Dear Polia...

A place to share my many interests in Architecture, Art, Design, Travel, and Culture.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Houston Living: "Urban Flight", 7 reasons to leave the Suburbs and move to Houston

The gardens at Bayou Bend.
Houston is a constantly evolving town and it really wasn’t that long ago when “Suburban Flight” was in full swing.  Moving companies in Sugarland, TX and surrounding suburbs were busy getting people out of the city and into new subdivisions scattered on the once pristine country side. Times have certainly changed, now it's more common to meet people who are heading back into the city. In my experience, and after countless conversations with newcomers, I've compiled a quick list of why cities, like Houston's Inner Loop, beat the suburbs when it comes to high-quality living.

1. Cut the commute. Proximity between residence, work, and entertainment is hard to come by in the sprawling landscape of Suburbia.  With gas prices continually on the rise and valuable time lost in long, traffic-heavy commutes, many adults find their quality of life - and finances - are improved by city living.

2. New Urbanism. If you read my blog you know I'm passionate about smart urban planning. As Houston continues to revitalize blighted downtown areas, create new infrastructure, invest in public transportation, and improve the local landscape, it quickly becomes a magnet for suburbanites looking to make the world a better place.


White Linen Nights in The Heights.
3.  Food, shopping: Houston is a very diverse port city, and its "Inner Loop" urban area offers the foodie a wide range of ethnic, fusion, locavore and many, many fabulous restaurants! Unlike suburban strip malls, which are loaded with big box stores, Houston neighborhoods still boast plenty of community-oriented mom-and-pop boutiques; from locally made fashions in Rice Village to Antique stores in The Heights, Houston has a something for everyone.

4.  You can walk! Suburban life involves a hefty amount of driving, and the long distances and lack of sidewalks in Houston's suburbs discourage walking or biking, forcing residents into a sedentary life.  Moving to the city means residents can often walk or bike to their destinations and enjoy the many wonderful neighborhood parks and jogging trails.

Lilly meets the neighbors.
5.  Get to know your neighbors. It's ironic, people move to the suburbs to be "safe" and then they isolate themselves in their houses without a clue about their neighbors. In our more densely populated city neighborhoods we get to meet our fellow Houstonians through afternoon walks with the dog, quick chats on the porch, or waiting in line at the local "farm-to-table" establishment. By knowing our neighbors and forming bonds we look out for one another.


6.  Entertainment. The list of things to do in Houston is endless: Museums, restaurants, live music, theaters, tours of historic homes and gardens, pottery classes, athletic activities, volunteering, you name it! Houston is rich in culture and entertainment and all this can make evenings and weekends or nights much more lively than suburban life.

7.  It's affordable...for now. Watch out! With all the focus Houston is getting from famous publications and blogs, the affordable housing opportunities may not last for long, but if you're ready to make the move, I recommend hiring a professional moving company like Sugarland movers, who know the area and will make your transition as seamless as possible. My dog Lilly and I will keep an eye out for you!

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pages from my journal

This morning my friend Michael Baumgarten (wonderful artist and co-owner of Seriously Mabel Greetings) invited me to attend a live figure drawing session at Archway Gallery in Montrose. It had been a long time since my last session with a model and I have to admit that I was a bit rusty. 

The session started with a very challenging motion sequence in which our model kept a continuous, slow flow of movement instead of holding poses. I felt like I was playing catch up with my pencil, struggling to at least capture his line of motion in quick gestural strokes.  After this whirlwind warm up the 1 minute sequence was such a luxury! Our model then transition to holding the poses for 5 minutes and 10 minutes, allowing us to capture details, shades, and shadows.






Archway Gallery holds live figure drawing sessions regularly, visit their site for more information: http://www.archwaygallery.com








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Sunday, December 15, 2013

From Russia with love

 
It's cold in Houston, really cold (38 degrees kind of cold!), and what a better way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon than to wander the halls of the Museum of Natural Science.  The Museum has been recently renovated and new exhibits have been added; there is an expanded dinosaur hall and a wonderful Egyptian room (dark, cavernous, and full of treasures).  There are also several traveling exhibits: the Cave Paintings at Lascaux (which earlier this year I saw at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and I greatly recommend), Gemstone Carvings, and Faberge: A Brilliant Vision. 
 
