This is a love story between two people, a grand house and an old neighborhood. It includes magnificent gardens waiting to be born; a passion for friends, family and hydrangeas; and a zest for renewing the old while enjoying the new.
As you approach the great Mediterranean-style house perched on the hillside at Colorado and Kessler Parkway, you will notice striped parasols in front; these are placed not to shade guests, but to give homeowner Ken Row’s prized hydrangeas a respite from the afternoon sun. His love affair with the showy shrubs began in Oklahoma and grew when he bought the house six years ago. Since then, Ken and his partner, Graham Cauthorn, have been restoring the house and expanding the gardens to create two acres of paradise.
The long staircase edged with stone, the arched window’s and the large wooden front door give the impression of opulence. Inside, however, Ken and Graham have created a warm, comfortable living space while retaining much of the original design of the house. The foyer, with its dark Spanish cedar ceiling, extends a warm invitation to arriving guests. From this spot, the view extends into the living and dining areas and offers a glimpse of the pool and gardens. A buff color on the walls shows off the original, intricately-carved crown moulding and colorful artwork. Ken laughs as he points out a Susan Sales painting entitled “The Rigors of Accumulation,” and compares it to the process of restoring his house.
“Everything in this house is fortuitous,” he says, “It’s been a case of the right name dropped at the right time.” Through such luck, they found period-style iron gates in Oklahoma, as well as a carpenter whose love for the craft is found in the detailed ceiling beams and butterfly joints in an upstairs floor. They also stumbled upon some stained glass about to be discarded in Highland Park and decided to install it in the master bedroom window.
It has been a labor of love for the two homeowners to restore their house to its 1920s brilliance. They removed marble tiles that covered much of the original hardwood floors and replaced the Southwestern-style kiva fireplace with a more traditional one. Ideas come from everywhere, says Graham, who used one of many collected magazine images to inspire the master bath’s striking green tile, double sinks and glass-front cabinetry. The crafted ceilings are Ken’s original design, however. Unlike a lot of the homes in the area, this one has low ceilings. A designer assured Ken long ago not to be afraid of lower ceilings: “Bring them on down and make them interesting,” he was told. Most of his ceilings feature double beams and paint colors that are not your mother’s eggshell. “We try to stay true to the period look and feel of the house, and the neighborhood,” he says, although he also mixes in their own blended tastes.
Ken and Graham are avid gardeners and maintain the landscaping entirely themselves. Hydrangeas and dwarf yupon dominate the terraced gardens, accented by several water features, and, surprisingly for Texas, an English knot garden. A koi pond outside the guest house is home to “Graham’s babies,” while a long table on the terrace offers family and friends a magnificent view of the sunset.
Even after six years, there’s more to be done, the two ambitious homeowners claim. Belinda’s Dream rosebushes are recent additions. A new water feature and more trees are slated for the back of the property, and there are plans to install a true Japanese garden with yet another koi pond. When asked their favorite place in their home, Ken and Graham are hard-pressed to select just one. “It’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child,” Ken says, “You love them all differently and that’s how we feel about the spaces in this house.”
In a house this old, it’s natural to wonder about past owners and, well, ghosts. Ken and Graham recount that, in fact, they, and the previous homeowners, have experienced doors mysteriously opening and closing, and items moving or disappearing for a time. They are happy to report, however, that all has been quiet the last couple of years. They take this peace as a good sign that whatever spirit may be in the house is pleased with the work they’ve done. As the spirits attest, Ken and Graham have turned a magnificent house into a true home.
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