Hidden home gems are exciting to discover in San Antonio, a city so richly steeped in history for several centuries. Here, you’re invited to join us as we uncover a sparkling example of a historic residence, lovingly refurbished to its former grandeur and crafted for entertaining.
By Lance Avery Morgan
Photography By Greg Harrison
Homes that have historic status tend to be a favorite in a city like San Antonio. In fact, when you drive up to one of the region’s most charming homes purchased by Curtis Johnson who resides there with his partner, Leland Stone, you are struck by the Texas historical marker on the house that reads:
“Chabot House. Originally from England, George Stooks Chabot (1821-1902) was a commission merchant dealing in cotton, wool, and hides. He and his wife, Mary (Van Derlip) (1842-1929) built this two–story stone house in 1876. The design includes several galleries with carved bracketing. Chabot’s grandson, Frederick Charles Chabot (1891-1943), was a noted Texas historian who wrote a number of books on local and state topics. The Chabot Family lived here until 1940.”
According to Johnson, “Walter Mathis, who is credited with starting the gentrification of the King William district in the 1970’s, purchased the Chabot house, which at that time, had been divided into eight apartments. He did the initial restoration and modified the house from eight small apartments to three luxury rentals. He also removed a small apartment structure that had been erected in 1917 immediately adjacent the house, and blocked the street view of the carriage house in the back of the property.”
From the sidewalk, you can feel you are in for a treat. When Johnson and Stone first walked through the home, it was the good bones they loved most. “In the early 1980’s, the prior owners used preservation architect Michael Hilger to turn the Chabot house back into a single family residence. Hilger was the perfect choice as he had done extensive restoration work on similarly aged structures at Fort Sam Houston in
San Antonio,” recounts Johnson.
The home’s architecture details and floor plan are well suited to modern life even though they were designed for a time when horses dominated the unpaved roads of King William and candles and oil lamps were de rigueur. The stately living room features unbroken planks of long-leaf yellow pine floors, 12 ½ foot high ceilings, and large windows that are deeply inset into the 18” thick original limestone walls. The tall Victorian mirror above the mantel is one of the few pieces of furniture that is original to the house and belonged to the Chabot family. The dining room’s square proportions are perfect for their round table, which is ideal for entertaining up to seven people and keeping the conversation unified, according to Johnson. It also features a detailed parquet wood floor over the original pine floor.
The library has an expandable antique table that is often used for meetings at the house, and can be enlarged for bigger groups of ten to twelve people. The valances over the library doors are original to the house. There is a gilded frame mirror on the library mantel that belonged to the Stone’s great-grandmother. Stone found the frame in the basement of her Monte Vista home, covered in decades of dust, and had a mirror made to fit the frame. He also acquired a full-scale drawing of a soup tureen that was done by famous 18th century English silver smith Paul de Lamerie, which hangs in the library. To complete the home’s age-old feel, Johnson purchased the English antique desk and cabinet for the living room from Whit Hanks in Austin.
If a life well-lived is a life well-collected, then it’s never been more apparent than in this home. Stone has a collection of pierced sterling saltcellars which are used at dinner parties, often serving both white and black salt. Johnson has a collection of Japanese Netsukes and antique Meissen china from his grandmother, who was born in the King William district in the early 1900’s. Johnson keeps an annual date with his mother, a Houstonian, to attend the Houston Antique Dealers Association (HADA) show, and over the years has purchased several items for the household since moving to King William.
If a home is the canvas of one’s life, then the art is what may give it character most. “The paintings in the dining room are 19th century (German and English works) from my great-grandparents,” states Johnson. “The vintage flags were purchased from Jeff Bridgman Antiques in Pennsylvania. The small parade flag in the library dates to 1876, the year the house was built.” He goes on to say, “The Rembrandt etching in living room was a housewarming gift from my father, and there’s a Damien Hirst spot print in the entry hall we purchased from Gallery Maximilian on a trip to Aspen.
The Henry Rayburn pencil drawing of the Chabot house was a Birthday gift from the Stone family to Johnson that was drawn right after the couple moved in. “Henry literally sat across the street each morning with his coffee in one hand, and his sketch pad in the other,” muses Johnson. Rayburn died the following year. A man that was loved by many, there was standing room only at the memorial service held for him in the neighborhood, according to the couple.
When asked which rooms in particular are used the most, Johnson emphatically says, “That’s easy: The living, dining room, and library. These rooms are used frequently when we entertain. Generally, we serve cocktails and appetizers in the living room, the salad and entrée in the dining room, and dessert and coffee in the library. Moving from room to room helps keep the evening going.”
Dinner parties here tend to be formal. The household staff is counted on to prepare the food and serve guests at the dining table. This is rarely done today, even in homes far grander than the Chabot house. “Because of Leland’s background in boutique hotel management from Cornell University, he is willing and able to train the staff on the proper methods of preparing and presenting an elegant meal,” says Johnson.
The home’s estate also contains classic Mercedes cars that reflect the owners’ commitment to style. Beyond that area, the carriage house on the property serves as Stone’s office. “The remodeled upstairs apartment is perfect for guests,” enthuses Johnson. “It has its own small kitchen area and bathroom (with English fittings from Leland’s showroom). Stone’s home office and display area is downstairs, and features various high-end lines of plumbing, lighting, and hardware he sells. The lower level also houses what Stone calls a commercial “kitchenette” – professional grade appliances in a very small kitchen, laid out to maximize efficiency so that the staff can churn out a gourmet dinner for six to 60 people.”
WIth a life well-lived in a home well-designed, expect to see it as the center of many gatherings in the future.