A Real Cliffhanger: Bluffview home is a showplace for talent

Bluffview Estates of Camino Real is an older neighborhood tucked in between Silverhorn Golf Club and Bitters Road. Graced by stately oaks, the homes are products of architectural dreams. Along one of the winding streets is a three-story Spanish Revival house behind an ornate wrought-iron gate that offers visitors a real surprise: a breathtaking view. “Who knew Bluffview actually had views?” exclaims homeowner Lee Cusenbary. “Most people in San Antonio have no idea that there are homes situated right on the bluff in this neighborhood with such a gorgeous view of the golf course and downtown San Antonio.”

“On holidays, we can see all of the fireworks ignited in the city,” says his wife, Dr. Teri Hospers. “Downtown San Antonio, SeaWorld and Fiesta Texas—we get a panoramic view from our own backyard.”

Houseful of Talent

What happens inside this beautiful home is as fascinating as what happens outside. The house is not just another pretty edifice; it’s the home of five very busy people. Lee is a lawyer at a local pharmaceutical manufacturer; Teri is a pediatric cardiologist. Chad, 18, is off to Trinity University to study computer science and play his sax; Erin, 16, is studying and playing varsity volleyball at St. Mary’s Hall. Eleven-year-old Rex has aspirations to be a professional basketball player and has just completed elementary school at Saint Mary’s Hall. Each child is into sports, academics, music—“and friends!” says Teri. “Lots and lots of friends, in and out of here every day!” “Office parties, political fund-raisers, charity fund-raisers, birthdays and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary have all been great fun in this house,” Lee says. The house is also command central for “The Ethics Follies®,” an award-winning musical comedy Lee writes and Teri stars in every year. Nearly 40 actors, singers, choreographers, costumers and musicians rehearse here at all hours for about four months. It’s a major production with first-rate local sponsors who have an interest in promoting ethical business behavior.

“The Follies bring many professions together for a network of like-minded ethical people. It also raises much-needed funds for the Community Justice Program, which provides free legal services to those in need,” adds Lee. The home has an interesting construction history. Originally built by Alan Braid, who is a San Antonio obstetrician and gynecologist, it comprises over 6,300 square feet on one acre. The three-story home is strategically placed on the top of a bluff. The first floor is framed of steel girders, unusual for a residential home in Texas. “We found out about the girders when we tried to install gutters,” Lee says. “The installers couldn’t hammer anything to the walls. Because of the girders, this house is so structurally sound that it would withstand a hurricane. However, because of the girders, we can’t have gutters!”

It’s built on solid limestone, something Dr. Braid discovered when he put in the pool. “Let’s just say I imagine it took considerably longer to dig the hole than the original construction estimate,” Lee says. “On the plus side, though, the water is always cold because it is surrounded by limestone.” The family moved to Bluffview in 2002. “The first thing Lee did was tear down all the heavy draperies.” Teri says. “They were beautiful, with up to five layers of window covering, but they obstructed the views and made the rooms seem smaller and dark. We changed the paint colors from cool to warm tones, which opened up the spaces.”

The children live on two floors upstairs; the second floor holds their bedrooms and bathrooms, and the top floor serves as a game/media room. The third floor’s 8-foot arched window frames the western horizon, dotted with buildings including Lee’s employer, Mission Pharmacal, and Methodist Hospital, where Teri see’s most of her patients.

Art, Antiques and Reproductions

The home is furnished with original artwork, antiques and antique reproductions of European country furniture. “It’s oversized, rugged furniture that fits us,” says Lee, and adds that his children will all be between 6 foot 2 and 6 foot 7 inches. “Much of the art and photography in the house is Lee’s,” says Teri. “He’s an excellent painter.” “In my world, I like to have things around me that have a sense of connection,” Lee says. “We collect things that matter to us, rather than buying a lot of knickknacks. Most of the art glass, rugs, and crystal items in our home were bought during business trips or family vacations. They have significance in our lives.” Teri points out the chandelier in the living room. “How many people would look at this and really notice that the lights are supported by riders on camels?” she asks. “We loved it when we saw it. We weren’t sure what to do with those antique red Chinese bedside tables when we bought them, but we discovered later they were the perfect size to elevate the Chinese wooden carvings we use as window screens,” Teri explains. “You’d never think to combine these things if you looked at them individually, but they look fine together and are reminders of good times.”

