The Magic Box

Mahesh and Devika Ramchandani were on a mission when

they trekked to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth a few

years back. Yes, the art was wonderful, but they weren’t

interested in that on this particular day. At the suggestion

of a friend, they went there to check out its walls. That’s

right, massive architectural concrete walls that are every

bit as bold and appealing as the displays.

“We had to see them,” says Devika. It was something we

were very much interested in doing in our new house, putting

up concrete walls. When we saw this, this modern masterpiece,

we just knew we had to do it. It was amazing!”

Fast forward a few years and the couple is happily at

home in their modern, four bedroom Oak Estates dwelling

with a great room that is anchored between thick, arcing

cast-in-place concrete walls. It’s just one of many features

that make this a standout home. But a thoughtful discussion about how the couple wanted to live, how they

wanted to express themselves through their home, is

what drove the design principle.

“We wanted something that was a reflection of our

Indian heritage, but not in an obvious way,” explains

Mahesh. “The idea was to achieve a sense of space that

was consistent with our Indian heritage but at the same time

kind of respected where we were and understood the

fact that we live in the 21st century…. something that

was forward thinking.”

It turns out that concrete is used extensively for building

in India. “And in many other places in the world,”

explains Mahesh. “But usually when it’s poured, it’s covered

up with plaster or something like that in order to

provide it with a finish. That’s where our design principle

came in. One of our stated intentions was that this

house should have an element of honesty. If we had

cast-in-place concrete walls, they should appear to be what

they are. The entire house was built on that design principle.

And we found architects who understood that and

went with it.”

Husband and wife team, Russell and Rame Hruska

of Intexture Architects were impressed with their clients.

“The really great thing about them is that they really

let us be the architects. They talked to us about things

that were important to them — the quality and flow of the space, the way they wanted to feel and live

— but they really let us do the design. It was a

nice, refreshing way to work with clients,” explains

Rame Hruska.

The residence was based in part on the ancient

concept of a nine-square-grid where the center

of a traditional Indian house is a courtyard. So in

the case of the Ramchandani home, the great

room becomes a central courtyard with other

spaces off to each side. This makes for great

entertaining potential.

“It’s a very livable space, explains Hruska. “The

scale works really well. We’ve been there when

they’ve had several hundred people at events and

that great room opens up to the back to handle all

those people. But you can also sit in the living room

with them and have a glass of wine and the scale

seems very intimate.”

For a variety of reasons, including the aforementioned

great scale, Mahesh refers to the home

as their “Magic Box.” The magic of space and natural light

makes this a very spiritual place, he says.

“As the day moves on, the light shifts,” says

Mahesh, a cardiovascular surgeon at Methodist

Hospital who knows a bit about the importance of

lighting. “I notice this when I’m home on weekends.

I’m very interested in natural light. It’s fascinating how the

character of the house changes depending on the

time of day.”

The way spaces lead into one another is also

magical, he says. “I can sit in any one space in the

house and look around and see that wonderful connection and flow.”

Indeed, this house has many unique architectural

features, including a two-story insulated fiberglass

wall on the west side that minimizes the heat while

acting as a luminous screen, flooding the home with

soft natural light and providing privacy from the street.

A bridgeway on the upper floor connects the private

master bedroom side to the opposite side with

the gameroom and two other bedrooms. The view

from this walkway is spectacular, taking in the great

room below and the outside courtyard area with pool.

Large orange panels along the fenceline behind the

pool direct the view inward, detracting from the property behind the residence.

Devika loves orange and other bright indian colors,

a nod to their Indian heritage. “Indian colors

like bright orange, pink, turquoise, things like

that ... I wanted to incorporate those into the

house,” she says. This color influence is seen

in bold tiles and accent walls in the home.

Using local materials was of utmost importance

to the homeowners, part of a “giving

back” principle that made sense to this couple

who has made Houston their home for

22 years.

The couple used to live in a traditional

Georgian home in West University. They pretty

much started with a blank slate when outfitting

the new home with furnishings, bringing

only a Persian rug, a gameroom sofa and

breakfast table from the previous abode.

The architects provided a holistic design

approach, helping with landscaping and interior

design for a cohesive look. Furniture from

Ligne Roset complements the house throughout,

including two fun, low-set tables with colorful

cube seating in the dining/ conversation

area at one corner of the great room. Airy,

translucent screens separate this dining area

from the main front corridor. “I just wanted

something there without it being a hard wall,”

explains Devika.

Beautiful bamboo floors lie underfoot in the

great room, while concrete flows through the

den, kitchen and other areas of the home. A

bar exists just off the great room with another

few steps into a study with easy access to the

outdoors. A downstairs guestroom with a periwinkle

accent wall offers charming seclusion

for company. The utility room even gets a

splash of color in gray and orange cabinetry.

Especially striking is the couple’s choice of

art. Charcoals from noted Indian artist

Vrindavan Solanki mix with colorful pieces

against the cast-in-place concrete walls. Sculpture is appreciated

here as well with a whimsical, fencelike

piece by Houston artist Emily Sloan taking

up residence near the staircase.

“I had most of my modern art at the other house,

but it just didn’t show up there,” explains

Devika. “This is a much better showcase for modern art.”

The couple loves their home, but doesn’t

discount building again with the same cast of

characters in the future. They heap praises

on Gary Inman of Mainland Construction Inc.

and their architects who so closely respected

their vision.

“Everyone told us that the building process

was so hard, that terrible things could come of

it, that it might not be a happy experience,”

recalls Devika. “We had the opposite experience.

We loved it and loved everyone we dealt

with. We would do it again in a heartbeat!”l

 

A two-story insulated

fiberglass west wall (left) minimizes heat

and provides privacy while flooding the

home with soft, natural light. • An honesty

of materials is evident in this home.

Here, red clay tiles, limestone, a translucent

fiberglass wall and galvanized aluminum

shingles make up the dwelling’s

front exterior. • The backyard is a streamlined

oasis with a clean-lined pool and

fun, bright panels of orange relating to the Indian colors. • Two massive

concrete walls anchor the home’s

inner core, the great room that acts as a

central courtyard.

 

Colors prominent in the

Indian culture are seen throughout the

residence, including this vibrant cube

seating in the dining area, an extension of

the great room. Furniture from Ligne

Roset. • The minimalist feel is echoed in

the den with a built in cabinet to harbor

speakers. The cowhide chair (one of two)

was purchased in Buenos Aires.

A colorful, whimsical modern art sculpture by artist

Andrew Carson spins in the breeze on the home’s front

lawn. • A fence-like sculpture by artist Emily Sloan looks

great against the concrete floors. • A Ganesha collection

hints at the family’s Indian heritage. Here, a few from

Devika’s collection. • A back-painted glass piece by artist

Eric Lee pops against the concrete wall. • An upstairs

bridgeway provides a view to the great room below and

into the courtyard. • The two-story fiberglass wall to the

right minimizes heat and infuses the home with natural

light. •Windows in the upstairs gameroom are framed by

a spectacular shade of green.

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