Above: The house at 7 Hollow Glen Lane, Tomball, Texas designed by Loyl “Leon” Lee. Photo: Michael Anderson Brown
I am an interior designer by trade with no children (this will be important later). When my company relocated my partner, John (a Product Design Engineer) and myself to Houston from NYC, we knew we needed to find something that inspired us. In NYC, the two-block walk from Union Square to work was filled to the brim with inspiration. I find inspiration from everything, but mostly through architecture and my environment. Houston is not known for its great architecture, but I knew there had to be some hidden gems in that concrete jungle. One night during a bout of my usual insomnia, I began Googling to find “our gem”. I searched for “Houston, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies, MCM, Mid Century Modern, Organic Architecture” – all are my favorite genres of architecture and design. The first link that appeared was an article by Houston Mod about 7 Hollow Glen and the architect, Leon Lee, who built the home for him and his wife to live out their sunset years. A second search revealed that the house was on the market! I called my realtor and she must have tried to talk us out of seeing the house 10 times as it was not in good condition (understatement of the year). After looking at 45 sub-par MCMs that lacked the originality we were looking for, our broker caved-in and took us to see 7 Hollow Glen Lane.
Walking into the home for the first time was shocking. The architect’s widow, who had become extremely reclusive, still occupied the home. Although I now view her as an angel, the home was in complete disrepair. Untouched from the day it was built, the home was now being slowly reclaimed by the surrounding forest. Raccoons and bees occupied several parts of the home and there was considerable rot to the wood and several other issues that would make most potential buyers run away screaming. But not us. We made it halfway through the house with our shirts covering our noses from the stench, but were in complete EUPHORIA. We made it to the office and looked at our broker and said WE WANT IT! Why would we want to take on such a project? It’s all about legacy and reclaiming a lost soul. This home has such a powerful energy and was screaming at us to rescue it. No, we don’t have children, but this home will now stand the test of time and live on. Doesn’t get cooler than that!
The house at 7 Hollow Glen Lane as we found it. Click on Image for full view3473 false true true false true true false auto false ease-in-out 300 auto false 0 true true
During the negotiation process, Leon’s widow was emphatic that the buyer be a preservationist. She had battled off land developers for years as the house sits on 2.56 acres of woodland heaven. We had a chance meeting with her at the home after the deal was done. This was one of the most intense meetings of our lives. Mrs. Lee begged us to carry on her husband’s vision and legacy. They never had children (see a recurring theme?) and she treated us like her kin. She said she was closing this chapter of her life forever and gave us ALL of Leon’s life’s work including drawings, architectural plans, journals, and degrees. No pressure!
Earning his architecture degree from the University of Texas Loyl “Leon” Lee was an intensely private man and shied away from the spotlight his whole life. He befriended fellow UT graduate Karl Kamrath and from here his journey truly began as a visionary. Immediately after college Leon began working for Mackie and Kamrath, a firm rooted in the Usonian principles of Frank Lloyd Wright. While they were not direct apprentices of Wright, they were devoted followers and Wright became an advocate for the firm in the process. During Leon’s time at Mackie and Kamrath, he was instrumental in several of their well-known residential and commercial projects, all of which can be found in his hand drawings that we now faithfully possess. His stint at Kamrath was not a long one but it left a formidable impression on Leon and how he would later craft his ultimate dream home.
7 Hollow Glen Lane was designed to be Leon’s last opus. It was a one bedroom 2,861 square foot single story structure with several atriums and skylights. A gifted woodworker, Leon designed the professional woodworking studio off the garage from which he did all the custom millwork himself by hand. He even sourced all of the all-heart redwood from a trip to Northern California and drove it back to Texas himself. He chose New Mexico lava rock to provide strong, organic textures. His material choices were influenced by a trip to Taliesin West. One look at our foyer buttresses and you will see the resemblance. Sadly, Leon passed away all too young and did not complete his dream. But fortunately, we inherited his roadmap.
Once we got settled the 3-year long renovation began. Nearly every weekend and night was dedicated to the task of resuscitating the soul of the home. Listing everything off would take days, but the highlights include replacing all the exterior redwood and cedar, removing carpet and linoleum, and installing Brazilian slate throughout the entire home (to Leon’s original specifications). We added 317 square feet, bedrooms, a glass sunroom which opens to the great room, a full bathroom, utility room, attic, chef’s kitchen – all on the same footprint. We also completed Leon’s rough-cut cedar ceiling trim work throughout the house.
Many weekends and nights went into this labor of love. Click on image for full view3474 false false true false true true false auto false ease-in-out 300 false 0 true true
Purist may scoff at our kitchen remodel, but you have to understand the importance of having a modern kitchen in the Houston market. Without it people here will tear older and historical homes down without regard. The kitchen was the one thing we knew we had to do to ensure this home will stay standing for some time and it was the most strenuous part of the renovation. It required everything you could imagine in a renovation and that meant a lot of money, time, and tears. The kitchen design may seem austere in plain view, but that is intentional. This is a home with six different dominant types of wood, original copper inlays, solid brass Forms & Surfaces front door, lava rock, slate floors, floor-to-ceiling glass. With so much going on, we needed the kitchen to blend-in and look original, yet timeless. The design began with my fixation on the Italian Rohl Stainless copper sink. I found it the perfect way to bookend the original Mackie and Kamrath signature copper over the fireplace. From there, we selected the copper Tom Dixon pendants. The rest was easy – white quartz counter tops. Check! Waterfall-edged island. Check! Solid birch, white painted custom cabinets. Check! The energy in this kitchen is infectious and invigorating.
The house at 7 Hollow Glen Lane Tomball, Texas, brought back from the brink. Click on Image for full view3475 false false true false true true false auto false ease-in-out 300 false 0 true true
The money question is always, what is your favorite part of this home? So hard, but we would say is its true devotion to nature and its surroundings. We have never been in a home that displays nature like this one. The home looks as if it grew out of the forest. Trees literally grow through the home, glass rooms jut out into nature as if we are on display to the wildlife. Deer and owls can be seen and heard taking shifts from day to night. This home is inspiring. We have shed tears on having to sell it, but as it was with Leon’s wife, it is time for someone else to be enriched by its beauty. We have jobs taking us to San Francisco, so the bar is impossibly high for our next restoration, but we will be a walk away with so much gratitude. This home is our love letter to Leon Lee and Frank Lloyd Wright. There is no better way to sign off than that. I hope you all take some time to look at the details and share with your friends and family. Modern architecture is not for everyone and if it were…it wouldn’t be special. Thank You!
For more information you can check out the listing here.
For more information about the Usonian style and Mid Century Modern houses check these books out!