Home Lifestyle Design Upper Kirby home is a modern barn among the bungalows

Upper Kirby home is a modern barn among the bungalows
Upper Kirby home is a modern barn among the bungalows avatar

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Photo: Peter Molick

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As they worked with their architect-son Michael, Chris and Catherine Viviano described the home they wanted as a modern barn. The home's exterior has concrete brick on the lower level and larch wood cladding on the upper level. lessAs they worked with their architect-son Michael, Chris and Catherine Viviano described the home they wanted as a modern barn. The home's exterior has concrete brick on the lower level and larch wood cladding on … more Photo: Peter Molick

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The home's custom front door is made of laser-cut steel and glass.

The home's custom front door is made of laser-cut steel and glass.

Photo: Peter Molick

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From left, Michael Viviano, Catherine Viviano and Ryan Johnson make pizza in Catherine Viviano's kitchen. The family uses its outdoor pizza oven for much more than pizza.

From left, Michael Viviano, Catherine Viviano and Ryan Johnson make pizza in Catherine Viviano's kitchen. The family uses its outdoor pizza oven for much more than pizza.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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Michael Viviano carries pizza to the outdoor pizza oven at his parents' Upper Kirby district home.

Michael Viviano carries pizza to the outdoor pizza oven at his parents' Upper Kirby district home.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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A side yard, where their dog, Leo, plays, has a fence row of sweetgum trees.

A side yard, where their dog, Leo, plays, has a fence row of sweetgum trees.

Photo: Peter Molick

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Catherine Viviano likes her kitchen simple and functional. Her large island and counters are covered in soapstone.

Catherine Viviano likes her kitchen simple and functional. Her large island and counters are covered in soapstone.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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The walls of this powder room mimic the home's exterior, covered in tongue-in-groove larch wood, similar to cedar.

The walls of this powder room mimic the home's exterior, covered in tongue-in-groove larch wood, similar to cedar.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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The Vivianos have his-and-hers bathrooms in the master suite.

The Vivianos have his-and-hers bathrooms in the master suite.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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This freestanding bathtub sits between his side and her side of the master bathroom.

This freestanding bathtub sits between his side and her side of the master bathroom.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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The home is filled with an eclectic mix of furnishings, though much of it is modern in design.

The home is filled with an eclectic mix of furnishings, though much of it is modern in design.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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The Vivianos wanted a master bedroom with little furniture, so their closets do the work of dressers.

The Vivianos wanted a master bedroom with little furniture, so their closets do the work of dressers.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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This smart cantilevered buffet in the dining room has cubbies that hold dishes and barely-seen drawers that hold linens and other things.

This smart cantilevered buffet in the dining room has cubbies that hold dishes and barely-seen drawers that hold linens and other things.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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This hall between the kitchen and dining room serves as a butler's pantry and extra storage.

This hall between the kitchen and dining room serves as a butler's pantry and extra storage.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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Exeter chairs by Davis Allen for Knoll sit in a vignette in the front of the living room. An antique dresser at right holds "Copycat" table lamp by Michael Anastassiades for Flos.

Exeter chairs by Davis Allen for Knoll sit in a vignette in the front of the living room. An antique dresser at right holds "Copycat" table lamp by Michael Anastassiades for Flos.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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This dining room gets a lot of use, as the Vivianos like to linger over dinner. The table is custom by Riva 1920 and is from Itnernum. The chairs are by Poltrona Frau.

This dining room gets a lot of use, as the Vivianos like to linger over dinner. The table is custom by Riva 1920 and is from Itnernum. The chairs are by Poltrona Frau.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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Though the home's downstairs has few walls, the west side of the home forms a hall that leads from the front to the back of the home.

Though the home's downstairs has few walls, the west side of the home forms a hall that leads from the front to the back of the home.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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The front door is custom made of laser-cut steel and glass. Windows were designed so that shades could be added later.

The front door is custom made of laser-cut steel and glass. Windows were designed so that shades could be added later.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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A guest bedroom.