Everyone in the family uses the baby grand piano, placed in front of the marble-topped bar. The bar is a reproduction of a similar furnishing found in an estate in France. Family heirlooms serve as accent pieces. A glass-front bookcase belonged to Lee’s grandfather; it contains Teri’s grandfather’s medical books and family photos. The British walnut secretary came from Lee’s grandmother and contains old receipts from bills she’d paid in Sonora, Texas. Lee’s family still has a cattle ranch in Sonora, a town that was founded in part by Lee’s great–grandfather, D.B. Cusenbary, in the late 1800s. Much of the rest of the furniture in the living room, such as the game table, a red chinoiserie console and the bar are from Maitland-Smith, renowned for its unusual antique reproductions.

Grand Entrance

The first impression of this house is a curious combination of security and freedom. Unlike more contemporary homes, which center the entrance of the home, the entrance is off to the side of the house. While not a focal point of the house, the heavy wooden front door, with its accents of glass and wrought iron, speaks of solid construction; the entry hall’s soaring 20-foot ceiling lends a spacious feeling to what otherwise would be a cramped space. “With the way the house is situated on the property, having a large front entrance would not have allowed for the house to have the center fountain and garden and the French doors to all the first floor rooms,” Lee explains. The short hallway to the dining room features a hanging tapestry on one side and an antique Philco radio console on the other. “I like the console because with its woven front and burled wood top, it’s an interesting piece of furniture,” Lee says, “and I used to find radio stations with it at the ranch when I was a kid.”

Above the console are four small framed prints of paintings depicting the seasons of life. “Teri bought these at the Smithsonian store in D.C. when she was 17,” he says. “She shoved them into a box when she left home to go to UT Austin, and we found them when we moved to this house. Each is a beautiful depiction of a stage of life, and the quartet looks just right over the console.”

Dining in Style

The formal dining room’s high ceilings set off the heavy Henredon wooden table that seats eight. The oversized chairs are upholstered in leather and chenille. Teri made the luxurious silk draperies and sheers, and Lee handled glazing of the walls in three layers of golds and greens to match the sheen of the silk draperies.
“We never had a formal dining room set until we moved into this house,” Lee says. “Our previous home had an empty dining room but we used it as a ‘running room.’ It was a large empty space where we would play the guitar, sing songs, and our kids would run around and dance to the music. When we moved in here, and the kids could play in the room upstairs, I promised Teri that we’d have our first real dining room”

Heart of the House

The kitchen features a pass-through window with a granite eyebrow ledge that is useful for buffets or delivering food to the dining room. The 10-foot granite island is where people tend to end up during a party. “The kitchen is the heart of the house,” Lee says. “We remodeled it some to make it more functional, extending the island to make a breakfast bar. We added a tile backsplash and changed the countertops.” The swirling oranges, browns, golds and quartz of the granite countertops plays off the Saltillo tile floor and pecan cabinets. They also located a whimsical wrought iron chandelier featuring a rooster nesting among a group of small shades. Amber glass beads hang from the metal curlicues, echoing the smaller amber glass beads on the more formal Venetian glass chandelier in the dining room.

The kitchen opens onto the breakfast area, right next to Teri’s built-in desk, which Lee says is the brain center of the house.

