PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston May 2021

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Page 39 of 115

While the de Menils eclipsed the Strauses, the latter were pioneering in their own way, commissioning the first modern house in River Oaks — from the iconic John Staub, in 1937, now the home of Carolyn Farb — which was both controversial and widely known. The house was so well known, that a letter to the couple from Alexander Calder, with "Modern House, Houston, Texas" in the address line, was delivered. Embracing the avant-garde and bucking restrictive norms of that time, the Strauses became one of the first Jewish couples to live in the neighborhood. Like the de Menils (who, a decade later, commissioned architect Philip Johnson to design their home, then tapped couturier Charles James for interiors), the Strauses broke with the historical styles of the day (French, Victorian, and Georgian) to seek a new form of living spaces. Their British-born go-to designer was making a national mark: T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, known for his curvilinear classicism, inspired by the pure lines of ancient Greek furnishings like the Klismos chair, as well as being a response to the stern lines of the Bauhaus. As the designer himself declared, "All periods have been done, and done to death." During the mid-century, R o b s j o h n - G i b b i n g s enjoyed an A-list of clients including Stanley Marcus (who commissioned him in 1940 to redo the ladies couture salon for the Neiman Marcus Dallas flagship), as well as Doris Duke, Elizabeth Arden, (Continued from page 36) and Hilda Boldt Weber, whose 43-room L.A. mansion, Casa Encantada, was the designer's most opulent project. Last month, New Orleans Auction Galleries realized $105,718 in the auction of the Straus Suite at its April 11 Modern + Contemporary Art & Design sale. The 17-piece set was sold as 10 lots in a day of brisk bidding. It was commissioned by the Strauses circa 1946 as part of Robsjohn- Gibbings' custom interiors for their Asian and contemporary- art filled modernist home. Interest ranged from Houston to Italy and California; one munificent couple gifted the sale's signature piece, Lot 13, the biomorphic custom cocktail table (hammering down at $45,000 to establish a record for any custom or non-Widdicomb Robsjohn-Gibbings furniture at auction) to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for its distinguished Decorative Arts, Craft, and Design Collection. Kudos to New Orleans Auction Galleries and the original research undertaken by assistant director of auctions Taylor Eichenwald for deciphering a fascinating chapter of modernism in Texas, as well as roiling a new wave of interest in Robsjohn- Gibbings' classic furnishings. As the April 11 catalog eloquently states about the designer: "His intention was to create spaces that were eternally relevant, yet specific to the client. By design, his furniture could be placed in any interior at any moment in time, past or future …" Read more on this story at The Strauses' Houston living room with a collection of Robsjohn-Gibbings, as published in House & Garden, March 1950 Carol Austin Straus, circa 1990s/2000s The Straus house in Houston's River Oaks, 1940 T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings' custom Oak and Glass Cocktail Table, circa 1946 38

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