A guest bedroom.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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The Vivianos found this art in Colorado and said the bright colors and bold design felt "happy."

The Vivianos found this art in Colorado and said the bright colors and bold design felt "happy."

Photo: Jack Thompson

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An upstairs hall leading from the master suite in the front of the home to guest rooms and offices in back.

An upstairs hall leading from the master suite in the front of the home to guest rooms and offices in back.

Photo: Peter Molick

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The outdoor pizza oven is a favorite of the family.

The outdoor pizza oven is a favorite of the family.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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The view from the master bathroom to the door of the bedroom.

The view from the master bathroom to the door of the bedroom.

Photo: Peter Molick

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Landscaping in front of the home.

Landscaping in front of the home.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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Catherine Viviano makes pizza in her Upper Kirby district home.

Catherine Viviano makes pizza in her Upper Kirby district home.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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A partial wall separates the living and dining areas and holds a fireplace, at left, and TV, center.

A partial wall separates the living and dining areas and holds a fireplace, at left, and TV, center.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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An antique dresser holds a "Copycat" table lamp by Michael Anastassiades for Flos.

An antique dresser holds a "Copycat" table lamp by Michael Anastassiades for Flos.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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Cantilevered bathroom cabinets are part of modern design.

Cantilevered bathroom cabinets are part of modern design.

Photo: Jack Thompson

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A view of the exterior of the home, from the west side.

A view of the exterior of the home, from the west side.

Photo: Peter Molick

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The Vivianos' front porch and walkway include concrete slabs and stepping stones perfectly spaced apart.

The Vivianos' front porch and walkway include concrete slabs and stepping stones perfectly spaced apart.

Photo: Peter Molick

Upper Kirby home is a modern barn among the bungalows

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The two-story, brick home that Catherine and Chris Viviano bought in the Upper Kirby district was meant to be a temporary home, a place they'd live just long enough to design its replacement.

Living in the 1930s-era teardown would give them a sense of the site's life while their son, architect Michael Viviano, devised a plan for a new, modern home they would build on the same lot.

One day, though, Catherine was cooking dinner and she felt water dripping on her head.

"We were not really prepared to move out when we did, but the house literally started falling down around us," Catherine Viviano said, now laughing about that day. "We just needed to move out. It moved the process up by about a year."

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They leased a 1,100-square-foot bungalow around the corner while they dreamed up their new home.

Through hours of conversations, the Vivianos discussed what they did and didn't want.

Sketches were drawn and scrapped and drawn all over again.

In the end, Chris and Catherine Viviano got the home they wanted: a "modern barn" filled with a mix of contemporary furniture and family heirlooms.

And Michael Viviano got even more: the launch of a career.

Evolution to architecture

Catherine earned a degree in interior design from the University of Texas in 1981 while her high school sweetheart, Chris, studied finance there.

They returned to Houston after graduating, and Chris sold real estate before settling in the mortgage lending industry.

Catherine raised their two sons, Michael and Stephen, using her creative skills in volunteer work along the way. As they moved from home to home – from traditional suburban homes to a historic space in Southampton to a three-story transitional townhouse – she tackled substantial remodeling projects with each. That experience ultimately helped her started her own business as a contractor.

After college, Michael, now 33, considered law school, but settled on a master's degree in architecture instead. His younger brother Stephen, 30, went to medical school and now is in New York for his residency in plastic surgery.

Michael worked at Logan and Johnson – Jason Logan and Matthew Johnson were two of his UH architecture professors – after graduating. Then his parents approached him about designing a home for them.

"My mentors basically said I'd be an idiot not to do it. They said 'you cannot turn it down if you have even a passing interest in home design,'" Michael Viviano said.

His college professors helped guide him, and Viviano learned much while helping out architects Christopher and Vivi Robertson of Robertson Design. The Robertsons are family friends, and found themselves with a sudden abundance of work; Viviano had extra time, so he dived right in to help.