“We’re in here a lot,” Teri says. “The kitchen table is made from ironwood and has seen glue, scissors, paint and pine wood derby cars. The oversized Mexican wood and leather chairs are sturdy and can take a beating, too. I made sure the table was round so our family can look at each other during meals. No one’s at the head of the table.” French doors open from the breakfast area into the courtyard. Next to the exit is an antique wooden hall tree from Williamsburg, Va. “We didn’t know what where we’d put this when we bought it years ago,” Lee says. “We just had to have it. It fits perfectly in this space. I keep my grandfather’s Stetson hat on it since I don’t wear hats.” Down the hall from the breakfast room is Lee’s office. The walls are lined with bookcases full of reference books, family photos and mementos of previous Ethics Follies productions. The corner kiva fireplace adds a cozy ambiance and an unexpected use of American Indian architecture in the Spanish home.

“I wrote all of the Ethics Follies scripts at this desk,” Lee says. “I write and record music here as well.” Lee released a CD two years ago called Lament, the Musical which was a Top 10 seller for Broadway and Vocalists on Amazon.com. “We recorded all the vocals in this room with local singers and the tracks were then engineered in New York by arranger Phil Close, my songwriting partner.” The room beyond the office was an unused courtyard. The family renovated the space into a large exercise room with skylights, windows, mirrored wall and spring wood floor. The studio is outfitted with machines and hand weights; niche shelves hold exercise videos. “Our home is comfortably conservative, but we wanted the workout room to be more contemporary and colorful, with square built-in shelves, nickel and birch wood fans, and Italian iridescent tile covering one wall,” explains Teri. This room has its share of artwork, too. A Ginny Garcia art glass piece is mounted on the wall besideEthics Follies playbills, and was a gift from the 2008 cast and crew of the Follies to thank Lee for his direction of the show. An Andy Warhol-inspired photo of Teri also has its own spotlight on one wall.

“We use this room extensively for Follies rehearsals,” Lee says, “and all five of us exercise at least three times a week. It’s hard to make excuses when the elliptical and weights are here in the house.”

Sweet Suite

The master suite was intended as a parental haven but the children like it so much that they often sprawl on the antique sofa to watch favorite shows on the big-screen television. Walls of windows and French doors provide an airy feeling. Lush tropical landscaping beside the windows provides an illusion of sleeping in a garden. The couple decorated the room with beautiful furniture. The centerpiece is a reproduction of an antique iron-canopied four-poster bed, from Horchow. The large hand-painted dresser is a reproduction from the Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C., purchased during a vacation there. The plush antique Victorian sofa at the foot of the bed is of a classic style, made more contemporary with chocolate brown chenille rather than floral tapestry. The antique marble-topped tables in the bedroom have carved roses in the legs and were Lee’s grandparents’.

Teri says the master bath is “nothing really special. We like the stained glass window over the tub, but the rest of the room is functional.” “Except for the closet!” Lee exclaims. “This is one room we wish we could have expanded. Teri uses two-thirds of our closet!”

The Great Outdoors

The large courtyard is accessible from every room on the first floor through the 12 sets of French doors surrounding the courtyard. It is lushly landscaped and leads to the large pool. Beside the pool is an attractive two-story kitchen cabana. A unique feature of the pool patio is the marble mosaic medallions built into the stone decking around the pool. Lee had the stone mosaics made in Lebanon and then installed them by pulling individual fiber optic glass pieces between the small pieces of marble. The fiber optics shine with pinpoints of light through, making them shimmer at night. The cabana kitchen has everything needed to prepare an outdoor feast. Outdoor grill, refrigerator, dishwasher and icemaker are all used on a regular basis. A full bath adjoins the space. Upstairs a comfy seating area is arranged around a fireplace. The view from on top of the pool house is breathtaking since the cabana sits on one of the highest points in the Northside area.

To the left of the pool and down the hill, a furnished gazebo faces the southwest side of the golf course.

It’s clear that the family uses every inch of this lovely home. “It took some work to get it the way we wanted, but it was worth all the effort,” Lee says. “It’s really a great place to raise our kids and enjoy our friends.”

Author: Robyn Barnes

Photographer: Al Rendon

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