When designer Barbara Hill decided to renovate her 1960s condo in Houston, Texas, she stripped the bathroom down to its bare bones and saw beauty in the blemishes.
For some architects, minimalism is about sleek surfaces that cost a fortune to achieve. But to Barbara Hill minimalism means living with the blemishes that remain once she’s stripped the sleek surfaces away. The raw concrete of Hill’s apartment, she notes, is anything but plain: The mottled gray surfaces evoke both the mountains near her weekend house in Marfa, Texas, and the work of minimalist artists, which she began selling more than 30 years ago. In a ceiling with rust stains and nail holes, Hill sees the natural and the man-made in beautiful profusion.
Hill, who was born in Beaumont and crowned Miss Texas in 1956, is an expert in both conventional and unconventional beauty. She has lived “with every style you can think of,” but some of her fondest memories are of the 1970s, when she turned her Houston house into a gallery, representing artists such as Daniel Buren and Sol LeWitt early in their careers. “Minimalism is where my heart is,” she says. So when she moved back to Houston a few years ago to be near her four children and seven grandchildren, she was determined to create an environment that left room for people and just a few objects.
She chose a condominium in a 1960s building, largely for the sunset views from its southwest-facing terrace. Its 850 square feet provided enough space, but little within that space was worth keeping. “It was a bachelor pad,” she says, with walls of mirrors, a white gold-trimmed Corian bar, and an entertainment center reminiscent of another Houston landmark: NASA’s mission control. Hill lived downstairs in a borrowed apartment during the construction process, ascending each morning in her pajamas to watch workers tear things out—often after a 7 a.m. consultation with her contractor, Brent McCaleb, and designer friend Carol Zimmermann, who both live in the building. “Demolition is always the most fun part,” Hill says. Soon she was down to concrete floors, a concrete ceiling, and dark gray concrete block walls—and loving it. She says, “Once I saw the exposed space, I couldn’t bear to put anything back.”
That includes a bathroom wall. “I could have had a normal closet, a normal bedroom, and a separate bathroom,” she explains. “But it isn’t what I wanted.” She adds, “I haven’t had any complaints. If people think it’s odd, they’re too polite to tell me.”