Favorite Houston Design Cliché: The Official 2010 Ballot

Here they are! The official nominees for the very first category of the 2010 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate: Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Thanks to all of our readers who submitted suggestions!

You can cast your vote for this award category simply by adding a comment to this post indicating your choice. But why not make it more fun? Don’t just tell us who you’re voting for, tell us why!

And pay attention to our new voting rules this year: You can also vote up to 3 more times — by email, on Twitter, or from Facebook — as long as you follow these rules.

And the nominees are . . .


1. Oval leaded glass front doors with shiny brass trim. “Much like ‘lick and stick’ stone, this is a singular design element — it seems to know no boundaries on where it is applied. They’re ugly and cheap looking, yet show up on properties in any and every style, age, and price range imaginable.”

2. Suburban office buildings touting “green” credentials. “As if throwing down a ‘green’ building 30 miles from the center of town will have any sizable impact on the carbon footprint that results from 1,000 workers driving 20 miles to work to withstand a constant 72-degree bubble. At least in theory, workers traveling Downtown have an option to use mass transportation.

3. Poolside stone waterfall additions. “Because nothing says resort-style living like a bunch of rocks glued together with water dripping down.”

4. Lone stars. “They’re stuck to the exterior of local houses, welded into fences, topping weathervanes and incorporated into thousands of local front doors. What inspires such a need to express pride in one’s state by tacking distressed stars onto everything? Please, stop doing that. It’s not like we’re going to forget we live in Texas.”

5. Outdoor fire pits. “They seem a pretty worthless amenity, especially during the 9 months of the year when we huddle indoors with the AC running nonstop at 70 degrees or lower. When it does finally get cold enough to merit an actual fire, we have traditional fireplaces (also arguably unnecessary in Houston). At least with a traditional fireplace we can enjoy the heat and get our pyro fix without getting eaten alive by mosquitoes or inhaling smoke every time the wind changes direction. Come to think of it, I’ve never actually seen a group of people enjoyably sitting around a fire pit for any length of time, though the picture on the box suggests otherwise.”

6. Masonry-front houses. “As if no one ever will ever see all that cement-board siding in back or the sides. Can we call this one ‘Stone veneer with Hardie rear’?”

7. Mailbox mansions. “It’s like your little mailbox has its own castle. I love the fact that they usually have a curved top which mimics the shape of a USPS approved mailbox. I also love the fact that the brickmason will often remove the little red ‘flag’ from the mailbox and install it in one of the mortar courses on the outside of the new masonry structure. What happened to any notion of scale? They look bad enough when you consider them separate and apart from their surroundings, but they seem especially weird and silly when you drive through a new neighborhood and see them all standing silent sentry on the curb just waiting to perform their solemn duty of . . . holding . . . our . . . mail.

Which of these fine nominees truly deserves recognition as Favorite Houston Design Cliché for 2010? Let the voting begin!

Photos: HAR (door, waterfall [also here], and fire pit), Behringer Harvard (Westway One), Aaron Carpenter (lone star, corner house), Brick Doctor (mailbox)

71 Comment

  • 1,2,3,5,6, and 7 are not at all unique to Houston. Option 4, Lone Stars, wins lamely by default.

  • Oval door wins because someone actually oput one on my bungalow in th Heights before I bought it.

  • I’d nominate pointy-topped-retro-neomodernpostclassicism as Houston’s design snafu of late.

    Case in “point” any number of high-rises not resembling either an enlarged Zippo or monkey wrench in downtown

  • Though not at all a NEW affliction, the barrel-top brick mail-mansions get my vote!
    These chunks of junk are no more attractive than my wheelie trash can of approximately the same dimensions.
    And so many of them tip over in time, for lack of a proper foundation!

  • I go for the number six. Bugs the crap out of me.

  • Definitely #4!! But #6 was a close second.

  • Mini turrets on McMansions.

  • #4-Lone stars all the way! I started counting once in my in-laws’ Katy neighborhood, but I lost track and gave up. Pretty much every other house.

  • Have to vote for Lone Stars! When my husband’s aunt moved here from California, her daughter begged her not to decorate with “all those tacky metal stars that everyone in Texas has”!

  • The really horrifying thing is that I am starting to see the Texas Lone Stars all over the Lehigh Valley (near Allentown) in Pennsylvania. I have no idea why.

    On the other hand, I’ve spotted two PA Dutch Hex signs in the Heights, so maybe there’s some kind of tacky state specific kitsch exchange going on?

    I vote mailbox mansions (though I think some of them are built in response to kids playing mailbox baseball from moving cars)

  • Definitely the lone star thing. I blame Buc-ee’s.

  • stars, just cause all the others are lame

  • #3, pool with glued on rocks, but only because it has the extra bonus of a lonestar, hovering menacingly in the background… wooh-ha-ha-ha!

  • #4 lone star design gets my vote

  • So many good choices, but I have to go with #6. Bonus points if the junction between brick and Hardieplank occurs at random places that are unrelated to the massing of the house. Even more bonus points if these material junctions occur at points likely to make the house leak.

  • #6

    Bonus points if the front veneer doesn’t completely cover the sides of the house. More bonus points if there are 4 or more types of material on a single house, brick, stone, stucco, siding, fake stucco, and metal.

  • #3. I’ve played golf in a lot of places and stared into a lot of backyards. But nowhere does the affinity for ridiculously oversized and out of place waterfalls match the “bigger in texas” mentality that I’ve seen in Houston.