 
 
I found the Faberge exhibit terribly appropriate for this time of year, a whole portion of it is dedicated to work that Faberge created for the Nobel brothers (as in Nobel prize Nobel) and which contains gorgeous diamond pieces in the shape of snow flakes.
 





 
 
There were also several cigarette cases and "presentation" boxes depicting beautiful scenes of Father Christmas and Old Man Winter (again, very appropriate!)
 

 
 
And of course, also included in the exhibit, the famous eggs and many, many sparkling beauties! 
 


 
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Spanish Revival, San Antonio edition

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I love visiting San Antonio, a charming city full of history and tradition, part Spanish, part Victorian, part German, and wholly Texan.  Most people who visit San Antonio head straight for a stroll along the River Walk and a photo op at the nearby Alamo, but San Antonio de Bexar has a lot to offer; having been there and done that, John and I now prefer to spend our time in San Antonio doing "architectural tourism" and eating at quaint neighborhood cafes  in the King William neighborhood - we recommend Mad Hatters for breakfast and Azuca for a Latin fusion dinner and live salsa music and dancing.
In this trip we joined other visiting Houstonian friends, Landscape Architects Frank Brown and Mark Scioneaux, and had the opportunity to explore the city from a garden point of view, stopping along the way for Frank to take pictures of exotic plants and intricately wrought gates.  Frank and Mark also introduced us to Alamo Heights, a beautiful neighborhood set under the shadow of centenary oaks and gently rolling hills. 

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Perhaps it is nostalgia for San Antonio's colonial past or simply a compliance with 1920's architectural fashion, but Alamo Heights is heavily populated with Spanish Revival houses, the kind of lovely buildings with idealized geometries that exist not in Andalucía but in the imagination of architect Addison Mizner and Maurice Fatio. Here are some of favorite, including the McNay Art Museum, former residence of oil heiress Marion Koogler McNay:
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House in Alamo Heights, San Antonio, Texas
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House in Alamo Heights, San Antonio, Texas.
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The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.
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Link to McNay Art Museum full photo album:
McNay Art Museum
McNay Art Museum Slideshow:
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Friday, July 19, 2013

How does your garden grow?

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We recently adopted a dog from Shaggy Dog Rescue, her name is Lilly and she is the sweetest dog you'll ever meet.  Lilly came to us with a weight problem and we immediately put her on a diet and a strict exercise regime.  Walking Lilly has opened a new world of exploring opportunities; I thought I was pretty familiar with my Houston neighborhood of The Heights, but it turns out there are streets I had never visited, parks I had never seen!
 
I try to take a different route every day, but after several weeks of this routine, I have found myself treading specific streets which take us by my new favorite houses and gardens; one such street is Peddie, where one morning I came upon two houses set amid beautiful English gardens.
 
One of the houses, it turns out, is owned by a landscape architect, and this is evident in the care and inventiveness of the flower beds and gravel paths.  Unlike most houses in the neighborhood, which are outfitted with a fence or a clear demarcation between the public and private realm, this front garden encroaches exuberantly onto the sidewalk, and welcomes the neighbors to partake in its beauty and its shade, with the charming placement of benches and follies:
 
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Lilly enjoys this garden and its companion across the street, she enjoys the smells and the sights and if I am not careful she can get lost under the flowers searching for lizards and other critters:
 
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Our neighborhood has a reputation of being a friendly place with a real sense of community, which I attribute to its traditional and walkable urban design, the use of porches in the houses, and the proximity between housing, culture, and entertainment. Walking Lilly is really allowing me to fully enjoy these aspects of The Heights and to discover its people who, I will confirm, are a friendly, interesting, diverse, and international bunch .
 
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Lilly makes new friends.
 
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Windy City

I recently went to Chicago and the visit stirred some early memories:


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The Chicago skyline.
 
