A Modern, Vintage Houston “Tree House”

updated Oct 16, 2019
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Name: Judy and Don, plus two little ones (and a dog)
Location: Braeswood; Houston, Texas
Size: 3,400 square feet
Years lived in: 2 years

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Judy and Don’s architect, Gary Tran, made an unconventional design choice that transformed their entire home. Most Houston homes have the kitchen and living room on the first floor and the bedrooms on the second floor, but in this house everything is inverted; the public spaces occupy the top floor, with a view over the treetops beyond.

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The entryway, with a staircase leading to the kitchen and living room on the second floor. (Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)
(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

The entire house feels light and airy, and deeply connected to the outdoors, which in Houston (believe it or not!) can actually be a very good thing. It’s also the warm and well-loved home of a young family, with plenty of space for entertaining, family together time, lazy lounging, and running around.

From Judy, here’s a bit more about the home’s design process:

When we sat down with our amazing architect (Gary Tran at Tran Arch) to discuss the design of our home, we didn’t start by talking about what we wanted it to look like, but how we wanted to live in it. That meant open community spaces, small bedrooms to smoke out the kids into the community spaces, multi-functional spaces, and lots and lots of natural light. The openness of the floor plan and the natural light are my favorite elements of the house. We wanted room to run around, to lounge around, and to have people over. We also wanted every room and space to be utilized and so we were very thoughtful about functionality.

We knew we wanted the kitchen to be the heart of the house, so our architect gave it prime real estate…on the second floor, in the canopy of the trees, in the middle of the house. That meant that we flipped the house. All the bedrooms are on the first floor and all the living spaces and kitchen are upstairs. That required a mental shift, and it was a bold move for our architect to suggest it, but he thought creatively about how to incorporate all of the ways in which we want to live and this concept really embraced all of them. We call it the tree house since the upstairs windows all look out into tree canopies. The kitchen is the true heart of the house, and all of our daily activities revolve around it.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Modern and vintage.

Inspiration: Sentimental things, practicality, a feeling of warmth in an otherwise modern and open space, flea markets.

Favorite Element: We love how our architect blurred the lines between the outdoor space and the indoor space. We told him that we love the outdoors and so he designed elements of the home where the outside materials continue into the house, like the siding and the brick. Our architect was able to take our ideas of how we wanted to live in the house and make it functional and beautiful.

What Friends Say: The nicest things people say about our home: 1) it’s comfortable and looks bigger than it is, 2) who’s you’re interior designer?

Proudest DIY: I have this sand collection dating back about 18 years. It started when Don and I were dating long distance while I studied abroad in Australia. I started collecting sand from my travels and sent them back to Don in little film canisters. He kept them and I just kept collecting them through the years. Since travel is such a big part of our lives, we’ve accumulated quite a collection. The only problem was we didn’t know how to put the sand on display. After getting bids from a few woodcrafters and not liking their quotes for a simple curio, we found type letter drawers at a flea market for $10 a piece. We bought two, hung them up on the wall, and stacked our sand collection in them. It’s my favorite piece in the house because people can pick up a little canister and read the label describing where the sand was from and when we were there.

Biggest Indulgence: Our big dining room table. We bought the slab from Texas Tuscan furniture. The table is a natural edge, single slab from a naturally-downed sugarwood tree. It’s a big table because we love to have people over for dinner.

Best Advice: Take your time with furnishings and finishing your home. By taking our time, we’ve been able to find things that are unique or sentimental. I love that I have a story for many of the things in our home, and if I don’t it’s because it’s completely practical and functional. We still have many bare walls and empty spaces because we want to love what we fill and not just like it. The other advice I would give is that less is more. By keeping things simple in our house, we have more room for play and for creativity.

Dream Sources: Flea Markets.


(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Sliding door rails with blackboard door: custom

• Stair treads: reclaimed White Oak scraps

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Couch: Restoration Hardware

• Chevron rug: Pottery Barn

• Pilot chairs: Crate and Barrel

• Letters: Round Top Antique Market

• Sand display: letter drawers from flea market

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Dining table: Texas Tuscan

• Dining Chairs: Ikea outdoor patio chairs

• Artwork: Mong Girls from art gallery in Ho Chi Minh

• Coo coo Clock: Kuhl-Linscomb

• Terrarium: DIY, vase from some sale rack in some random store

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Table: handmade from our old pecan tree we had to take down (by www.greenwoodbay.net
• Chairs: Eames chair from Design Within Reach

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Bed: Reclaimed Brazilian wood bed from High Fashion Furniture

• Bedside tables: West Elm

• Mirror: Round Top Antique Market

• Wallpaper: Tree Bomb from

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Bed: Land of Nod

• Comforter: Anthropologie

• Tree decal: Etsy

• Birdhouses: DIY

• Book shelf: IKEA, and attached old door handles to the bottom to give it feet

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Bed: Charles P Rogers Beds
•Cabinet: IKEA, then spraypainted matte gray
• Trough shelves: West Elm

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Rug: FLOR tiles

• Couch: Gus couch from Kuhl-Linscomb

• Bookshelves: IKEA
• Floating shelves: Room and Board

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)


• Table: 1950’s adjustable Castro table from Etsy

• Yellow Bench: Crate and Barrel

• Repurposed Lounge chairs: Round Top Antique Market

• Trough planter: Flea Market

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Thanks, Judy and Don!

REe-edited from a tour originally published in 2015 — AB