Guided tour of the “House of Darth Vader” – Texas Monthly
As I walk up to the imposing octagonal house, I cannot believe that I am actually here. I look unsuccessfully through the tinted windows, waiting for someone to let me into one of the two identical black doors. I feel like I’m lining up for a rave at an experiential Berlin club, waiting for a benevolent bouncer to let me in on the party. But it’s lunchtime, and I’m standing on a leafy Houston street not far from where I grew up, overshadowed by this gigantic stucco-metal structure. It looks like a UFO that sort of went through a wormhole, crashed into a picturesque corner, and sandwiched itself between the cheerful brick houses. As I wait outside by the ring of live oaks on the 18,000 square foot lot, I feel like I’m being watched. I turn to face the street, where a parade of cars stops for passengers to take quick photos of the building before leaving.
I understand the curiosity. Since its construction in 1992, this idiosyncratic West University Place home, nicknamed the Darth Vader House for its eerie resemblance to the Star wars Villain’s headgear – has both fascinated and baffled Houstonians, me included. Because its owner, a plastic surgeon named Jean Cukier, has long refused interviews and interior photos or tours of the house, rumors abounded about what was inside this dark fortress. This is the reason why the home listing of $ 4.3 million, which came out last week, along with a photo gallery, made headlines around the world, in outlets of CNN at Fortune Greece. News sites were impressed with the peculiar exterior of 3201 boulevard de l’Université and, even more so, with what the 7,000 square foot house looked like inside (verdict: this is both “Bizarre” and a “contemporary masterpiece”). When the news broke – and yes, that was great news! – I organized a tour with the listing agents of Sotheby’s. I wanted to see it for myself.
So after years of wondering what could be inside (as a child I imagined that they were actually separate two-story houses for two families who led completely different lives) , I stand in front of Darth Vader’s door on a balmy Sunday afternoon. Then, a little after an hour, Nadia Carron, one of the house’s real estate agents, slams a door (the one on the right) and lets me in. To my surprise, I see Cukier. I say hello, and he sits there silently before quickly walking away.
The house opens to a spectacular sunken living room, with steps down into a depressed seating area – a popular mid-century architectural bloom known as the “conversation pit” – surrounded by grand twin staircases ascending to the second level . One of the architects who worked on the house, Randy Hickey, later told me over the phone that the living room was supposed to mimic a canyon, which explains the jagged steps and steep openings. At one point, a flat-screen TV was supposed to come out from one side of the floor, he adds, but it never worked out.
The Carron team added bright blue LED light strips to the floor to accentuate the property’s unusual features; they amplify the feeling of being on the set of a retro space-age B movie, looking Barbarella. I can’t get past the high ceilings, given that the house looks almost squat from the outside, or the fact that the house is not bathed in darkness, which I had long assumed. Instead, the floor-to-ceiling windows form a high back wall, shedding light on the living room.
The owner never wanted his house to become a living testimony to Darth Vader’s helmet, Carron tells me. Cukier’s initial vision was to create something “dark and mysterious” inspired by a stealth fighter jet. “He loved the F-111 stealth fighter,” says Hickey. “He saw a picture of it and he said, ‘This is what I want.’ And from that point on, he just grew and grew and grew. Hickey remembers being impressed with the way Cukier arrived at a first meeting, with hand drawn plans, specific ideas for the look of the house’s exterior and interior, and granular details, like a urinal in the master bedroom. Still, I wondered why someone who is so private would invest so much effort and money in such an atypical and visible structure that attracts attention – near a busy intersection, nothing less – and that made it possible for the public to form preconceived ideas over many years.
We continue the tour. Carron gestures to a formal dining room on the right, leading to a kitchen with an island and bar area fitted with hand-cut jagged stone counters. (Hickey later told me that in order to forge the countertops, builders had to “take a bandsaw and cut the edge, then we had to have the guys come in and cut the edges to make it look like a stone. graveyard for tombstones “.) Ahead Carron and I make our way to an office overlooking the living room below. This space seems perfect to me for tracing. It’s a lair from which you can ride and trade, perhaps plotting to take over the world. Cukier didn’t use it as an office at all when he lived here, however. It housed his music studio, which included a Moog synthesizer, organ and piano, according to Hickey.
Behind the study is the master bedroom, fitted with two gigantic closets, an en-suite bathroom with waterfall-shaped faucets, and the same quirky stone and concrete floor as the living room (I didn’t see a bedroom urinal, for the record). It opens to the heavens; when you stand on the second floor landing, you can look directly into the bedroom. After taking a peek at the four-car garage, downstairs guest bathroom, and bar with sink, we ascend to the labyrinthine second floor, filled with angular hallways winding around seating areas tucked into crevices at strange shapes, bedrooms and a balcony overlooking the backyard. (Some recent potential buyers have pitched the idea of remodeling one of the narrow lanes into a “one-lane bowling alley,” Carron says.) Mainly, I’m amazed at how indescribable the three bedrooms upstairs are. , in particular in relation to the Ground floor; some even have a gray carpet.
Since the house was put on the market, Carron has been busy responding to inquiries from potential buyers with deep pockets as well as peepers looking to take a peek (guilty according to the prosecution). But to fend off thugs (Carron’s term) who have no intention of buying the home, Sotheby’s requires proof of funds or a pre-approval letter from the lender before potential buyers can even set foot in. the House. Carron estimates that after around 25 requests to visit the home when it was first listed, the number declined once viewers realized they had to prove they were good value for money, although realtors made a handful of visits and were planning repeat visits. (A rumor that rapper 50 Cent, now a Houston resident, was interested was quickly quelled.) Out-of-state residents, local “bigwigs” and even other residents of the University from the West are interested in the house, she notes.
Things have been happening in the middle of the octagon for three decades, when some residents of the western United States fought during the construction of the house. “This is absolutely not what was supposed to be in this neighborhood,” Carron says. “So he had a ton of pushbacks with the permission of the city.” As a city of Houston, West University Place has its own building and licensing rules; Given the house’s anomalous design and specifications, the planning commission would not have given the green light to Cukier’s house unless West U. City Council and the Fire Chief approved it, according to Hickey. “The [community] is used to a certain identity, and John’s house was not even close to what they can identify as a house, ”he says. “And they were worried about the value of their own property.”
Considering its unique design and the fact that Houston’s housing market has recently exploded, I can’t imagine this won’t soon sell to a new owner, someone who will take this cosmic place to a new dimension. “At the time of its construction, there was nothing like it anywhere,” Hickey says. “And there is still no… it’s a dichotomy and a surprise.” After seeing it with my own eyes, I realize that it’s only fitting that House Darth Vader is here in Houston. It’s as unlikely, sprawling, and full of unforeseen wonders as the city she inhabit.