COTE DE TEXAS: Another Ike Tale: The Grey Gardens of Galveston

Another Ike Tale: The Grey Gardens of Galveston



And now – on a much lighter note.    Maybe we should call this, how the luckiest few had to deal with Ike.    No, it’s not heartbreakingly sad like the Live Oak trees, or Bolivar Peninsula.  And no, no one will cry over this story or should for that matter.   If you did, I might have to have you committed!    After all, this is just a story of an excess that most of us will never have nor would even want.  But still, it might be of interest to some of you:  what happens when a wonderfully designed house is no more?  

A few years ago, Veranda did a cover story on a beach house in Galveston that I positively adored.  It was designed by the great – the absolute greatest of all Houston designers - Ms. Babs Watkins.    The house was delicious, all in aqua:   aqua linens, aqua toiles, aqua ceilings and even aqua painted wood floors!   Looking at the house was like looking a candy store – so delectable it was!   Watkins was at the top of her game here.  The job was large with six bedrooms and bathrooms and it could have turned out badly – a house done entirely in aqua?  Whoever heard of such a thing?    In fact, this cover story spawned a new trend in all aqua beach houses, many of which Veranda put on their summer cover, year after year.  But none of the imitators could ever come close to getting it as perfect as Watkins did.  Her unerring eye and knack for picking the most beautiful and desirable antiques is legendary in Houston.   With Watkins’ furnishings and all the finest linens and toiles, this beach house was unlike most ever seen.  It was very casual, yet in a romantic and sophisticated way – how many beach houses have  French trumeaus over their antique limestone mantels?  For years The Aqua House remained in my favorites file – in fact, it never left it.    


image A painted 19th century butcher’s table used as a console.


So, while perusing the real estate listings last year, I almost fell over when I recognized the most perfect Aqua House was up for sale.  The best part of the sale was, of course,  all the new photos of the house to pore over!   And even better, a Virtual Tour accompanied the listing.  Nirvana.   The house  eventually sold – just in time for Hurricane Ike.  I wonder if the new owners were able to even sleep a night in the house.  It is here, today, almost a year after Ike, still languishing empty and neglected – a sort of sad, upscale Grey Gardens of Galveston.   I’m not sure why it hasn’t been repaired – it all seems like minor, superficial damage, certainly nothing on a par with the slaughter of the Live Oaks going on uptown.   But, still, the house has been left to the elements – something that on the beach should always be avoided.   Maintenance is a must in the salt air.   A loyal Cote de Texas reader happened upon the Aqua House and took new pictures for me.    To read the original story of this once wonderful house, go here.





The way it was:   all linen and toile in aqua, seagrass and seashells, slipcovers and trumeaus.   The Babs Watkins designed house was first featured in Veranda in 2004.  It had been built as a weekend retreat for a Houston family with five young children.   The large family quickly sold it and then it came up for sale again last summer.  The beach house was first sold fully furnished – not even one ashtray left the house – therefore, amazingly, it looked exactly the same, despite the wear and tear of four years.



From the real estate pictures - four years after Veranda’s photo shoot and another family later, the house, amazingly, looks exactly the same.  



From Veranda – beautiful Hinson toile and tufted detailing.   The chairs are 19th century. 



Charming pompom fringe hangs over the beautifully tufted chaise in aqua linen.    The walls are cream, the trim is a light aqua, the floor is pine, with a washed aqua paint.  


From the Real Estate Virtual Tour – even the Crane sculpture remained through the first sale.   Here you can see the custom made pool table.   And notice how the ceiling is painted in the soft aqua too.



During the first sale, the entire contents of the house remained intact.   During the second sale this summer,  the custom made pool table, with aqua felt, was the only furniture that remained in the house.   The chandeliers remained, but everything else was excluded from the sale.   What a pity!  In this picture you can see the taupe and cream striped fabric that Watkins used on this side of the large living room.  


 image This oversized and awkward banquette with ottoman is my least favorite item in the house!   The banquette, built in, of course remained in the house after the second sale.  The dining room can be seen on the other side of the kitchen.



The dining room -  a beautiful wood table mixed with casual yet classic Lloyd Loom chairs. 



