In the fall of 2013, Michael Skelly and a friend, architect Joseph Meppelink, were riding their bikes through Houston’s historic east end. Skelly and his wife Anne Whitlock were looking for an industrial building to renovate and live in, and Meppelink suggest riding by a boarded-up century-old fire station he had always admired.
Skelly loved the crumbling building the minute he saw it and quickly tracked down the owner, who had recently inherited the building and three lots around it. After a long conversation she agreed to sell the firehouse to Skelly and Whitlock, but they would also have to buy the three lots, each of which had dilapidated houses on them.
Anne Whitlock and Michael Skelly had both served in the Peace Corps; they also graduated from Harvard. After Skelly got a degree in business and Whitlock received a master’s degree in public policy they agreed to spend their lives to making a difference. Buying a worn-out firehouse in an immigrant neighborhood made perfect sense to the couple.
Firehouse No. 2 was built in 1910. The brass fire poles were missing but were replaced with a pair purchased from an early-1900s fire station in Boston that was being renovated. A new concrete-slab floor was poured, and large bay doors, patterned after doors from the Fire Museum in Houston, were built.
The original bead board ceilings downstairs are 20 feet high. The color red is used downstairs, such as on this bench from George Cameron Nash which is upholstered in red Cortina cowhide.
The downstairs is designed to be more of a public venue where the couple holds fund-raisers and other events; on the second floor are the living quarters which includes bedrooms, kitchen, library, and living and dining rooms.
An antique water hose from an old fire engine is displayed under a custom glass-topped table.
The powder bath’s light fixtures hang from red ropes. Brass fire pole made by James Dawson serve as a towel holder. The two stools are antiques.
The original staircase has been updated with glass panels on the landing. A too-narrow staircase meant furniture had to be craned into second-floor windows.
Interior designer Martha Finger mixed new materials with existing old ones to mark the transition from the historic first-floor environs to the private areas above—a custom glass- and- brass chandelier hangs in the stairwell. The dog, Osso, was found abandoned on the property and adopted by Skelly and Whitlock.
Interior designer Finger helped create a minimalist space upstairs for the homeowners to live in. In the kitchen, there are white marble counters and old black stone from Chateau Domingue on the floor.
The fireplace is clad in black marble, with brass detailing by local artisan James Dawson.
Upstairs, custom sofa in Holly Hunt Great Plains. Original beadboard ceiling was painted white. Custom brass fireplace details created by James Dawson. The wood pillars are original.
Finger painted the library aubergine, and covered the windows and a custom sofa in aubergine Holly Hunt fabric. Much of the artwork and decorative pieces in the room, such as African masks and antique zebra hide rug, came from the couple’s stints with the Peace Corps.
The master bedroom is a quiet respite.
Finger topped the master bath counters with marble.
Exterior landscaping and pool design by Dorothee Sauter Helfenstein.
Renovations had already started on the fire station when the couple discovered six ornate Victorian shotgun houses nearby had been slated for demolition to make way for townhouses. Skelly and Whitlock rescued the houses which had been commissioned in 1861 by Governor Francis Lubbock. They moved the houses onto their property where the other small houses had been (they were in bad shape and had no architectural significance so the couple chose to raze them).
Another view of one of the houses.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JACK THOMPSON
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