My cousin Ana Maria and I had come to spend the winter in Chicago (summer break in Nicaragua) at my aunt's house, we were 10 and as part of our entertainment we had been invited to perform folkloric dances on a children's show for the local Telemundo channel.
 
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Navy Pier seen from the gardens of the Field Museum.
 
After our performances we sat down for a chat with the hostess and she asked Ana Maria and I if we were enjoying the city; we had been "everywhere", we said, seen "everything", but my favorite thing to see in Chicago, I said, were the buildings! 
 
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The Art Deco tower that houses the Chicago Board of Trade. 
 
I remember thinking that the hostess was not impressed with my answer, I think my cousin's favorite Chicago moment was somehow cooler than my "I like looking at buildings"...but it was true!  I loved the massive colonial buildings in Leon, the neoclassical arcades in Granada, and the 1700th century Church of Saint Anne in our hometown in Chinandega.  The Mayan ruins in El Salvador and Guatemala from our road trip the year before had been, until now, the architectural highlight of my young life, but now Chicago presented me with buildings of a scale and intricacy I had never seen!
 
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The Field Museum, Chicago.


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The Art Institute of Chicago.
 
I liked buildings and I wanted to make buildings.  Back in Nicaragua I told my family about our adventures in the big city, and one of my aunts mentioned the word "architect" and how an architect creates buildings; I was hooked, there was no looking back...
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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Moving with Antiques: How to transport your most invaluable possesions

House in The Heights. Houston, Texas.
 
The Houston Real Estate market is very busy, particularly in "The Heights," a great historic neighborhood just north of downtown Houston, where I happen to live; it seems everybody is flocking to The Heights these days, and with so much relocation going on in our city I thought it would be a good idea to write a post and spread some advice on the matter.

As with any specialized service, moving antiques -be they furniture, jewelry, photographs, etc. - comes with a host of best practices. Losing or damaging any of the aforementioned items, especially if they have sentimental value, could be heartbreaking. Protect your antiques (and your heart) by taking the following precautions on what is arguably the most dangerous day of the year for your belongings: moving day.
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17th Century French chest from Kirby Antiques in Houston.
To develop this list, I enlisted the help of Coleman American, a premier Houston Moving Company. Here's what they told us:
 
Packing is half the battle…
Packing your items correctly will make a profound difference. Whether you do it yourself or with the help of a professional, the materials you use can also be the difference between a successful journey and… well, the opposite of that. Depending on the antique's size, weight and fragility, you should use varying amounts of the following materials for protection:
  • Double- and triple-walled cartons
  • Cushioning wrap / stretch wrap
  • Packing tape
  • Fine tissue and craft paper
 
You should also label your cartons appropriately. Stickers that read Do Not Load, Fragile and Do Not Pack will give others a truly valuable frame of reference.
 
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19th century Austrian Empire Style Vitrine from Carl Moore Antiques in Houston.
 
 
Take preemptive measures.
Smart people know that the best offense is a good defense. When it comes to transporting priceless belongings, defense (conveniently) is all you really have. The following steps will reduce the likelihood that something will go terribly wrong in transit:
  • If possible, secure any loose parts or removable pieces with none-permanent methods, i.e., no superglue.
  • Any moving parts on furniture should be held down with rubber straps or strings.
  • If possible, remove protruding pieces like drawer handles and secure them inside the same drawer for easy access.
  • Remove any exposed glass/mirrors and cover them with stretch wrap and padding.
  • Upon removing any small hardware/pieces from your antiques, place them in labeled plastic bags and then in a labeled parts box.
 
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Painted Venetian Sofa from Kay O'Toole in Houston.
 
Know what should be moved by YOU.
Just because you hired a moving company doesn't mean they have to move everything. Some things, though they may not be antiques per se, still assume equal amount of importance in life. These may include:
  • Birth certificates
  • Medical records
  • Photographs
  • Essential prescription medications
  • Stock certificates, bonds and notes
 
All of these items are, for all intents and purposes, irreplaceable; keep them with you at all times, your inner peace will thank you.
For more moving help check out Coleman’s Ultimate Pre-move Checklist.
 
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