A small library off the foyer – Watkins used two main fabrics downstairs, the Hinson aqua toile and a taupe and cream stripe, both shown in this room with its wonderful cabinet filled with shells and pictures of shells. 



From Veranda – my favorite bedroom, though even that choice is hard, there are so many adorable bedrooms in the house!  Here are twin French iron beds with a peach linen toile and matching curtains.  Notice the mini pleat edge on the duvet and shams. 




Last summer, the house was perfectly manicured and freshly painted.




The beach house is actually on the bay side, facing a canal.  It stretches over three lots – one lot is the pool house pictured here.    So, what does the house look like today – almost a year after Ike?  The neighborhood received some damage – many houses’ ground floors were heavily damaged.  Yet, life in this very exclusive neighborhood has gone on.  There is a lot of building activity happening there now.   A Cote de Texas reader visited the still empty Aqua House and snapped these pictures:




Today.   The owl which is used to scare away seagulls with their mess is barely scaring anything today.  The landscaping looks bare but it does appear someone has top pruned, always a no-no.



Whoa.  The front side of the house with the pool house on the left.  What a difference a year makes.  Besides the green palm trees, it looks like a desolate moonscape.




The back side of the house, empty and lonely looking. 



The pool house and the infinity edge pool, green instead of blue. 



I wonder what the neighbors think?  I’m surprised the homeowner association hasn’t stepped in.



How it was last summer – the infinity edge pool overlooks the canal that leads out to Galveston Bay.  The house comes with a boat dock, of course, just barely visible at the very right of the picture.  



Now:   the screens are all falling off the ground floor porch.


IMG_1306  Now:   the pool house drawers blew away in the storm.



The pool house – how it was last summer.   Notice how fabulous the bench is, a painted French antique that would be at home in the finest mansion, much less a pool house! 


  IMG_1315  Now:   all the beautiful hardware, neglected and left to the elements, is corroding.





Today, all that remains of Watkins fabulous interior – a chandelier, the sconces found throughout the downstairs living area, and the custom pool table.  What a shame that Watkins wonderful design is now dismantled!    I wonder where all those antiques went?  Seems such a shame to break it all up.    I’m sure the former owners would disagree with me – but I’m speaking strictly as a great fan of Watkins work.



The banquette and ottoman remained – my least favorite part!   And the dining room chandelier stayed. 




Looking back towards the empty living room and kitchen.  I wonder if the new owner will keep the aqua floors, trim and ceiling?    




Today:    a shot from outside looking into the foyer – the photographer didn’t go inside the house of course!    The sconce, with the bulbs in place, seems so Grey Gardens. 



Then:  the charming foyer – as Watkins designed it.  The antique crystal sconces juxtaposed with fun vintage pink flamencos.  This painted French caned bench sports a pink and white toile.   A view into the small library, shown before.   Just beautiful!  I love this house – I can’t help it, I just love this house!!!!




Watkins took so much care to pick out each fixture.   The lanterns, once in a wonderful green, are now all rusted and trashed out looking.  I wonder what she would think?

The Aqua House makes me think of all the other wonderfully designed houses that sell, how the design is broken up and destroyed forever – with only photographs left to memorialize them.   Do you know of a house you once loved that is no longer the same?  Sally Quinn felt that way about Grey Gardens.  She loved the house it once was so much that she resurrected it.   To read my story of  Sally’s work, go here.  I wonder if the Aqua House will find a Sally Quinn?


  1. Great story joni. I was surprise how quickly that could happen. I loved the house too and it is in my favorite file as well...

  2. First of all, the house as Watkins designed it was exquisite! What a fabulous mix of rustic and elegant. I love those floors.

    But, what a shame that Aqua House has fallen into such a state! Do you think the new owners are having trouble making payments? Or perhaps they've been unable to settle up with the insurance company?

    Keep us posted if you find out more (which knowing you and your unsurpassed sleuthing skills, you will!).

  3. such a shame, such a gorgeous home, now just a run down house...

