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Can't believe this hasn't been posted here yet, but the Menil house on San Felipe is part of this years Azalea Trail Tour running through tomorrow (11am-5pm). You can go through just it for $5 or see all of the houses on a pass that I think costs $20.

I had wanted to see the Menil House for years and it's rarely open to the public, only occasionally used for museum fundraising events. I went today and it was well worth the $5. You don't get to go through the whole house, but you get a sampling of the rooms and layout seeing the kitchen and a couple of living areas, docents explain the rest of the layout. You then get to go outside to the gardens in the rear, unfortunately because of the heavy rains the last couple of days, it was not fully open because of some standing water on the gravel pathway. It could get better or worse by tomorrow. As you exit around the side of the house you can look into some of the other rooms from the outside, it looks like it probably was when last lived in.

It's arguable of course, but I consider it one of THE most important modern houses in Houston. Phillip Johnson designed, famous socialite/arts benefactor owner, and interesting history makes it so. I encourage anyone who can to go take a peek.

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Thanks for posting this, we had been thinking about going but weren't aware that the tour included access to the interior of the house (albeit not the entire house). The gravel garden path was completely closed yesterday afternoon due to the weather - I assume that the original intent was to allow visitors to explore more of the gardens besides what could be seen from the vantage point of the patio in the rear of the house? Despite the weather issues, $5 was quite a bargain for what was definitely a rare opportunity to see a spectacular house.

We also stopped to check out 56 Tiel Way on the way home, very nice to see it in person after having read about its background in the Neuhaus book.

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I think more access was lost each day due to weather. When a friend of mine went on Friday, she says you could walk all the way into the flower gardens at the rear of the property. On Saturday when I went, you could walk partly down the gravel path but it was ribboned off near the entrance to those gardens because of water standing in the path. The path was pretty wet already at 1:00 Saturday, so I guess it got completely blocked off by the time you got there. I am still very happy to have seen the house up close and would go back again when the opportunity arises.

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Did some more reading up on the house today, there's lots of articles about it out there. Here's one from the NY Times after the restoration in 2004:

A House That Rattled Texas Windows


Published: June 03, 2004

WHEN John and Dominique de Menil built the first great Modernist house in Texas, in 1950, not everyone was thrilled. ''It was bewildering,'' said Anderson Todd, one of the few Modernist architects in Houston at the time. ''Most people in Houston knew nothing about Philip Johnson or Mies van der Rohe or Le Corbusier. This wasn't a house -- it was a dental office or a Laundromat.''

The de Menils put the house -- a long, flat-roofed, one-story building of brick, steel and glass -- in the fashionable River Oaks neighborhood, with its antebellum mansions and Tudor-style piles with manicured lawns. It was designed by Johnson, then a 42-year-old disciple of Mies just starting his own practice while building his legendary Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.

One cabdriver saw the de Menils' windowless facade and asked, ''What is this, a clinic?'' Deliverymen pulled up to the front door, assuming it was the service entrance.

Even their own children had reservations. ''I was very embarrassed,'' said Christophe de Menil, the oldest of the couple's five children. ''It was just so different. And my sister Adelaide speaks of being too embarrassed to have friends over.''

The de Menils' long, lean house is set at the end of a driveway that curves among towering oaks. The 5,500-square-foot house, with burnished black Mexican floor tiles, is built around a glassed-in courtyard, a feature the de Menils had seen in Venezuela. Now, 7 years after Mrs. de Menil's death and 31 years after her husband's, it has been returned to its original condition. The Menil Foundation completed an 18-month, $3.3 million restoration last month. ''You can feel how scrupulous the restoration has been,'' said Andrée Putman, the interior designer, who toured the house this spring. ''This was such a delicate intervention. There is a grace to it, a magnificent simplicity. You have the feeling that Monsieur or Madame de Menil could appear at any minute to take their children to school.''

The house is known for its art as well as its architecture. Shortly after its completion, the de Menils began filling it with one of the most important collections in the country -- a collection that eventually grew to 15,000 pieces in all, from Paleolithic bone carvings to Warhol soup cans. By the 60's, the de Menils had converted the garage into an office, where half a dozen registrars, curators and researchers tended to the collection. Mr. de Menil, who ran the American division of Schlumberger Ltd., the oil services company founded by Mrs. de Menil's father, Conrad Schlumberger, spent evenings in his study cataloging the collection, while Mrs. de Menil worked from a card table in one of the five bedrooms. (Most of the artworks are now several miles away in the Menil Collection, a museum designed in 1987 by Renzo Piano.)

The de Menils arrived from France in the 1940's, and their house became a compulsory stop in the international cultural whirl. When Michelangelo Antonioni, the director, said he wanted to ''meet a lot of rich Texans,'' Mr. de Menil had a dinner party for him. On other occasions, Henri Cartier-Bresson stalked through the house stealthily taking pictures, and when René Magritte was in town, the de Menils arranged for some students to take him to a rodeo.

The de Menils were pleased enough with the austere lines of the house, but they rejected the interiors that Johnson proposed as too severe. ''Philip felt we should have a Mies van der Rohe settee, a Mies van der Rohe glass table and two Mies van der Rohe chairs on a little musty-colored rug,'' Mrs. de Menil said two years before her death. ''We wanted something more voluptuous.'' To punch up the interiors, they hired Charles James, an eccentric fashion designer who had created sculptural evening gowns for Mrs. de Menil.

