A quick note.  I’ve been sitting on this story for a while; I thought it was frivolous during this time of world turmoil and all the suffering in Ukraine.  I’m just going to post it and hope that maybe we will have  few moments of escape.  As always, Ukraine, we stand with you!!

In case you aren't sure what iconic meant I thought I would  look it up myself (just to be sure:)

Now that I feel confident using the word iconic about these two designers and this house, let’s get started!




This iconic house, the focus of the story, is probably familiar to Cote de Texas readers as well as lovers of Veranda Magazine.  


The house was designed in 1937 by another iconic Houston figure, architect Joseph Finger.  It was first featured in Veranda Magazine in 1999 which showcased the work of its designer Babs Watkins.


And, more than a decade later in 2012, it was also seen in the book, “The Houses of Veranda.”

Watkins was such a force in Houston, her shop was one of a kind.  Designers and customers would line up waiting for the doors to open after a new shipment was announced. 





The house she decorated is located in the iconic, (enough already – I promise!) tony neighborhood of River Oaks, and it sits on a beautiful corner lot close to the country club and right off the boulevard.

The then owners had chosen Babs Watkins, a decorator known for her early visionary “Houston Look,”  to furnish their newly purchased, large house. They had just moved to Texas after spending twenty years in New York City.  The family loved the original windows and resisted pleas to replace them with newer models.   The large windows let in light throughout the house, something the owners loved after being in a dark NYC apartment.

  Babs brought her unique style to the rooms, filling them with feminine antiques curated from Italy and France.


It seems like yesterday when that 1991 issue of Veranda came out and devotees of Babs’ style studied every detail of each photo of the white, French inspired house.  The magazine story highlighted a new way of decorating, actually an anti-decorative look.  The finished spaces resembled a manse in France filled with antiques collected by generations over the years. 

The focus was not on bright, expensive fabrics or on new furniture, instead, the house was filled with yards of plain white linen, muted velvet, simple seagrass rugs, and aged settees, chairs, and tables.   The furniture was small in scale as opposed to large, and the family enjoyed moving the diminutive pieces from room to room.    Babs had created a French chateau in Texas and it was mesmerizing.   



After the magazine and the book came out, the house was put up for sale in 2016 and wow!  All the photos of rooms not seen in Veranda could now be seen online.

Finally!   A chance to see Babs’ work in its entirety.



The Joseph Finger 1937 French styled house, as it was seen in the Real Estate photos.  Those curved box Versailles-inspired beds would soon be replaced.



Once the house finally sold in 2016…something exciting started happening.  Photos of a house that looked strangely similar began showing up on Instagram:



  Photo from Instagram.

It was impossible not to see that the photos on Instagram showed the same house Babs Watkins had decorated, which created great excitement!  Especially because of whose Instagram the photos were found:  Randy Powers of J. Randall Powers.

Was Powers really heading up the decorating team for the home Babs had once so wonderfully decorated?

Apparently yes.   Additionally, Curtis & Windham was handling the construction work.  These companies are two of the most respected names in Houston home decor and building, so there was no doubt the classic Joseph Finger house was once again in excellent hands.

   For months, even years, more photos popped up on Instagram while the house was being restored.  Some even showed the installation of a Gracie wallpaper.   But mostly the photos were very few and far between. 

Most likely the only hope of ever seeing the new Powers interiors was that one day they would show up in a magazine or design book.





So, it was a great surprise last month to see the classic French house was up for sale, yet again.

The HAR real estate photos show that the house has been completely and beautifully renovated by Powers and Curtis & Windham.  No stone has been left unturned.

And it is all soooo pretty!

Of course it is!


BEFORE:  2016 Real Estate Photos

Above, this shows the 1936 era house as it looked after Babs Watkins had decorated it and the noted Sarah W. Lake had landscaped it.


AFTER:  Today, the house has a new slate roof, whereas before it was composition.  The difference between the slate roof and the composition roof is great and makes the extra expense so worthwhile.  The Versailles styled box beds were replaced with much more subtle landscaping.  Stone sidewalks were added to the sides of the house allowing for a large front yard, which causes the house to look even larger on the lot.  Overgrown trees were removed which further streamlined the landscaping.    New shutters which are copies of original ones flank the windows and a new pure white paint job completes the facade’s changes.


BEFORE:   The original backside.   The bay window housed the breakfast room.  This area was lost when the new addition was built.


Before: Veranda photoshoot.   Babs Watkins’ breakfast room.  Beautiful photo by Peter Vitale.  Styling by the late, great Chris King. 

