PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Dallas September 2022

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I n the summer of 2018, designer Mary Lambrakos was on holiday in Greece, staying at her aunt's residence in Voula, a coastal hamlet along the Greek Riviera dotted with white stone courtyards and ravishing pink bougainvillea. Lambrakos' long black hair and dark eyes are traits of her Greek heritage — she was born and reared in Houston to parents who hail from Sparta. There, surrounded by family, she only spoke Greek. Voula felt like a world away from Texas, so when her phone buzzed and a 001 country code appeared on the screen, she was startled. "Why is America calling?" Lambrakos wondered out loud. On the other end of the line was Kyle B. Humphries, a principal architect with Murphy Mears Architects in Houston. His clients, Diane and Ray Krueger, had purchased a four-story building in the industrial Timbergrove area of Houston, which they were restoring. The plan was to convert the top floor into a penthouse and lease out the rest to commercial tenants. The building has a fascinating provenance: Designed in 1974 as the headquarters for Big Three Industries by Houston architect Karl Kamrath — an obsessed devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright — this remarkable structure had been hiding in plain sight for decades. The clients, Lambrakos recalls, had requested help finding a designer who could bring fresh and innovative ideas to the penthouse project, and Humphries thought she would be a perfect fit. A rising star on Texas' design scene, the 39-year-old has a CV that includes undergraduate studies at Cornell University followed by a B.A. in art history from Rice University and a Menil Fellowship to study art at The Menil Collection, which led to a curatorial position there. She launched her interior design firm, Lambrakos Studio, in 2013. The project sounded intriguing, so Humphries sent over the real estate brochure along with two pages from AD Italia, which Diane had selected as inspiration for the interiors. The building's strong architecture immediately caught Lambrakos' attention. Made of cast concrete, the massive form is punctuated by vertical posts that reminded her of Greek caryatids — architectural columns carved to resemble standing female figures — such as those found at the Erechtheion, now the Acropolis Museum in Athens. But it was the AD Italia pictures that sparked her interest. "The images conveyed a certain lifestyle that wasn't so much about the design as it was about people feeling comfortable and elegant — it's a very European sensibility," Lambrakos says. On the phone the next day with Diane, the two connected over a shared passion for art and travel. "Clearly, this was going to be a compelling project." Back in Houston, Lambrakos arranged to meet the clients at the project site. "When I pulled up, I was completely bewildered and confused and excited by what I saw," she remembers. The mammoth 41,000-square- foot building rose out of the industrial plain with unexpected majesty. It had been designed to impart awe: Architect Karl Kamrath had modeled the Big Three Industries building after Frank Lloyd Wright's famed Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. The 1905 concrete temple is considered the greatest public building of Wright's Prairie Style era, a tour de force of geometric architecture and decorative elements exemplifying Wright's theory of organic design. Kamrath had made a career of reinterpreting Wright's brilliance. His firm, MacKie and Kamrath, built hundreds of houses in Houston during the '40s and '50s using Wright's Usonian principles featuring flat roofs with deep overhangs, open spaces, and native materials. The firm was prolific, designing commercial buildings for prominent oil-and-gas industry clients such as Humble Oil, Dow Chemical Company, and Schlumberger, along with institutions such as University of Texas MD Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, featured in Time magazine in 1954. Their work was noticed around the country and published The former headquarters for Big Three Industries was designed in 1974 by architect Karl Kamrath after Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. Diane and Ray Krueger purchased the building in 2018 and converted the top floor into their penthouse. DIVYA PENDE 162

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