Designing the Block - Design Bureau

Designing the Block

Monday, March 26th, 2012

By Caitlin Fitzgibbons

“Hi, neighbor, can I borrow some sugar? Oh, and by the way, I’m an architect. May I redesign your house?” The conversation Scott Ballard had with his neighbors probably wasn’t quite like this, but he was responsible for redesigning six homes on his block. He took the 1940s wooden bungalows that lined his Houston street and updated them to match a more contemporary aesthetic. The envelope-pushing architect lets us in on what it was like to shape his own ’hood.

How do you convince six neighbors to let you redesign their homes? 
Each happened in a different way, one by one, over approximately 10 years. 

Is there a style or personality trait that the homes share?
The neighborhood itself attracts a certain personality. There are  photographers, graphic designers, other architects, an ad agency owner, a doctor, and several businessmen. I can’t think of another block where more neighbors seem willing to follow their local architect down the somewhat risky path of contemporary design

Do the owners of the homes you’ve designed ever become envious of other neighbors’ houses?
No, I think they all like where they live—they all think they have the best home. In fact, I like mine the best. 

Design Free-For-All
Across America, zoning codes prevent extreme home makeovers from popping up in historic neighborhoods. But not in Houston, where deed restrictions rule the land. These standards, explains general contractor Harry Tallichet, president of First Crest Corporation, mean that “each neighborhood has it own set of rules for what can be built” and can range from “highly restrictive” to “anything goes.” Ballard has certainly used this technicality to his advantage. To date, the architect has teamed with Tallichet to rebuild two homes on the block, including the Thomas residence (pictured in slide show), an ultracontemporary house that Tallichet describes as “a one-of-a-kind home for big entertaining”—the kind of home that has become Ballard’s specialty.

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