The Hill Bathroom

The Hill Bathroom

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." 

Exposed concrete in this 1960s Houston condo complements the product code written on the side of the porcelain tub. Photos by Dean Kaufman

Read the whole story, published in May 2007. To see more images of the project, view our slideshow.

The exterior of Hill's Houston building, constructed in the 1960s.

The words of the prophets are written on the chalkboard-paint-coated door to Hill's apartment. A painting by Mark Flood hangs behind a plaster Buddha on a chest from Cassina. The Ligne Roset cotten sofa was bought on sale.

A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new cinderblocks hides a return air vent.

Winged light bulbs, part of an Ingo Maurer fixture, bring levity to Hill's bathroom. The space features a zinc wall by Houston metalworker George Sacaris, who also did the bathroom and kitchen cabinets,

The door to Hill's medicine cabinet, made by George Sacaris, slides open to reveal a concrete wall.

With bright red hair, Hill is a standout in a gray-glass 1960s building. Her coffee table is a French mail-sorting table with the legs cut down.

A room divider by Extremis, made of sticks protruding from a rubber base, shields the bathroom.

Who needs shelves when there's plenty of floor space? Stacks of books and a framed print sit alongside a Peter Maly Ligne Roset bed, reupholstered in stiff linen.

Hill at her dining room table.

There used to be walls; now Barbara Hill's bed offers views not just of Houston, but also a French farm table surrounded by a sextet of black and white Harry Bertoia chairs for Knoll.

In Hill's kitchen, exposed pipes behind the counter have plenty of company: the pipes that form her storage units. The rug, by Chilewich, is made of vinyl.


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