Houston, TX "House of Formica", innovative modern

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pgharchfan
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Houston, TX "House of Formica", innovative modern

Postby pgharchfan » Mon Dec 17, 2007 12:10 pm

Foreclosure on a large lot in a well-respected neighborhood.

Unusual design for the Stephens family, the distributors of Formica in Houston in the 1960's and 1970's.

Prime location makes this a potential tear-down unless a mod-enthusiast buyer is found.

Listing http://search.har.com/engine/dispSearch ... =1&sTYPE=0

Discussion (which has better pictures)

http://www.houstonarchitecture.info/hai ... opic=13952

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ch
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Postby ch » Mon Dec 17, 2007 2:43 pm

I am always amazed and bewildered by the photos that realtors choose to use on listings. In this case, photo number 4 is a patch of dying grass...

Otherwise, I hope this home finds a sympathetic new owner.

txmod
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Postby txmod » Thu Dec 20, 2007 9:12 pm

One of the Houston Mod board members contacted the Architect and got this response:

Dear Mr. Smith:

You emailed me with inquiry about the Meyerland Formica House. Indeed I was the architect for that house and it was one of the most interesting experiences of my professional career. The house was constructed by Al Fairfield/Builder Inc, and the year was probably 1965 [actually early 1966 from the plans]. Mr. Fairfield and I were associated in a Design/Build relationship that produced several hundred custom designed houses from 1963 – 1970.

The house you call “The Formica Houseâ€￾ has an interesting history that begins with its original owner, Larry Stephens, owner of the Stephens Company (at that time) a well known and respected business man who owned a carpet manufacturing company and was a distributor of interior finish materials nationally and internationally. Despite his “rags to richesâ€￾ rise in the Houston Business Community, the “Formica Houseâ€￾ in Meyerland was the Stephens’ first “realâ€￾ home. Larry lived and raised a family in a rented house in South Houston until he got to build his “Dreamâ€￾ house. Larry and his wife were in their 70’s.

Larry Stephens sold carpet door to door during the depression of the 30’s. He was an extremely frugal man and saved 50% or more of every dollar he earned from selling carpet. Next he invested in a carpet show room and paid others a commission to sell carpet door to door. Next he had the opportunity to purchase the carpet factory and then sold carpet to showrooms who paid others to sell carpet from door to door. He expanded his carpet show rooms to distribute all kinds of flooring and eventually was a distributor of almost anything necessary to finish the interior of a building except paint. Larry Stephens was never in the paint business. Some time in the 1950’s a company of chemists developed a product that today we call laminated plastic. They called their company the American Cyanamid Company and their product Formica. The public, especially the design/construction community hated the product and American Cyanamid had a “tough road to hoeâ€￾ in selling their product. Then they met Larry Stephens. Larry drove a hard bargain and contracted to be not only the national distributor of Formica but the international distributor as well. Long story short, Larry Stephens and his sales crew brought Formica around to become a household name and Larry Stephens made a fortune selling laminated plastic.

The year before the Stephens house, Al Fairfield and I were approached by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company to design a “showâ€￾ home in Houston that would provide a “showcaseâ€￾ [for] their glass and paint products. It was called the “House of New Dimensionsâ€￾ and was a successful project gaining Pittsburgh a valuable piece of the Home Market. Larry Stephens came to see the House of New Dimensions, liked the house and its use as a showcase and he immediately commissioned us to design a show home for all the products that he distributed. I hired a very talented Cuban Architect, named Raul Alverez to work with me and the rest of the story is as they say history. Every interior surface in the house is covered with some form or color of Formica laminated plastic or carpet Mr. Stephens liked to brag that it took less than one gallon of paint to finish the inside of his house. The exterior of the house is Arkansas sandstone, hand selected by the architect and the mason. The kitchen had a carpeted floor and was a feature in the Houston Home Builder’s Convention a few months before the house was completed. Mr. and Mrs. Stephens enjoyed demonstrating the sanitary character of the carpet used in the kitchen by pouring bacon grease on the carpet, then cleaning the carpet perfectly with a carpet shampoo appliance and a vacuum cleaner.

I cannot remember a client who was more pleased with one of my designs in 45 years of professional architectural practice. Larry Stephens was a very special client.

Respectfully yours,

Waller S. Poage III, AIA, NCARB, CSI, CDT, CVS

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Tony
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Postby Tony » Fri Dec 21, 2007 5:56 pm

txmod,

Thanks for your post - it's great! It is so rare to learn the back story of a house, and this explains all.

Tony
Tony Merchell

Architectural Photographer
www.glassandsteel.com

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Joe
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Postby Joe » Mon Dec 24, 2007 1:40 pm

cool stuff


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