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Artful Lodger

A single dad mixes modern art and elements of nature in a Southampton showplace that stops traffic. Literally!

Only one work of art hangs in the living room, an abstract piece by Alfredo Scaroina of Santo Domingo. The colorful scribblings of the piece—created from reclaimed materials such as sand, metal dust and newspaper—call to mind Cy Twombly. A glass coffee table supported by a large teakwood root from Cantoni, a sectional sofa of pale gray leather, a rich blue rug from Kuhl Linscomb, and a dark blue guest chair from BoConcept complete spare space.

The entry’s ruby red rug, resting atop the same white porcelain tile that runs throughout the first floor, matches the garish lips in Oleg Dou’s art piece. 

John White

The glass-topped dining table is flanked with white studio chairs.

The upstairs media room boasts a cedar column.

An oval-shaped island topped with black stone and banked with chrome bar stools with low-slung backs helps define the kitchen space within the open floor plan, which also makes room for a piano on which the homeowner’s son plays both classical and pop music.

The look of the upstairs media room, at right, is enlivened by a mod, red-leather sofa from BoConcept and a graphic painting by Houston’s Ray Phillips.

Among the handsome, tree-lined boulevards of Southampton there is one home that really stops traffic. “It happens all the time,” says homeowner John White, 46, an energy-investments operative with a lean build and deep sea-blue eyes. “Some of my art collection is visible from the street, and people driving by slow down, or even stop to take a look.”

No wonder. The internationally sourced art, co-curated by one of Houston’s top gallerists, is showcased in a stunning modern house by a local starchitect, which warmly merges splashy statement-making wall-hangings with softer elements from the natural world. “I grew up in Spring Branch, and back then it was country, pastures and land,” says the single dad of an 11-year-old son, explaining the sentimental importance of the naturalistic touches. He’s also a surfer and mountain-biking enthusiast.

No, this is not your typical contemporary, which is evident from the outside. For starters, three massive live oaks grace the property, a striking contrast to the home’s mod lines. Architect Allen Bianchi worked closely with White for a year to design a 3,700-square-foot, two-level home with views and grounds that would highlight the trees. The home’s facade itself also nods to nature, with gray brushed stone from Jerusalem, integrated with white stucco and accents of new-growth cedar.

“I was excited about John’s ideas,” says Bianchi, noting White’s dual loves of elemental materials and modern art. “I understood how important it was for the design to, in part, be focused on the art.”

And focused it is. The first traffic-stopping piece can be seen through the glass front door, a mesmerizing work by Russian artist Oleg Dou which hangs in the entry. Dou manipulated his photograph of a woman’s face to be ghostly pale, with white hair and a stark background to match; her clown-like smile of scarlet adds drama. He bought the piece from the Deborah Colton Gallery, and Colton herself consulted on the art additions. “The philosophy that John and I shared,” says Colton, “was that his collection should be from around the world and in different types of mediums.”

The foyer gives way to an expansive area that includes the living, dining and kitchen rooms, all arranged in tandem with an outdoor courtyard on the side that touts a swimming pool and a fireplace. A curved glass wall that soars all the way up to the second floor separates the open-plan indoors from the outdoor space rife with bright sunlight, rippling water and majestic trees.

That tile that spreads out underfoot—and museum-white walls—provide a clean, distraction-free backdrop for White’s treasures. “I wanted to keep everything minimal,” he says, “especially [for] the art, to let each piece be showcased.” Indeed, only one work of art hangs in the living room, an abstract by Alfredo Scaroina of Santo Domingo.

Just beyond are the overlapping dining and kitchen areas. The focal point is an evocative painting by Houstonian Joseph Cohen. The piece is all about planes of orange and yellow melting together, with paint left to dry middrip, rows of stalactites dangling across the edges.

Upstairs, new building materials are introduced. The floors are of rich reddish-brown hardwood, and there are two giant columns of cedar—one at the top of the staircase and one in the media room—which mimic elements from the exterior. “My concept was a treehouse,” says White.

The master bedroom is banked on one side with floor-to-ceiling windows. This gives White a sublime treetop vista. Of course, it also gives motorists looking in from below a pretty good view, too. No, not White in his pajamas! The painting by Spanish artist Javier de Villota. The large piece has a backdrop of gray and black with bold splashes of pink and green that drip and swirl and capture both the eye and the imagination.

Note to drivers in White’s ’hood: Buckle up and drive safely!