and more photos.
In Smith’s office, which doubles as a guest room with a Murphy bed, a large modern portrait of a couple demands a longer look. The painting, “Clouds,” does indeed portray clouds outside a window. Portrait artist David Anderle, who was also a record producer for the Beach Boys and Frank Zappa, painted “Clouds.”
When Smith was 24, he bought his first piece of art, and he still has it. It’s a fragile piece of raku pottery with burn marks on the bottom. When he lived in New Mexico in the 1990s, he bought a Stephen Day painting. He continued adding to his collection that includes black-and-white photography, color photography, abstract art and etchings.
Remodeling the loft included adding a short wall to make the kitchen a little more separate from the seating area near the fireplace, yet still allowing an open concept. Smith and Woody added a display cabinet in the spot full of china pieces that complement each other. As they downsized and settled on their essentials, Smith and Woody decided to keep all their china and crystal.
A massive yet slender piece of furniture hangs above the fireplace. Weighing 500 pounds, the antique wood-mounted mirror came from a Paris consignment boutique and now hangs from sturdy chains connected to exposed Victorian steel rafters. It has a modern feel that works well with the contemporary setting nearby.
“It’s the juxtaposition of that with exposed beams and raw wood,” Woody said.
Upstairs, the loft floor still has the same wood that was there when the building was constructed.
“This was the attic area where they kept the batteries for the telegraph company,” Smith said.
Smith moved to Galveston 10 years ago. He loved the people, the food, the history and the architecture, he said. Being close to Houston and having quality medical care on the island at the University of Texas Medical Branch added to the appeal, he said.
Woody moved to Galveston in July 2019 to take the job of chief tourism officer of Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau. He met Smith in August 2019.
“Galveston has a welcoming, diverse culture,” Woody said. “It has a great history that speaks to that. It’s a well-blended community. It has a feel and a vibe.”
As the island’s chief tourism officer, Woody leads his staff to promote the dream, sell the dream and deliver the dream of visiting the seaport city, he said. The challenge of COVID-19 restrictions and complications shifted how the bureau does its job. Regional visitors, it turns out, were eager to travel to Galveston for brief breaks during the pandemic, he said.
Smith and Woody find they have plenty of room in the loft for all their essentials, they said.
“We pulled together things that are special to us,” Smith said. “We can’t believe we live here. We dreamed of this loft.”