  4. Oh, that is a shame. It was such a beautiful home. No surprise here, but maybe the house is a victim of the economy as well as the storm. Deborah

  5. What a sad story. My first thoughts were fights with the insurance company.

  6. Well I guess you need to commit me, Joni, because I think this is very sad.
    I also loved that Veranda story, now I'm so bummed to see what happened to it. Lots of what I did to my own home came from that Galveston Beach house.
    So you can just take me away now.

  7. What a great (albeit sad) story...thank you (and your reader) for all the photos...before and after. Hideous banquette...but a somewhat ghostly reminder that this house was once occasionally filled with happy hosts and guests.

  8. What am I missing here? Did this happen because of Ike? Or did new owners buy it and couldn't pay for it?

    Fantastic post....and just found you on Twitter (lylahl -here) way to go!


  9. How depressing! I hate seeing beautiful homes in that condition! I hope the new owners restore it to its former glory. I am surprised to see that the homes in this neighborhood were allowed to build so close to the water without raising the elevation of the lots. In Florida, this is not allowed with new construction in order to protect homes (and pools) from flooding. Seeing this brings back bad memories of Frances and Jean. What a shame! ps - I don't like the banquette either! It would look better in a different fabric. Nancy

  10. now it is a sad house
    and as you know....hurricane season is here and they don't really hit until august and sept.
    please G-d,... not again.

    and as stated in one of your comments above...we have been hit hard 2x.
    1 - hurricanes
    2 - economy

    love xx

  11. Joni,

    The house is my favorite, as well. I fell in love with it when I saw it in Veranda- the blue floors, the toiles, the incredible blue painted antiques!! It was my dream house, if I ever had enough money to even replicate anything in it. I guess we can fall in love with houses, because what a heartbreaking story.

  12. Wow, I still have that issue of Veranda... I remember pouring over and studying every last detail/picture about that beach house and wanting a hint of aqua somewhere, ANYWHERE in my house!

    It is so sad to see it now..being a Realtor, I do not understand how people can just abandon a home like that... amazing... Maybe your post will be seen by a new "buyer"!! :)

  13. It's a beautiful house and can be again. Some friends of mine fought with an insurance company while more and more damage was done to their home. Maybe the same thing happened here.

    Thanks for sharing those pics, Joni. I did enjoy seeing the pretty interiors. Love all the colors.


    Sheila :-)

  14. I was just down in Galveston last weekend. So sad to see all of the beautiful live oaks without their leaves.
    I've been saving that issue of Veranda as well and have two of those fireplace surrounds in my house. Too bad I don't have the rest of the furnishings!

  15. 'Tis sad to see the crumbling decay,
    but the is a stark reminder that
    Change Happens ... .
    nothing is static.

  16. Hi Joni! Oh, my goodness! What a pretty aqua house and it's so sad now! Do you think the owners didn't have enough insurance? Or many they didn't record all the wonderful things and what they cost - you have to prove or you lose around here! Another good post.
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  17. Hi Joni, that's a sad story too. But that's how humans are - some can cherish things that have been created with much love and commitment - others just don't care. They just don't get it.

    I don't really have such a story of a house besides in my own family:
    my mother lived in a small house and when my stepfather died the arrangements were that she would have the right to live in the house until her very end. She sacrificed her heritage in favour of the 2 sons of my stepfather. The first thing that my stepbrother did, when my mother died in January this year, was cutting down all the wonderful huge old rose bushes in her garden. They were more than 20 years old and you cannot imagine how beautiful it looked in summer.
    My heart was bleeding when I saw what this dumb guy did to them. I will never return to that house again.

  18. Oh Joni, I remember this home as well. I loved the washed out aqua greens and the wonderfully pink flamingos in the house. Just a sad story to hear of it's decling state at this time. I hope that the house can once again become a home and be loved once more.
    Thanks for sharing!

  19. It is SAD! Someone could skip getting a designer and just redecorate the same exact way it was done in Veranda. Great Post!

  20. Oh, I wish I could be that Sally Quinn!

    m ^..^

  21. I wonder if they didn't have flood insurance.

    I know am on the lookout for two wonderful Flamingos for my foyer. And, this issue of Veranda

  22. I remember when I saw that cover and couldn't wait to open up the magazine! Okay, I'm not crying, but this really is sad to see all of that beauty now looking like Grey Gardens. After seeing seeing this edition of the magazine, I tried to convince my husband that our back porch wood floor needed to be painted aqua (I wasn't able to convince him). laurie

  23. It doesn't look as though there was flooding in the house, or maybe just hard to tell? Love Babs Watkins work and hate to see this. Thanks for sharing even this sad story.

