Commissioned to make something special out of a small utility basement in a River Oaks house designed by Eugene Werlin, we set out to convert a dark, low-ceilinged chamber into a wine cellar. Our approach was inspired by Andrea Palladio, who devoted considerable effort to designing the ground floor and subterranean spaces of his villas to make them exceptionally graceful as they conveyed light and air to a villa’s inner recesses.
Palladio’s ceilings had a clear relevance to our project: vaults can give even a low ceiling an upward impetus and create reflective surfaces. We adapted an intersecting barrel-vault design for the ceiling of the cellar. We chose neutral limestone for the floor and earth tones for the plaster walls and ceiling so that light would be reflected from the glass globes set into wall niches along the stair and the mounted sconces in the cellar. The stairway descends gently, embellished by a dramatic twelve-foot-long handrail in drawn bronze forged in place by the metal artist Tim Bailey. Our designs for the functional elements that recur throughout the interior—the oak casework recessed in walls; the hinges, latches, knobs, and rings on the cellar’s oak doors; and the lighting fixtures—were all hand wrought by expert craftsmen.