Canvas for Light

San Antonio has a rich architectural history with a collection of gorgeous historic homes spanning a handful of zip codes that would make any architectural nerd salivate. Yet, while these promising structures abound, most need an update to remain relevant for modern families.

Local architect John Grable recently addressed one such home. They call the project “Canvas for Light” because of the way the texture in the bright white stucco catches and plays with the sunlight. “There is a lot of history behind this project,” shares Grable. The home was designed in the 1930s by Bartlett Cocke (1901-1992), a well-known San Antonio architect whose projects include the San Pedro Playhouse and the Frost Bank Building. “Neighbors had many stories about the house,” says Grable. “I like to hear the stories before we do any demolition, because it informs you of important uses of space from the past.” The Moorish-inspired building included a striking rose window, and quite a lot of custom ironwork — but there was work to be done.

“It had some eccentricities. The young family who purchased it loved it and wanted to preserve it, but it needed to be as contemporary as it could without spoiling the bones,” Grable states. As is typical of most homes designed during that period, the interior was broken up into many smaller rooms, with small windows, allowing little natural light and disrupting the flow of movement for the owners and their two young children. Grable replaced the small openings with larger, more family-friendly spaces. The kitchen, in particular was important to the new owners, so Grable and his team scoured those spaces and created a flow diagram connecting the kitchen to the attached garage. “The original flow was broken up with service quarters and a laundry area. It was a good challenge, but we were able to create a sequence that connected the mudroom, entry and pantry in a way that made sense for the family,” says Grable. The design creates efficiency when unloading groceries, school bags, etc., and helps keep public spaces tidy — always a bonus for mothers of young children. Grable also expanded the kitchen to include an outdoor cooking area overlooking the back garden.

The garden and the rest of the exterior of the home were refreshed with modern details that acknowledge the historical precedent of the original design. Grable replaced small windows with striking floor to ceiling windows in many spaces, giving the home a sense of transparency and a lantern-like glow. The team stripped the old stucco and used a unique formula of warm white paint everywhere, emphasizing texture and light on each surface and from every angle. While much of the original ironwork was removed, important pieces of history, like the numbers on the mail slot and the original rose window, were carefully preserved, and the original lanterns inspired Grable as he reimagined the home. Grable considered the famous courtyard at Alhambra as he neatly joined indoor to outdoor spaces, adding a new family room to create a Spanish-feeling U-shaped courtyard that includes a classic swimming pool with fountain and a Juliet balcony overlooking the outdoor haven. The creation of the courtyard has given the home a new heart, arranging casual spaces for entertaining and family life around the pool, while maintaining formal living and dining spaces towards the front of the house. The old guest quarters above the garage were made new by exposing framing and removing old ceilings, helping to achieve verticality in the once stifling space.

The indoor and outdoor spaces merged together not only downstairs, but also upstairs, where the master bedroom sits on an axis with pool and backyard. The space includes a covered sunroom overlooking the pool and the master bathroom, and while entirely modern, speaks to the elegance of the period. Carrera marble contrasts nicely with the white walls, and the ethereal space provides a nice refuge for mom and dad.

Surprisingly, the original site included few trees, so Grable added a new Live Oak allee that helps define the side yard, offers privacy and creates a serene and secluded garden environment in the back yard. 

In keeping with Grable’s philosophy, Canvas for Light celebrates life and plays with modernity while straddling the lines of the past.

ARCHITECT   John Grable Architects – Inc.


210-820-3332  |