James swept down from New York prepared to cause a little trouble. He took one look at the plans and insisted that the ceilings be raised 10 inches. He designed and built distinctive new furniture, including an oversize octagonal ottoman and a chaise longue in wrought iron and chartreuse silk.

In an audacious deviation from the white walls prescribed by devout Modernism, James anchored the living room with a striking gray wall and made the hallways vivid pink, crimson and tobacco.

''He would arrive late, at 11 a.m., put on some army jumpsuit, and start mixing colors,'' she Christophe de Menil, then 17. ''The painters would leave at 12 p.m. for lunch, and then he would sit in the rocking chair, just filled with outrage -- where was everyone?''

By combining James's work with Johnson's, the de Menils subverted the pure, modern architecture with an exuberant, highly personal interior. In doing so, they humanized Modernism. They also infuriated their architect. For decades afterward, Johnson omitted the house from surveys of his work, even though de Menil patronage led to many commissions for him in Texas.

The de Menil house is a Modernist landmark with its own personality. ''That French expression l'art de vivre -- how the de Menils lived there, with their collection and all the furnishings -- adds a layer to the house that makes it even more notable,'' said Terence Riley, chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

To capture the de Menils' particular spirit, the Menil Foundation, which owns and maintains the house, and Stern & Bucek Architects, which led the restoration, hired an architectural historian to collect memories from a dozen friends and family members. ''Someone once said that Charles James brought in some bibelot,'' Marguerite Barnes, a Houston writer who knew the de Menils, said in her interview. ''Nobody ever brought in any bibelot on Dominique de Menil. Her house was her own -- whether it was Houston, Paris or New York, you could walk in and say, 'Dominique's been here.' ''

For all its distinctive character, the house had serious design flaws. The flat roof leaked, requiring the de Menils to keep Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubrey, partners in a leading Houston design firm, on constant call to patch things up. ''My first understanding of an architect was as the guy who fixed the roof,'' said François de Menil, the youngest son, who is now an architect himself, in New York. (The family had tended to neglect maintenance, particularly after Mr. de Menil's death.)

In returning the house to its early condition, Stern & Bucek produced 50 mechanical and architectural drawings, more than twice the number Johnson had drafted.

To protect wall surfaces that still had original paint, wood or velvets, the rewiring was done through the ceilings. Conservators dared not repaint walls that were completely original; those surfaces, including the dressing room doors and the pale pink hallway, became known as ''sacred walls.'' For those that had been repainted, conservators sent paint samples to a laboratory to help match the exact shades.

''It's crisper and cleaner,'' François de Menil said. ''Where there had been wear and tear, or it was somewhat decrepit, now there's a crispness.''

The restoration team wanted some elements to show their age, among them the antique jewel-colored velvets in the hallway and the buckled linoleum by the kitchen sink. ''Everyone has asked, 'You're going to do something about that scratched-up velvet aren't you?' '' said Bill Stern, one of the architects in the restoration. ''Well no! Those surfaces ensure a patina -- the age of the house is written into the architecture.''

Jane Anderson Curtis, a landscape architect, planted more than 20 towering trees, referring to archival photographs and a 1950 survey that documented every tree on the property. In the atrium garden, she used 15 varieties of tropical plants, including banana trees, fishtail palms and monkey grass. ''It's almost like a terrarium,'' she said. ''I wanted it to feel rich and diverse and layered and explosive.''

The restored house will not be open to the public. Instead, it will be used for special events and small museum gatherings.

Most design problems have now been addressed, but nothing can restore the de Menils' energy and animation. Mr. Stern said he remembered the first time he saw the house: it was spring 1979, and he was a 32-year-old Harvard graduate working in the Houston office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. He received a invitation out of the blue to a dinner party Mrs. de Menil was having for a curator from the Pompidou Center in Paris. (''Two final things,'' Mrs. de Menil's assistant told him. ''This invitation is for one person, and be on time.'')

Arriving precisely at 7:30 p.m., Mr. Stern found he was the first guest. He met Mrs. de Menil in the entrance hall, and soon his embarrassment turned to delight. ''I told her how thrilled I was to be able to see the house,'' Mr. Stern said. ''For the next 15 minutes she gave me a detailed tour.

''My eyes lit up -- it just had this otherworldly, magical quality. Overhead lighting had always been a problem, so in the dressing room, she picked up a lamp off the table, shined it towards a painting and said, 'Come look at this wonderful little Picasso.' ''

Pink on Pink?

AUSTERE Modernist design and forceful art have long given the de Menil house its magic. But as meticulous as the renovation of the house was, some of the art has been moved.

Matthew Drutt, chief curator of the Menil Collection, took a decorative approach, hanging a quiet gray painting by Max Ernst on a gray wall that had formerly held such assertive works as a monumental Braque (shown at left). A pink Warhol now hangs on a pink wall; blue Magrittes hang in a blue bedroom.

''I put things where they would accent a space and make a statement,'' Mr. Drutt said. In a living room devoted to Ernst, he hung a portrait of Dominique de Menil over the fireplace (above). To some, that would have been out of character for the de Menils, who would have deemed it predictable -- and immodest.

''Some of it is fine, and some of it is questionable,'' François de Menil, a son, said. The portrait is ''the obvious problem,'' he said, adding, ''It's a mistake, but fortunately it is one that can be corrected.'' WILLIAM MIDDLETON

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