Our Glass House

Our Glass House (2003 – 2007) by Suzanne G. Allen

Our glass house stands as proof that the impossible is possible. Impossible – It’s a word that would discourage many people, but for John and me the word invigorates, motivates and inspires. We heard “impossible” more than once when it came to building our house. However, others’ pessimism only increased our determination. In the process of building our house, we proved that with imagination, persistence and resolution the impossible idea becomes an achievable reality.

John originally designed our house as his bachelor pad. While many viewed his rugged and steep lot as “unbuildable,” John viewed it as the ideal setting for a glass house. He envisioned a home surrounded by the natural greenery of the Texas hill country and animated by the brilliant sun. Inspired by the contemporary styles of Phillip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe and his Boy Scout days of camping, John set out not only to design, but also to build his own expression of modern architecture that invited the outdoors indoors. John never considered his house a faraway dream; rather he always believed in its reality.

A novice to architecture, especially modern architecture, John’s house intrigued me as well, as his resolution to build it. As I grew to know and love John I also grew to understand and embrace his philosophy of a house – a functional dwelling that expresses personality and practicality. A friendship quickly turned to a relationship, a relationship to engagement and engagement to marriage. In the process, John’s vision of a bachelor pad expanded to accommodate our new life. We began building in March 2003, married in May 2003 and in November 2003 we moved into 2803 Manitou Drive as residents of our glass house.
From forming the foundation to erecting steel to framing walls to painting walls, we truly built our house. We were participants of the building process, rather than mere spectators. Of course, we can’t deny the help of friends and family who helped us build our dream. The encouragement of those who believed in our dream enough to participate in it cannot be underestimated. Whoever knew how helpful it could be to have a dad with a backhoe, a friend who could weld, and a brother with electrical know how? Each day John and I learned new skills, from carpentry to electrical to painting the color red (No one ever warned us of the trouble this color could cause!). Each day we continued our quest to build the impossible.

With the steel erected, the framing complete, and the wires run, only one item was left to complete the exterior — glass. One by one glass companies scoffed at our house, stating that it couldn’t be done. No one would make glass that large and, even if they did, no one would install it. Enter Lewis the glass man, or rather, the glass artist. He accepted our house for the challenge it provided him rather than the financial profit. Along with John, he badgered and pleaded the glass company until they agreed to build the immense sheets of glass. When the glass arrived on the truck, the driver took one look down our steep driveway, looked at the steel frame structure, dropped off the glass, said something about “crazy,” and drove away quickly. For three weeks Lewis arrived at early evening and worked till the early morning hours. Twelve sets of sliding glass doors, twenty-four sheets of glass and one casement window later, Lewis finished. Our glass house was now a reality.

With the exterior complete John and I turned our attention to the interior of our house. Given the industrial exterior, we wanted the interior to both complement the boldness of the glass and steel while also softening them enough to make our glass house, our glass home. We took advantage of the open loft-like style and chose bold colors that required the breathing space our large rooms and high ceilings provided. The vibrant interior of red, blue and yellow reflected our belief that maturity never has to mean boring. Our home’s interior provides a sense of whimsy and fun usually reserved for a child’s painting or a Picasso masterpiece.

Contemporary style rarely allows for excess, so we choose items carefully, not so much for architectural importance, but for personal significance. Photographs of family and friends give life to the walls. A kite we bought on our honeymoon flies high above the living area. The interior of our home does much more than state what we like and don’t like; rather, it expresses who we are.

We find living in a glass house a magnificent way to experience nature. Even while we take advantage of indoor comforts, we can still enjoy the beauty and expanse of the outdoors. The sun provides light more luminous than any light bulb. Thunderstorms provide magical shows of fireworks. The large glass magnifies the splendor of a full moon paired with the Texas stars shining on a summer night. While we painted the walls red, blue and yellow, nature provides its own shade of green that adds to the vividness of our home. While our home protects us from the outdoor elements, it does not hide us from the outdoors, but opens us to all of its wonder.

To explain and describe our home is so simple and yet so difficult. How do you describe a wall of glass and steel twenty-two feet high? How do you help people visualize a home that becomes a screened-in porch by way of back-to-back sliding glass doors? How do you give the sensation of a shower that doesn’t have any doors or curtains, only a glass wall that opens you to the outdoors? We find it difficult, rather impossible, to describe our house with words. You can’t explain the impossible – you just have to see it.

Our glass house was featured on the HGTV series, “Look What I Did”, on May 18, 2007.