The door to this bay window was a later addition, allowing for access to the courtyard.


Before:   The large, long addition to the right, created an L shaped house.  More curvy box beds.


Before:   The swimming pool, off the garage, was a hidden oasis behind gates and ivy fences.   

AFTER:  You can see there has been a big change to the back facade.  A new addition was built on the left side of the house, adding a family room and larger kitchen.  The bay window breakfast room was lost to the addition.   But, notice another bay window was added to the addition on the left – a homage to the original design, down to its metal roof.   A trio of new doors in the dining room replace old windows.   And the swimming pool is moved closer to house where it becomes the focal point in the courtyard.

After:  The open air pool house is off the new garage.

After:  Looking from the pool to the house.



After:  From the house, with the newly constructed garage at the right.


BEFORE:  An aerial shows the house with its large addition on the left and the center front sidewalk.  The pool is hidden out past the house.  And on the left, a large grassy lot sits next to the boulevard.


AFTER:  You can see the additional footage with the new garage and addition at the right of the house.  Notice the front parterre beds!!!  So cute!

Previously the house was grand at 8,115 sq. ft.

Now, the house is 11,264 square feet plus an additional 1285 for the garage apartment. 

Still, the lot is large enough to handle the house plus allow for the side yard on the boulevard.

Before:   The side yard on the corner looking at the original addition.


After:   The original addition with a redesigned side sitting area along with new awnings.  To the left is the batting cage and to the right is the front courtyard.

Looking at this, it appears that the original addition was added past the two story area with the upper windows where the clerestory windows are.  That makes sense from the inside too, because that room is massive and it probably was 1/3 the size before it was enlarged. 

       After:   The batting cage at the side yard.  The pool house is behind it.  How fun for boys, young and old!  And girls too!  Just not THIS girl.  LOL

     Before:  The front courtyard, to the left of the front door.  Original brick patio.  Notice the shutters.  I had thought that the shutters on the house were new, but now I see that the new shutters are either original or reproduced.  Great touch!     

After:  The same courtyard with the new pavers that match all the other outdoor spaces.  And there is a new fountain and fireplace.  Nice!!!

AFTER:  The front door, original.  New Versailles planters.

First, a note about design in Houston:

This house was decorated by Babs Watkins about 25 years ago.  Her style was a very undecorated look.  There weren’t any upholstered pieces in pricey hand printed fabrics.  Instead, it was white slips and seagrass and mirrors – a look that evolved into the Houston Look.  It was easy to obtain without a designer – a few beautiful antiques, a good slipcover seamstress, and someone who could paint walls that looked as if they were hundreds of years old.
Slowly with time, this has all changed and this house has changed with the times as you will see. 
In other words, design evolves.  But – both Watkins decor and Powers decor is classic design, just different styles of classic.

Joni, can we go inside already??? Please???


Before:   The same front door.  Architect Joseph Finger was known for this staircase design.  He repeated it in another house in Houston.  Notice the settee.  The owners would move this, later.

      Another Joseph Finger house with a similar entrance, a sister to the Watkins house.  Read about this house’s renovation HERE.

     BEFORE:  Real Estate.  The Babs Watkins foyer.  Filled with French antiques.   The settee was replaced with this white sofa. 

The doorway next to the chest leads directly to the dining room.  The view from the front door is extended to the entry through the dining room and on to the back yard.

      AFTER:  Randy Powers.  A center table was used, along with beautiful Gracie paper that sets the tone for a house filled with color.  The foyer says this is a young family, filled with a lust for life, a love of beauty and an attraction to classic decor.   
Notice the
marble floor in the entry!  Love that touch!

Per Instagram, 130 panels of Gracie Paper went up in this house.  It took a year from planning to installation.  Amazing.

During construction, this photo was leaked on Instagram.  Wow!  I almost had a heart attack when I saw it, it was so beautiful and so exciting!!

Notice how PERFECTLY the paper was produced (Powers’ talent for sure) – the tree under the landing is at the perfect height with the one branch over the door,  as is the tree next to it, reaching up to the ceiling.

This is why you hire someone like J. Randall Powers and Christopher Alexander.

NOTE:  In a new decor magazine, I saw a dining room that had a similar paper that was mismeasured.  There was a foot – A FOOT – of blank paper at the top!!!  No allowance was made for 10’ ceilings instead of 9’.  What a disaster.  And again, this is why you hire an expert, like Randy.  The paper in this house is perfection!!!!

