Houston’s XO House offers a new spin on multigenerational housing.
Project XO House
Clients Laura and Jason Logan
Architect LOJO Architecture
Design Team Jason Logan, Matt Johnson, AIA
Contractor Viviano Viviano
Structural Engineer INSIGHT Structures
Civil Engineer Karen Rose Engineering
Sliding Gate Fabrication Aria Signs & Design
Rainwater Collection Innovative Water Solutions
Mechanical & Geothermal Indoor Comfort Specialists
Electrical MJ Campbell Electric
Plumbing Pegasus Plumbing
Landscape Architect Falon Land Studio
Landscape Installation Telloc Landscape & Construction
Photographers Leonid Furmansky, Ayala Vargas
Located in Houston’s Historic Heights, the XO House, with its industrial exterior, stands out among the neighborhood’s Hardie-wood-clad bungalows. The modern 3,800-sf multiunit residence, which replaced two historical bungalows on the site, was designed by Jason Logan — a co-principal at the architectural firm LOJO and professor at the University of Houston — for himself, his wife, Laura, and her late father.
Upon first impression, the home stands domineering and angular, with charcoal grey corrugated metal protecting any vulnerable or permeable surfaces. However, as life fills the home, its hard exterior softens. Living spaces are carved away from the mass of the house and treated with amber-toned larch wood. The material’s vibrancy and warmth contrast with its protective layer, exuding a relaxing atmosphere that is emphasized throughout the house.
Initially, Logan and his wife intended to renovate the existing houses so that his father-in-law could live nearby following his dementia diagnosis. But after reviewing the property with an engineer, they realized the full extent of renovation that would be required and instead began designing from scratch. The home would need to provide a sense of connection while also supporting independence and respect for all the residents.
Logan also seized the opportunity to address Houston’s changing landscape and lack of affordable housing. “A lot of times … a developer will come in and tear down these historic bungalows and build two townhomes, which changes the accessibility to these units,” he explains. With this in mind, Logan designed two distinct living spaces: a larger residential area and a smaller secondary apartment, all connected through a central shared outdoor atrium. “[We] created a model for a new home that maintained the number of living spaces [of the previous property] and allowed for an affordable option as well as a large space.”
The house is designed on a skewed 3×3 square grid, which aligns with the property’s adjacent streets and resembles an abstracted tic-tac-toe grid. If you think of the ground floor as the game, the “winner” would be the outdoor spaces, represented by O’s. These O’s are placed at each corner of the grid, with the center spot defined by the atrium. These areas carve away the mass of the house, creating cantilevered overhangs that shelter the parking spots, the front porch, and the outdoor kitchen deck.
As Logan explains, a typical house places an object in the middle of the property. In this case, the design pushes the dwellings to the perimeter, framing the central atrium. This allows the dwellings to function independently but maintains visual connection between the living spaces of the two units. This was important to allow Logan’s father-in-law to maintain his private world while still connecting to his family. Logan says: “Often, my father-in-law would wait to see if Laura [and I] were done with whatever we were doing that day. We’d see him standing there and get a wave. We knew it was time to come down, or he could come up.”
The concept for the atrium came from the Roman domus, which took on many functions but primarily acted as a dwelling space for families in ancient Rome. A domus usually contained multiple rooms, courtyards, and gardens, but its most significant feature was the central courtyard atrium — the center of the house’s social life. The front porch was another important shared space within the project, designed to allow its residents to connect with the surrounding community. “I have always loved the history of the front porch in a lot of older neighborhoods and the way that it had always been the social space of the house and the way that it connected neighbors,” says Logan.
To help preserve this neighborly relationship, Logan used landscaping to form the boundary between the street and the house rather than securing the entire property with a fence. The porch is enclosed by a small pocket prairie filled with native grasses and flowers. These pocket prairies typically require fewer resources to maintain and help to rehabilitate Houston’s ecosystem through the integration of native plants. Additionally, the landscape attracts visitors who come in many forms, such as natural pollinators, like bees and butterflies, or friendly neighbors. This space became a favorite for Logan’s father-in-law; Logan and his wife would often find him sitting on the front porch and waving to neighbors as they walked by.
The remaining squares of the grid are filled with X’s. These become the living spaces on the ground floor — the entry and studio office of the main house plus the entirety of the 900-sf secondary dwelling unit, which comprises a kitchen, living area, bedroom, closet, and bathroom. Despite raising the foundation 24 inches above the flood plain, Logan opted to finish the ground floor interior with water-resistant features like concrete floors, raised outlets, and seamless cabinetry to further protect against Houston’s notorious flooding.
Across the atrium is an entrance from the driveway into the studio office of the primary dwelling unit. To the right, white oak stairs illuminated by skylights lead upward to the main living space of the house. The second floor hosts most of the functions for the home, including the living room, kitchen, primary suite, guest suite, library, and balcony, all fixed around the central atrium. Logan’s interior design experience is evident through the attention to detail found in the homes’ finishes. Any potential eyesores, such as return air vents, are hidden in the double-height spaces or integrated into the architecture of the house. Curtain rods embedded into the ceiling create temporary partitions between the living area, stairs, and kitchen, simultaneously accentuating the ceiling height. Cabinet pulls were routed into the cabinet faces to avoid excessive hardware and trim detailing. Most exciting, the privacy doors for the two upstairs bedrooms are made with innovative hidden hinges that allow for a 180-degree swing. When open, the door seamlessly blends into the library shelves, appearing as a decorative panel of millwork. “Trying to make a door not look like a door and simplifying design is the ethos of the house,” says Logan.
One of the most important design elements within the home is its use of natural light and the careful placement of views. Sunlight illuminates the space, creating a bright and inviting atmosphere. Angled and recessed walls help direct views to the neighborhood through the windows while maintaining the home’s privacy. The southern facade is set back from the rest of the exterior, exposing the home’s steel structure and creating the perfect space for a steel grate balcony that also provides shade from Houston’s unforgiving sun. The living room’s angled wall carefully hides storage cabinets that typically clutter a home, while allowing views of Houston’s skyline from the primary suite.
While thoughtful window placements and wall angles provide compelling views for the residents, they also preserve existing views for neighbors. Logan recounts: “There used to be a bungalow and an older woman named Mrs. Herrera who lived there. She liked to sit on the front porch…. So, by angling the facade, it sort of lined up with her front porch, and she was still able to look down the street.”
Although its style differs significantly from others in the neighborhood, the XO House finds a connection to the community through its empathetic design. While its contemporary form may be deemed brash to a traditionalist, the compassion curated within the home is unmistakable. Even in moments of privacy, the architecture considers its site from the perspectives of both the residents and their neighbors, showing how design that caters to the needs of an individual can still consider others.
Natalie Armstrong is a recent graduate of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design at the University of Houston and is a designer at Protolab Architects and the Community Design and Resource Center at the University of Houston.