Architect Kinneymorrow Architecture
Design Team Michael Morrow, AIA
Photographer Luis Ayala, AIA
An understated drama begins as you walk up to the Kane Street office of Kinneymorrow Architecture. The small building maintains the rhythm, scale, and look of other old clapboard houses in Houston’s historic Sixth Ward neighborhood, but the exterior is a pristine white anchored to a dark ground of basalt chips, setting it apart. As you walk inside, the original shiplap walls and ceiling, shorn of old tackcloth wall covering and painted white, seem to glow with balanced natural light. A small reception leads to the office area, which is a strong and surprising slot of dark stained plywood workstations cutting through existing walls, from the front of the house to the back, organizing and unifying what was previously a warren of small rooms. It’s a simple but powerful gesture.
There is another, more subtle, gesture that permeates the design: the use of the circle at different scales. Large black round light fixtures from Ikea are modified and hung over the workstations, reinforcing the slot. In the bathroom, the architect Michael Morrow, AIA, used his own photographs of globes to create a custom graphic wallpaper. A white globe light hangs over the sink. Even the bathroom floor tiles are small, repeating circles.
“The Kane Street Office is a great project because it’s an adaptive reuse project and a preservation project, but an atypical one, an unconventional one,” says juror Andy Tinucci, AIA. “They are not preserving a canonical historical structure, but preserving a lovely old building and adaptively reusing it in an incredibly clever way. The way that the interior design of the space and the architecture of the space merge seamlessly into one is really what won it the award.” Juror Julie Snow, FAIA, adds: “It was carefully restored on the exterior and then reinvented on the interior to take advantage of the row of rooms that were the interior project. So those rooms still exist, and a slice is cut through the house with the kitchen turning into the dining, turning into the desk, turning into more desk, and so that slot becomes sort of the interior organizing and detailing of the house.”
Kinneymorrow Architecture is making a difference in the Sixth Ward community. The Kane Street office was originally a derelict house located about a hundred yards away. The Historical Commission was delighted when Morrow proposed buying and moving the house to a nearby lot for restoration, as it was clearly on the way to being unsalvageable. Morrow and his wife/collaborator Taryn Kinney live one block away, in what he describes as an ongoing restoration. Another project that the firm recently completed, the Decatur Street house — which won a 2015 TxA Design Award — is one street over.
Michael Morrow said that his firm works hard “to try to have one strong idea per project and to pursue that idea on different scales, rather than pursuing several different pretty good ideas.” In the Kane Street Office, this pursuit led to a rich and clear result that feels larger than its 751 sf.
Craig Kinney, AIA, is an architect in San Angelo.