After beginning her career at SOM, continuing to DMJM Rottet, and founding her eponymous studio in 2008, interior architect Lauren Rottet now has plans to build a new ground-up office in Houston. Sited on a residential street that overlooks Buffalo Bayou, the structure is intended to be a workspace for the company and a showroom for the architect’s Rottet Collection. The building is slated to replace the Owsley House, a modernist home completed in 1960 by architect Howard Barnstone.
Rottet purchased the property, which overlooks the bayou and the Houston Arboretum beyond, during the pandemic. The new structure is imagined as a hybrid office for administration and design. “We need a desk for everybody, as well as a parking space,” Rottet stated. Her practice also maintains offices in New York and Los Angeles. Rottet previously served as a juror for AN’s 2022 Best of Products Awards. She is one of the only women to be elevated to the College of Fellows of both the AIA and International Interior Design Association.
The office will consist of two main floors supported in steel with exterior walkways and a recessed third floor above. Parking will be available beneath the inhabited levels, in part to further elevate the building and protect it from future flooding. The existing building, designed by Barnstone when he was practicing with his partner Preston Bolton, is still standing but was significantly flooded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and the site will likely be subjected to more intense and frequent natural disasters as the planet warms. The new building will be built further back from the bayou and is larger in size to accommodate its new use.
“We don’t want our new building to look like we’re trying to match a midcentury modernist style, although we intend to respect Barnstone’s original design and transcribe as much of the original detail as possible to maintain the historic nature of the property,” Rottet, a Texas native, remarked about the plan for the new structure. She continued: “We intend to recreate the glass box while expanding outward and upward so the building becomes one with its natural surroundings on the bayou across from the arboretum.”
The Owsley House, according to historian Stephen Fox, was “one of Howard Barnstone’s most sensational houses.” Its three floors are accessed by bridge onto the second level, and upon arrival guests were greeted by a carved teak front door. Recent photography of the home shows it in a slightly dilapidated state, though current city property records list its condition as “Good.”
A 2021 article in Realty News Report suggested that Rottet initially intended to restore the home and was considering raising the structure to be six feet above the flood plain. Now the plan is to demolish the 1960 residence and start from scratch while paying homage to the original design. The deference is clear in both the exterior, which uses steel structure and large panes of glass, and the interior, which includes a fireplace with a white surround flanked by wood panels.
This proposal was recently commended by the Global Architecture & Design Awards; the scheme won in the Commercial (Concept) category. Drawings need to be finalized and permits approved before construction on the new office can begin.