In most cases, architects are building for others—it’s not every day they get to call themselves both designer and client. When they do, you can expect those projects to turn heads or stop cars. That’s certainly the case with the home of Gregory Ibañez, a principal at Ibañez Shaw Architecture, and his wife, Kathleen Culebro, an artistic director for theatre.
Their home, in the Arlington Heights district of Fort Worth, Texas, resembles two friends in conversation via light, material, and scale. It’s the kind of house that attracts attention for standing out, but doesn’t feel out of place.
Ibañez and Culebro, who met on a blind date in December 2003, made a life together for 10 years before deciding to find a plot to make their own.
“Kathleen was really encouraging that we live in something that we created,” Ibañez says. “She was pushing hard for us to be in something that would be ours and get a chance to design it. That was exciting to me.”
Instead of building from the ground up, they were looking for a structure on which to make a major intervention, so they sent their real estate agent in search of something with good bones. (“Famous last words,” Ibañez muses.) They zeroed in on the walkable Arlington Heights neighborhood, close to both the Kimball Art Museum and Modern Art Museum.
In November 2013, the couple’s agent called them with an opportunity: There was an estate sale of a 1,003-square-foot, circa-1932 gable home that was being sold for the value of the land, not the house. Culebro assumed Ibañez would immediately shoot the idea down, but to her delight, he suggested they look at it immediately.
“It goes to show you you’re constantly learning about each other,” she says.
While the house itself was in disrepair, Ibañez saw the good bits: the corner lot; the way the original house was sited, allowing for an easy addition; and the fact that the structure’s interior was a tabula rasa, something with which to start anew.
After closing quickly, they finalized the designs just a month later and started construction in May 2014. Ibañez wanted the addition to be clearly new and not just a replica of the old house, which is covered in Millsap stone from Millsap, Texas. (Several Depression-era homes in their neighborhood are built with this stone, a typical selection at the time.)
The existing one-bedroom home was transformed into a soaring, unified living room, dining room, and kitchen, plus a small study. The two-story addition, which added close to 1,400 square feet, houses two bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a garage, and encloses a small outdoor area between the structures. Ibañez says that they chose Cor-Ten steel for the exterior because it seemed like it would weather to the same general colors as the original house.
“That turned out to be true,” he adds. “It’s very sympathetic, but it’s of our time and we’ve honored the original part of the house by generally keeping it intact.”
They moved the front door and added a glass-and-steel canopy to direct visitors into the living room. To note the move, and to reflect on what used to be, they added two floor-to-ceiling opaque glass windows where the original door and gable would have stood in what is now the home’s dining room.
There weren’t too many hitches in the process, but they did run into issues that might be expected of a home almost a century old. Original oak floors that they wanted to keep had no subfloor, so Ibañez and Culebro had to choose new flooring. Window replacement revealed rotten casing—caulking was the only thing holding up the stones around the windows. They had to remove stones and replace them once the windows were installed, supplementing with new ones as needed.
Ibañez describes the process of reframing the original house as a “bone graft,” since the interiors were adjusted without affecting the exterior. In lieu of constructing any walls, the couple commissioned a maple dividing cabinet, adding a buffer between the spaces and hiding the TV from view, and used a long island to connect the dining room and kitchen. Ibañez originally chose white pendants for the dining room, but Culebro encouraged him to pivot to the silver Eureka fixtures, which became a focal point in the space. On one side of the stairway, a translucent screen provides privacy from curious passersby; the other side is lined with an unconventional, multihued birch plywood handrail.
“The idea was that there would be one color that would greet you when you come home, and another color when you’re leaving,” says Ibañez. “In the morning, the sun comes in there and the light bouncing off between them creates a third color, which is really beautiful.”
Ibañez and Culebro moved in in February 2015. The interiors were kept neutral to allow the couple’s art collection to stand out. Treasured works of art from the collection of Kathleen’s late father, or made by her sister, hang throughout the space, benefiting from its new vaulted ceilings. A blended family of furniture, old and new, dots the home, from the antique Mexican dining table and chairs (Culebro was born and raised in Mexico City) and Alvar Aalto-designed side chairs to a Restoration Hardware bed and a Mitchell + Gold lounger.
“Greg and I have always been very passionate about art and wanted to design a space that wouldn’t compete with it,” Culebro explains. “We’re certainly not about a painting that matches the sofa kind of a thing. But you have to have a lot of space for art to really be appreciated in the way that it deserves to be.”
Ibañez says that one of their central inspirations was the desire to create a dialogue between the two structures. “It’s always more interesting when you have something to push against, having the existing house as a constraint and trying to honor it,” he says. Culebro adds that the design feels unforced, and that everything works together gracefully.
As something they fashioned entirely for themselves, the home is a site of respite—a place they’ve dubbed Casa Culebro, for Culebro’s last name. “The house is dedicated to her, so it’s fitting,” Ibañez says.