Now, let’s go back and look at the paper here – notice the closet with the branches wrapping around the corner and growing up above the door.  And in the door foyer, the tree fits just perfectly!  Of course it does.
Notice the marble on the table is orange-ish which matches the marble in the foyer.


      BEFORE:   Through the foyer straight to the dining room with the windows’ view of the back courtyard.

From the Veranda book, a gorgeous French iron table barely seen through the sheer cloth.  Antique Louis XVI chairs with white upholstery. Crystal sconces with a modern Venetian chandelier.

Oh, this is just such beauty from Babs.  She had such a great eye.


      Another view with a French buffet in white and gilt trim.  Extra large antique candelabra.

      BEFORE:   The real estate photos show some changes from the Veranda photoshoot.  The chairs are different, and so is the table.   Babs might have brought some furniture over from her shop for the photoshoot.   Not sure why they didn’t turn the lights on for the real estate photos.  Notice the steel windows – these will be replaced in the renovation.

      AFTER: From Instagram. 

The Gracie paper is matched to the foyer since the rooms are right off each other and a different paper would have caused too much visual conflict.

The original windows were replaced with these doors which are identical to the ones in the house.  It’s a great idea because you see more out the doors than the shorter windows, plus it increased the flow to the outside.

 Again, notice this panel with the hanging basket – a focal point – perfectly placed between the two doors.  This doesn’t happen by accident, folks.

      AFTER:   Straight off the foyer, the dining room has deep peach silk curtains with a traditional table and beautiful painted chairs.  The peach continues the colors from the marble in the entrance hall.   To the left is the living room and the kitchen is to the right. 
    It looks like there are new wood floors, wide planked.   

      Before:  From the foyer with a glimpse of the living room. 


Before:   Veranda photoshoot.  The living room is pure Babs Ethereal, just beautiful.
Wow.  I just love this.  I always did.  I always will.  Nothing will ever replace this for me!!  Yes, I’ve moved on but I very easily get pulled back in with very little effort.  
I miss Babs.
She was such a nice person, always a smile in her shop for her customers/fans.  I loved the way she was always so casually dressed, but in a chic, offhanded way.
I was always so in awe of her talent.  Her eye.  But of course I was too shy to talk to her!   To turn back the hands of time.
I mean…look at that room!  She decorated it like it was in Bordeaux, not like a house where Texas oil & gas barons lived.
How many of us have a gilt sunburst mirror like that?  That’s Babs.

Before:  Real Estate.  There are of course many changes from the Veranda photoshoot.  It needed a stylist and lighting.  

I like the way the screens looks at the window with the settee there. 

Lets move up twenty five years – a quarter of a century to today.

AFTER:   It’s like the room grew up.  Wow.  The rug is gorgeous and it brings it all together.  Gorgeous!  Silk velvet antique chairs.  A new antique (oxymoron) fireplace paired with modern art.

Notice the doorway to the salon with a trumeau that matches the window.  An ingenious detail!!

And notice how Randy paid an homage to Babs with the French chairs, light enough to move around when a conversation strikes up.


   Instagram:  John Fowler inspired curtains.  Chinoiserie tea table for a dark grounding accent.   Another accent – crown molding trim.

I love the mix of the colors.

  Another view of the long wall across the fireplace.  Quilted sofa and modern art that may have inspired the color theme of the living and dining rooms.


Before:  The Salon – the original long addition to the side of the house.  The walls were beautifully painted in the style that Babs loved.  Her shop had similar walls.  The artist?  Jay Iarussi.  Iarussi created all these dreamy walls for Babs, in this house and others.  Be sure to check his IG to look at this current art work!!  
For the Veranda photoshoot, she placed furniture around that looked good in photos but maybe not in real life because the real estate photos looked nothing like this.
Another Veranda photo – near the back part of the room.   This Italian settee was a style that Babs particular liked – there was always one like this in her wonderful shop.

Real Estate:  Years later.  A room rarely looks like the magazine photo.  

Note:  You can see where the original addition begins – where the wall juts out and the ceiling beam is.

I’ll stop now.  It makes me sad because it has changed so much.

The room is a hard one.  It is long and not especially deep.  To fill it up would take a houseful of furniture. 


Veranda.  I wanted a candelabra just like this for years.  Beautiful photo of Iarussi’s walls.



BEFORE:  At the end of the salon is a large bathroom that leads to the pool.

Let’s see what Randy did with this room.

AFTER:   For the salon, the room was divided into two parts, turning it into a place to entertain both small and large groups, or just the family.

