Historic homes in San Antonio tend to go one of two ways: Their interiors either remain true to their original designs, or they are renovated beyond recognition. Fortunately, Ed and Priscilla Kohutek are preservationists who respect the history of old homes and do their best to maintain the integrity of the original architecture. The couple’s Monte Vista residence, completed in 1921, was designed by Ralph H. Cameron, a prominent San Antonio architect. A beautiful example of Italianate architecture, the home is listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.
Priscilla is a well-known author; Ed retired as an executive from an international corporation. The couple lived all over the world during Ed’s career. While he worked in foreign offices, Priscilla soaked up the local culture, refining her interest in combining different elements of global décor. The couple purchased the house upon their return to San Antonio. A compulsive decorator, Priscilla used her “global approach to eclectic decorating” in her home, always mindful of keeping the house as close to its original architectural design as possible. She and Ed had collected many treasures during their 25-year sojourn in the Far East, and the home is like a travelogue of their lives. Classical elements throughout the house include elaborate crown moldings; two solariums, one upstairs and one down; a symmetrical floor plan, both upstairs and down; panels and columns — all handcrafted details that lend a unique personality to the home.
The foyer gives a visitor a strong first impression of Priscilla’s style. The beveled leaded glass front door and wavy glass windows are original; she’s gone to great lengths to care for the glass. The antique rug lies beneath a Shonbek crystal chandelier, she added. The flooring is oak of zebra and tiger wood patterns.
Traditional décor, Oriental accents
The formal living room, to the left of the entry, is a perfect example of traditional European décor enhanced with Oriental accents and rugs. An element of particular note is an antique double-sided Chinese wedding screen. Other accents include a mahjong table and chairs from Goa, a Korean medicine chest and a carved antique window panel from an old Chinese house. The carving in the center depicts two scholars. There are hand-painted antique Chinese side tables, lacquered Chinese stools and a 600-year-old Thai Buddha. The room is full of art and whimsy, each artifact attached to a memory or a story.
Out of Africa
Beyond the living room is the downstairs solarium, known by the family as the Africa Room. Walls of windows admit natural light, making this a comfortable retreat. The columns on the outer walls and the deep crown moldings are combined with humorous accents that reveal the owners’ personalities. Monkey lamps, Indonesian tribal dolls and a Chinese circumcision/castration chair are among the surprises here. There’s also an antique carved wooden Indonesian rice barrel with a gecko on top.
Priscilla says the most unusual room in the house is the trellis room, a popular architectural feature of the late 19th century that came from Europe. Trellis rooms have painted latticework covering the walls and ceiling; all the latticework in this home is original. This room was probably used as a lady’s sitting room or a morning room.The floor tiles are original, and artwork is by watercolorist Sheryl Perry. Antique elements include a bench and matching chairs from Goa, purchased in India, and a Chinese wedding basket used to carry food and gifts to the bride and groom.
When it came to the kitchen, minor changes were made. The Kohuteks restored the look and feel of a 1920s kitchen, installing modern appliances and returning the cabinets to their original style. Priscilla knew what the kitchen cabinets looked like initially because the cabinetry in the butler’s pantry is original, so she duplicated it. The butler’s pantry is spacious and elegant. The rich red floral wallpaper by Ralph Lauren is a copy of the original wallpaper. The tall Portuguese cabinet holds a collection of antique Japanese Imari china. The star of the room is the new elevator, with cherry-paneled walls and brass fittings, that services the basement, the ground floor and the second floor.
Jewel of a powder room
A short flight of service stairs leads down from the butler’s pantry to Priscilla’s “jewelry box bathroom.” They tore up the old floor and recycled the original tile, adding a marble chair rail and baseboard in the process. The walls were padded and upholstered to coordinate with the butler’s pantry wallpaper. A new toilet was installed. Then the upholsterer built padded frames to surround the mirrors on the walls. A fountain-styled hand-painted porcelain basin by Herbeau, imported from France, completed the design.
The master bedroom has an Old World European look. The working fireplace has an elegant mantel perfect for seasonal florals. The brass king-size bed, flanked by windows, is dressed in rich colors and accented by an Italian hanging tapestry. Lighting comes from Japanese Kutani lamps on the bedside tables. The upstairs solarium serves as a private sitting room. The focal point is the original Redondo tile floor, with designs handcrafted from pigmented marble dust poured into molds and overlaid on Portland cement. The classic design encompasses four tiles grouped to create bold, repeating patterns.
One of the most interesting elements in this room is an antique tonsu of the type found in Japanese homes. It’s a staircase made of boxes, and it was used to get from the main floor up to the sleeping loft. The storage areas in the boxes were used to hold futons or sleeping mats.
The large guest rooms have their own themes. The Chinese bedroom features bedside lamps of Chinese blue and white. A beautiful Japanese wedding kimono decorates one wall, and a glass painting of a Chinese empress hangs on another. The teak dresser was made in Thailand; the headboard is of rosewood. An antique American washstand holds a Chinese blue and white washbowl and pitcher.
A unique Japanese screen hangs on the wall of the Indo-Chinese guest room. The screen depicts the arrival of the Dutch in Japan in the 1500s and the initiation of trade between the two countries. The large oval cradle of art deco design is from Goa; it’s made from teak and rosewood. The cradle is unusual because traditionally Indian cradles are square. Burmese tapestries hang on the wall over the bed, and a horse tricycle from Singapore awaits a rider. The old Victrola, found in India, is in working condition.
The fourth bedroom serves as a working office for Priscilla and Ed. There are computers on desks, comfortable office chairs and a bookcase full of Priscilla’s work. It’s easy to see that the couple are actively involved in professional and community pursuits.
Priscilla and Ed love their home. Even though it looks too big for two people, they use all of it. Ed has a large family that often visits. Entertaining is a passion for the pair, and the flow of the house is perfect for it. There’s lots of space to display their collections, which are actually reflections of their lives together. It’s a home of creativity and harmony — and Priscilla says she can’t imagine a better place to live.