  24. weird !! . the only bad element (the snooker table) remain no wonder why ? .. any way life goes on .

  25. I am still astounded by the long lasting impact of Ike. But don't forget, another hurricane of sorts hit since last year - the financial crisis, and the banking system collapse, not to mention the recession. I wonder if some of these contributed to the downfall of this beautiful house? Perhaps a hedge fund guy bought the house, and it is now in foreclosure.

  26. I saved those Veranda photos in my most precious do not lose file... I am heartbroken to see this place, though one has to assume there are more issues at work that mother nature for it to be abandon this long and languishing in this unforgiveable way.

    I am working on a post on a similar situation I have been following. This kind of thing is unacceptable.

    Be well, Joni!

  27. I get very attached to great homes & their stories. This home indeed is (was) stunning. The aqua is out of this world wonderful. We took a drive to Galveston in Jan. & was shocked as how slow the rebuilding process is going. Is so horribly sad, just as this wonderful home.
    There were many homes in Palm Springs that were demolished (several during the night) without the knowledge of the preservation board. Many of these had great architectural value & designed by some of the greatest architects of that era. I always say "shame on you". Thanks for the lovely post.

  28. Such a beautiful house. What a shame. I would love to know what happened, why someone left it to "die".

    And DT (above), the architectural demo atrocities that go on in Palm Springs, as well as most of So Cal are awful. "Shame on you" is right!

  29. That's not too much lighter of a note Joni!...but, I also love this home for the patina and thoughful design, and hope it is treated well. I know you just want to jump right in there and do it up, don't you?

    Enjoy your holiday :)


  30. I loved the aqua washed floors before the damage.
    What a shame that someone is letting this happen to such a wonderful place.

  31. A very sad story but I still wish it will have a happy ending!

  32. It still has great bones. I too first thought insurance and foreclosure on seeing the situation. Since the house itself doesn't look too damaged I'd guess the latter, or struggling to prevent it.

    Actually, I was thrilled to hear that the furniture escaped the devastation. The trumeau saved!, the chairs, saved!. The house will be revived eventually, since it is a wonderful space even empty.

  33. It appears either bank owned or an extremely tacky family were the second owners. The manner in which it sits guarentees a for sale sign for a long time. To take so little care of what was a lovely home is shocking & shameful, hence my tacky family conclusion. I've had to come in many times & work with such disasters & usually its bank owned. Im hoping it is indeed a foreclosure otherwise this is beyond sad. It disgusts me.

  34. ...But amazing in an odd/sad way that it will be immortalized how it was. Funny how things can change so fast.

    Hopefully it'll be loved back to life.

  35. That was really interesting. It still looks in pretty good shape, I was afraid you're after pics inside would be terrible. The landscape in really bleak...nothing that can't be redone, though. Thanks for sharing this, Joni!

  36. My sister who lives in Baton Rouge said Ike was just as bad as Katrina, but didn't get the same kind of press.... such a sad tale. I hate to see an unloved house.... especially when the original was such a gem.

  37. Thank you for posting this story. We lost our beach house on Bolivar and it's just so disappointing to see a house still there that has been abandoned! I hope someone will see the potential and bring this beauty back to life!

  38. Beautiful blog. I had a wonderful visit. Stop by when you can. Connie

  39. How sad to hear of the fate of this beautiful beach house. It is one of my all time favorites too! It inspired me to add touches of aqua to my home. If they're ever looking for a caretaker, I'm their girl. Oh, isn't Babs Watkins a man?

  40. It is also important to know information about your location's flood risk to have an idea on how much water might get into your place. Info can be avail in floodplain management office or building department. Anyone can be a victim of financial difficulties because of the damages that brought about by flooding.

  41. Sad story, absolutely gorgeous home? Anyone care to take a stab at how I might try to paint my floors like those in the house?