He's more confident now, but he's honest about the anxiety of taking that first big step. His parents wouldn't be ordinary clients he'd walk away from when the job was done. He also realized his inexperience, noting that his first architecture project would be "like drinking from a firehose."

Chris and Catherine, however, knew their son would not fail.

Going modern

A long, slender dwelling, the Vivianos' home is covered in concrete brick and larch tongue-in-groove cladding. The lower half has dramatic, floor-to-ceiling windows on the front and one side, providing a view to a simply landscaped yard with a fence row of sweetgum trees boasting their orange-red winter colors.

Catherine holds a thin concrete rectangle and explains the lower level's exterior. She wanted gray brick, but even after an exhaustive nationwide search, she couldn't find what she wanted.

They found the concrete pieces and had them cut into narrower slices – a task that proved more costly than the brick itself. Larch wood, similar to cedar, covers the second floor.

"I wanted it to be 'friendly' to the neighborhood and age and not always be the shiny penny on the corner," Michael said of his hope the wood and concrete exterior would become more beautiful over time.

He wasn't worried about the wood, but those concrete pieces were another story, so they called back the masonry crew to add a mortar smear to help it age as gray rather than tan.

All combined, the 4,100-square-foot house is clean and tight; in an accounting of materials, they hit the balance just right.

Inside, the living-dining spaces are separated by a partial wall that extends eight feet up and is covered in the same brick used on the home's exterior, except that it's painted white.

The unfussy living room has a deep navy sectional sofa flanked by two off-white chairs all resting on a gray rug that softens the concrete floors.

In the dining room, a clever cantilevered buffet has cubbies for dishes and a barely-noticeable drawer to hold linens. A white oak table surrounded by modern Poltrona Frau black leather chairs gets a lot of use, as a mixture of good food and great conversation keep the tight-knit family there here for hours even at weeknight dinners.

Catherine insisted on plenty of room in the kitchen so she can work uninterrrupted on one side of the island while guests sit around it to chat. Tough-as-nails soapstone covers the island and perimeter counters.

Outdoors in the backyard sits their pride and joy: a pizza oven. On pizza night, the kitchen island might be covered in ingredients, rolled-out dough, piles of cheese, meat and vegetables.

Upstairs has a similar, visually quiet design, with plenty of drawers and shelves in his-and-hers closets avoiding the need for a lot of furniture in the bedroom space. It's all clean and white, with shaded windows allowing just as much light as they want.

The couple's style has always been a mix of traditional furnishings with antiques, but they say it wasn't hard to let go of rooms full of furnishings and accessories.

Sure, their attic holds antiques and favorite pieces that might rotate into rooms once in a while, but an estate sale got rid of a lot of furniture they wouldn't need anymore.

"You spend one half of your life wanting, wanting, wanting, and the second half of your life saying 'no, I don't want, I don't want, I don't want.' At this stage of my life, I don't need a room that's not going to be used. There's no point having a space I consider a walk-by," she said.

A new partnership

A mixture of Michael's design skills, Catherine's contractor know-how and Chris' regular reminders about money and resale value, the new Viviano home is something they've all had a hand in.

There were times they drove each other crazy arguing about placement of stepping stones or the details of window trim, but the mother-son duo finished the project on the same wavelength – they even finish each other's sentences.

"I had to get this past my clients, my parents, knowing I was never going off on my merry way and escape the project. Anything that I would draw, anything … if the steps didn't match everyone's gait … I would never hear the end of it," Michael joked.

Mother and son now are business partners in their new Viviano Viviano design-build firm, which allows Catherine to branch out to bigger projects and provides Michael with a structure for his architecture skills.

Not only did he discover that residential design is his strength, he also found confidence as an interior designer, helping his parents select new, modern furniture for every room.

Both work from the home, and when Michael's partner, Ryan Johnson, finishes his workday, he almost always ends up at the Vivianos', where they make dinner and talk about their day.

"We are a ridiculously close family," Chris chuckles with more than a little pride.

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