  • I’m going to have to go with #4 as well. I had some friends in this weekend from out of state, and all they could talk about was how many Texas flags they kept seeing. When they saw the Lone Star billboard for the “National Beer of Texas”, that was it. Game over.

  • #4! The only place those don’t annoy me is in a barbecue restaurant.

  • All the nominees are good, but I will go with #2 as it is the most paradoxical and hypocritical–two qualities that Houston was built on!

  • #6

    Way uglier than stars, at least the stars CAN be subtle, unlike making a whole house look fake.

  • Tossing #2 aside, i suggest a search for THE house with ALL of these options onsite. That property would truly deserve the mother of all Swamplot awards. Get to searching!

  • I agree with Sid that none are unique to Houston and will have to say the Lone Stars get my vote as well. While most of the others simply annoy me, the Lone Stars definitely qualify as a “design” cliche. At your ranch in Wimberly? OK. On the side of your masonry & Hardi Perry Home in Sugar Land? Not so much…

  • “i suggest a search for THE house with ALL of these options onsite.”

    That would be a true Franken-house. (And of course, the residents could commute 20 miles each way to #2–in separate cars.)

  • #2

    Nothing says save the planet like a giant constantly-lit and climate-controlled box.

  • #2 Pseudo-eco Suburban buildings save the Earth!!!!

  • #4 only if you add sponge painting to them like TxDOT has.

  • My vote is for 6. Masonry-Front Houses.

  • Tough choice but I have to go with the ridiculous mail boxes.

  • So many excellent choices… which one to vote for. How about “Door #1″… it’s ruined many a home regardless of architectural style!

  • Have to go with #1 also. Its a pet peeve of mine.

  • #1 is my pet peeve, too. And I think it should win by virtue of its ubiquity.

  • Gotta go with #5.

    I have a client who recently spent $12,000 on a fire pit area. I remain boggled.

  • Can I still vote for #4 if I have one on my house?

  • #6: Putting brick or stone on only the front of one’s house is a decades old habit. Plenty of ranches, shotgun shacks and cottages from various eras have brick and limestone skirting, flowerbeds, borders, columns or fronts. So really, it’s the oldest of the cliches.

  • “From Gordon:

    Can I still vote for #4 if I have one on my house?”

    As X-Ray Spex sang, “I am a cliche you’ve seen before / I am a cliche that lives next door”

  • Truly an embarrassment of riches here. Let’s go with 7. Has anyone seen one of these properly vertically aligned, and more than a year or so old?

  • I’m a big fan of #3, those really turn a hole filled with water into a pool.

  • I nominated leaded front doors with a lone star motif. Can I vote twice?

  • “green” cred buildings

  • #6 – The rhyme sold it.

  • #7

    I’d like to know if the red flag is operable. There’s a reason the ‘rural’ mailbox has that flag. It’s not just a splash of color.

  • Mailbox castles – a classmate of mine once blew one up with a pipe bomb. It was quite the scene. Also, they hold up well during attacks by kids with baseball bats.

  • #4, The inescapable, ubiquitous, Lone star. I hate them with the passion of a thousand fiery suns.

  • Lone Stars, #4. It wins by virtue of the fact that it is featured in TWO of the photos above. (Look again at #3).

  • #6- What the heck were they thinking?

  • #6 no competiton….Masonary fronts. You can take down the stars and dismantle the other leading candidates.

  • My..um…friend’s wife put all these features on my…er…his house. Seriously.

  • #4–One house I walk past everyday has at least two faux-patina metal ones on its exterior and it has the leaded glass door with the star, too.

  • From PYEWACKET2:

    I’d like to know if the red flag is operable. There’s a reason the ‘rural’ mailbox has that flag. It’s not just a splash of color.


    Well duh, of course they have a purpose. How else is a thief going to know which ones are ripe?

    I have to go with #4. The good news is we can melt them all down for ammunition when the next world war breaks out.

  • #4. Secretly I like the stars — at least they show our shared pride in something. But from a design standpoint, it’s cliche and tired.

  • @Brent, post a picture!

  • I vote for #6. Did they think no one would notice?

  • Number 6. The ubiquitous town home with hardie plank on three sides. It is just SO CHEESY. But then again, most builders do not have any taste and neither do their spouses.

  • #1. Hands down. You should have shown a picture of this door on various types of houses to provide the full effect. You stacked the deck against #1 by showing it attached to an equally tacky suburban builder home. You should have shown one of these beauties on a “restored” bungalow, you know, the do it yourself restorations done with fixtures (and front doors) from Home Depot and Lowes. It’s like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa.

  • 5. Outdoor fire pits

  • Yes, I am all for #1 too.

  • Numero uno – those doors are the worst! Maybe not a Houston alone thing but awful nonetheless and since we live here and see them here they should be up for the vote.

  • I am going to vote for #7 because my friend broke her back when she accidentally drove into one. Obviously, that is not the mailbox’s fault, but it was still a totally unnecessary and ugly back breaker.

  • #6 definitely. What are people thinking?

  • #4 !!!! If I see one more huge star on a house I’m gonna puke.

  • #4 in a landslide.

    I’m glad to see someone else complain about the omnipresence of these things. They’re even putting them on our freeway overpasses now.

  • I still think “historic” is the overdone cliche of the century but those tacky Lone Stars on fences, gates, doors, windows, and anywhere else they can be attached come in a close second.

  • Stone Veneer, Hardi Rear!!!!

  • #4, since I almost dont have the option of avoiding them now that they are being embedded into what seems like all new freeway construction.