First, the cold stone floor was replaced with a warm wood floor.

Off the living area, the room opens to a walk in bar.    The room opens to both the swimming pool courtyard or the large side yard that opens to the boulevard.   With a tent on the large side lawn, you could probably host a wedding for 500 plus guests!

And notice how the original addition is now hidden within the molding.  It’s no long noticeable where the room was extended.

After:  The living area of the salon, plus upholstery in velvet all with touches of blue.

Instagram.  An early, closer look at the fabrics and the pretty tufted ottoman in a pin stripe with trim.  Excellent upholstery.   Notice the mirrors inset in the molding which creates an elegance that was lacking before.

Instagram:  A view of the mantel.  I think it’s the original mantel.  Hard to confirm, but in some photos it looks the same.

At the far end of the Salon, there is a catering kitchen, added for parties and both large and small dinners.  Notice the floor – a take on the foyer’s entrance floor. 


BEFORE:   The right side of the house, off the dining room and entry has been totally changed, since today a large addition was added here.  I will quickly show the older rooms before the newly added ones:

BEFORE:  Leading off the dining room is the bar/butler’s pantry.


Before:  Veranda.  The kitchen off the breakfast room with the bay window.  I still love this kitchen.  Love the island.  Love the sink.  Love the mirror and chest.   But, this magazine styling in the kitchen seems so old fashioned today!  All that food!  Those silver pieces on the chest is pure Babs.

This area was later added on to creating a family room and new kitchen.



BEFORE:  Past the kitchen is the sunroom.


BEFORE: And off the front of the house is the study.  Love the chandelier.

Now let’s see this side of the house and how it looks today.

AFTER:  Right past the dining room is the new extended family room done in blue and white!  Love!  The windows over look the back yard pool.

Another view of the family room looking at the kitchen and on the left, the breakfast room.

Across from the family room, the new kitchen overlooks the front yard.  Gorgeous marble.


Looking from the other side, notice how the blue picks up the blues from the Salon.  Notice the gorgeous marble backsplash above the sink!

One of my favorite rooms in the house – the breakfast area with tiled walls and a beautiful lantern.  Notice the cafe curtains on the doors and windows.

The Study, which sits in the space where the sunroom off the kitchen once stood.  Blue and white curtains and blue cabinets.

SECOND FLOOR:  Upstairs, there is an elevator to make it easier to bring suitcases up and downstairs.

Before:  The master suite has a sitting room.  Here more antiques bought from Babs Watkins.    Through the door is the bedroom.  And these two windows look over the backyard.

After:   Randy put in a new mantel, creamy and dreamy furniture accented with celadon and gray.   The room is so large, two fixtures are needed instead of one.


Before:  From Veranda.  So Babs!!!  Are we in Houston or the South of France?  Later, the owners would move all this furniture to another room.

Before:  Real Estate.  How the room ended up looking without Babs.   The large window overlooks the long side yard.  


After:   The bed was repositioned against the back wall.  Toile fabric mixed with antiques.  This is so pretty!

After:  There are two master baths, his and hers.  Here, hers is awash in marble and Gracie paper with a rock crystal chandelier.  Here you can see the air conditioning vent – very authentic looking.  I love that detail!


Her closet.  A dream.  Love the round window.

AFTER:   His bathroom in dark brown marble.

Personal Note:  This makes me sad.  My parents had his and her bathrooms and my father had this same dark brown marble in his.   I miss my dad so much.


Through the bedroom is His closet with a TV to watch UT football games, I’m sure!  This large window overlooks the backyard.


BEFORE it was the His Closet, it was this bathroom.  The furniture moved from the original master bedroom.   Sigh.  


A Babs Watkins bedroom with dreamy antiques.

BEFORE:  The bathrooms were all gray and white marble with venetian styled mirrors.


AFTER:  One of the two bedrooms upstairs.

After:  Adjoining sunny bathroom with walls of tiles – love the way the tile acts as a wainscot.  This is the same tile treatment that was done downstairs in the breakfast room.


The second bedroom upstairs, perfect for kids or grandkids with navy accents.


AFTER:   The porthole window, repeated throughout the house and the tiled wainscot again.  I love that!  What a great way to dress up a small bathroom and make it more luxurious.

Third Floor:

This third floor addition allows for a large game room and…



TV watching area.

And off the new addition is this walkway to the new enlarged garage.  

Over the garage is the gym and a guest room.


