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Carol Isaak Barden at Handmade House; photography by Julie Soefer

The Barden Path

by Helen Thompson | Modern Luxury Interiors Texas magazine | July 9, 2012

In the decades before 9/11, Houston writer Carol Isaak Barden ( wrote about luxury hotels and restaurants for Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure magazines. Eleven years and 17 dwellings later, Barden is one of the state’s most innovative homebuilders, drawing on the luxe finishes and handmade details she experienced while covering luxury hotels in the Far East.

“I was looking at great architecture there and a different materials palette,” she says, recalling tables handmade from slabs of teak, handcrafted beds and sinks fashioned from bits of seashells. She translated this organic, custom aesthetic to the more than one dozen spec homes she’s built, and most recently she’s begun producing bespoke homes for clients. The Suyama House, designed by Seattle architecture firm Suyama Peterson Deguchi for a Houston bachelor, was finished in May. Its floor plan was designed to save two old-growth oak trees and an ornamental mesquite. The house boasts energy-saving solar panels and luscious details like a thick slab of Indonesian teak in the powder room, basalt and Japanese tiles and Italian Zucchetti fixtures in the master bath.

And while beautiful elements turn Barden’s head, it’s the nuts and bolts of building that fascinate her. “I love a good insulation package, metal ductwork, solid-core doors and a Level 5 finish on Sheetrock,” she confesses.

Barden’s Hots
The search for the right piece of property; old-growth trees; working with artists; woods like clear cedar, massaranduba, ebony, mesquite, mahogany and teak; details; good construction

Barden's Nots 
Loan committees at banks; writing checks; people who think quality is inexpensive; loud, noisy architectural statements; awful spec houses; flash drives