“I think a lot of people will miss the charred wood unless they have it pointed out and explained to them,” says AIA Houston Executive Director Rusty Bienvenue. Luckily, the architects for the nine homes included on this year’s tour will be on hand to do just that. “That’s one of the nice aspects of the tour. People can ask [the architects] questions, engage them in conversations about what they’ve done, why they’ve done it.”
Visitors can tour the nine homes over a weekend. It’s a self-guided tour in that you’re on your own to get from place to place and while the architects are in attendance, there are no docents in the houses. People meander through the homes (wearing paper booties to protect the floors) and ask the architects questions if they have them.
There are no shocking, “Oh my God, can you believe they did that?” features for any of the houses on this year’s tour. (A previous tour included a house with a spiral staircase that went up through a three-story closet.) “We select the houses based on the features and flow, how they go together, not [shock value].”
There’s also no unifying theme or style for this year’s tour. And that’s a good thing, says Bienvenue. “I think this is the most diverse tour we’ve had as far as architectural styles are concerned. [The homes] are clean and uncluttered, but that’s what architecture should be generally.
"The Oberland Street house designed by Natalye Appel harkens back to Texas vernacular, which is very different. The Braesvalley house is much like a chateau."
“These houses are built specifically for these homeowners. There are so many different things that different people want so there’s no one feature that all of the houses share. There are a number of them that have indoor areas with long expanses of sliding glass that bring the outside in. You can open up a whole wall. I love that, especially for Houston.
“Here each house is very different. I think that speaks to the diversity of Houston. I think it makes the statement that you can have great architecturally designed houses without the project being budget-busters. Some of the houses on this year’s tour were not expensive houses.
"There’s a misconception that if you’re going to hire an architect, the house has to be really expensive and the architect is going to charge you an arm and a leg. Architects actually work with the clients to keep costs down; they work with the clients to choose energy-efficient materials so that the house performs better over time. Builders don’t do that.
"With an architect you’re going to get a house designed for you, not for anyone else. When you hear builders talk about a custom home, that means you get to choose between a couple of tiles. That’s not something that was built just for you."
This year’s homes include The Pavilion Haus (seen above), home of studioMET partner Shawn Gottschalk. The house won a Design Award for Residential Architecture for 2016 from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Houston Chapter, and studioMET Architects was named AIA Houston’s Firm of the Year.
Insider tips: Take a good look at a map of this year’s tour and make a plan. Your tickets allow you admission for both days, but with a little logistical planning, you can see all of the houses on the AIA tour in one afternoon.
Use the AIA Home Tour app and download turn-by-turn driving instructions to your car’s navigation system.
No photography is allowed during the tour.
Respect closed doors on the tour. Some owners want to show you their tricked-out closets. Some won’t. Ditto for some master bedrooms. (A bit of a cheat, we think, but we understand the need for some privacy.)
No, you can’t use the bathroom while visiting a house. “We want you to see the bathrooms, not use them,” says Bienvenue.
Watch where you park. Make sure not to block neighbors' driveways. (Sloppy, haphazard parking during the tour is sure to make the homeowners very unpopular with their neighbors.)
And finally, keep your negative comments on the down low while you’re in the houses. Owners won’t be present at their own homes, but they will be among those visiting the other houses. Assistants, designers and others related to the projects will also be alongside you on the tour and they won’t be wearing big neon signs identifying themselves. It could get awkward if you say, “This is a lot better than that last house. That house was crap!” in front of the homeowners or a member of the design team of said crappy home. (You can be a loud jerk once you get back in the car.)
Take the AIA Houston Home Tour noon to 6 p.m. October 29 and 30. For tour details, including a complete listing and map of this year's homes, visit aiahouston.org or call 713-520-0155. $25 full tour; $20 full tour for bike riders; $10 single home tickets.