The guest apartment over the garage.  I’m exhausted by all the work Randy did!   What a feat he accomplished.  Even a throwaway room above the garage is special and so pretty!

The spa bath.

Updated floor plan although it’s impossible to read the captions.

Be sure to look at the HAR listing HERE.  There are more photos and information.


Before: 1999

  After: 2022



I hope you found this story as interesting as I did!   One house, two decor giants. 

Now, the REAL question is – what will the new owners do???  Who will they hire?   Will they keep all these beautiful wall treatments?   Will they buy the house furnished?  (I would if that was an option.)

Will the new decorator start showing hints on Instagram like Randy did?

I HOPE SO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why do I have a feeling that we may be seeing this house one more time during the life of Cote de Texas?!?!?!?

Now, back to the real world.



  1. Thank you for a much-needed diversion. As usual, I appreciate your usual thorough investigatory approach to the background story of the homes in your blog. In this particular case, I much prefer Bab's version. That issue of Veranda is iconic and greatly influenced my own design style.

  2. I'll have to read this over and over again, so much to take in. Your posts are like a good book to be savored over time.
    Now...this may be unpopular albeit subjective, but I preferred the "befores" in most interior shots. Although I liked some elements in the "afters" the overall impression felt dated and unimaginative. But here's the thing: It's lovely when people get the place they love, that makes them happy and I appreciate it when they open their doors and share their home. So I thank them and I thank you for so thoroughly covering it.

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  4. I like both landscaping styles and both kitchens. A few of the smaller spaces look nice to me. But I really don't care for this house. Rooms look way too big and the new decoration seems weirdly random and cold. Joni, I much prefer the way you decorated your old house. It was elegant yet so cozy looking. Bring back the Houston Look!

  5. Great job researching info for these posts. This house would've been better left alone. It had character, coziness and personality before, it was more about a personal point of view than 'style' dictates pushed out by HGTV. The house and its surroundings have been turned into a mishmash in some areas or a Restoration Hardware store in others. Ripping out the gorgeous brick patio to replace with those nondescript tiles, why?? Filling in that charming hidden pool to put in that Miami Vice monstrosity, wow. Inside is more hit-or-miss, but overall a big disappointment.

  6. Joni, I loved this house by Babs Watkins. The antiques are so beautiful. Thanks for all of the time and effort you put in your posts. I have so appreciated all of the years of posts and often refer back to my favorites. I am so sorry about your father and mother and understand how you feel losing both of them.

    A long time reader and admirer of yours,
    Melody Caldwell

  7. Joni I always look forward to your posts bc I know they will be so well researched and interesting. I love the newer version but I vote for Babs...there is something so timeless about linen and antiques. Simple yet complex at the same time.

  8. Love the Babs Watkins iteration! But love the Gracie wallpaper - who wouldn't?
    Question: I am so interested in the portrait! Anyway to find out who the subject is and more important to me: who is the painter?


  9. When Perfection is acheived, it is best to leave it alone. Babs version of this home was PERFECTION!

  10. Love the Babs version so much more.

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  13. Big sigh. What a home and like others, prefer the pre-reno home. As I kept reading on and looking at the pics., I was hoping that it would get better but it did not. As much as I admire Gracie wallpaper, it was a bit much for me in all that space. The courtyard and pool areas were such a letdown too.And the new kitchen in all that same brown wood was so suffocating. Bring on tattered silks, white linens, shades of gray/blue and antiques and second hand furniture!

  14. Liked the Bab's decorating much better. The new seems cold and uninviting. Agree, patio should have been left alone so much better before.

  15. Such an amazing home, but Babs decor outshines the new version by far. New is not always better!

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  17. I met Babs in the mid-80's but didn't discover the "Houston Look" and the work of Babs Watkins until I discovered your blog in the early 2000's. I worked at the Houston Decorative Center at that time and became familiar with so many Houston designers who were further developing the Houston Look. I had the good fortune of working on so many amazing projects! The evolution of my personal design sensibility was arrested in about 2010. I have tried, but I just can't embrace the new design directions.


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  19. For all that big hour, 3 bedrooms? and the primary bedroom is on the 2nd floor?

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  21. I MUCH prefer the house before it was renovated. Babs' decor is gorgeous. All the "after" photos leave me cold. I think they ruined the house.

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  30. Definitely have to say I prefer the befores... there's something dated and tacky about the afters by Powers. Nothing chic or interesting about them at all!

  31. Love Babs! She was always so nice to me! I love the remodel but miss Bab's decor choices.

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