The Secret World of the Menil’s Montrose Bungalows: These Aren’t Just Cute Cottages

BY CATHERINE D. ANSPON, PHOTOGRAPHY CASEY DUNN 08.03.15

So proud to see our own Bob Russell featured in this insightful and inspiring profile on his home in this months PaperCity Magazine.  Below is the feature on Bob's home written by Catherine D. Anspon, with beautiful photographs by Casey Dunn. To view the full article, please click here

 Artist Bob Russell contemplates his next step after a banner year.

Artist Bob Russell contemplates his next step after a banner year.

 The Russell's airy living room with mid-century furniture culled from auctions, yard sales and antiquing.

The Russell's airy living room with mid-century furniture culled from auctions, yard sales and antiquing.

 Judy Russell relaxes in their breakfast room at a sturdy antique oak pedestal table, from her family's home in Bellaire.

Judy Russell relaxes in their breakfast room at a sturdy antique oak pedestal table, from her family's home in Bellaire.

For the second in our series of lives inside the illusive Menil-gray bungalows that surround The Menil Collection, we venture into two of the cottages — the homes of artist Amber Eagle and her artisan husband, Guillermo Rosas, and artist Bob Russell and his wife, mid-century design maven Judy Russell. Discover the bliss of living small and purposefully, shaded by history and across the street from one of the world’s most storied private museums.

CHEZ JUDY AND BOB RUSSELL
The Russells have rented the charming circa-1930s Branard Street bungalow in the de Menil enclave since 2012. (They were recently joined by her mom, nonagenarian baker and ace bridge player Kathleen Sturm.) The couple met during their undergraduate days — Judy remembers Bob walking her to her car at the University of Houston, “and that was it.” They have been married 44 years, with a grown son and daughter and their first grandchild on the way. The Russells have feathered their diminutive nest with his artworks; a shared collection of paintings, works on paper and sculpture; enticing rocks and mineral specimens; and well-edited furniture and design finds that tilt to the Mad Men era — evidence of Judy’s seven-year tenure at Sunset Settings. (She now works for UT School of Nursing at the Texas Medical Center.)

But what occurs outside the bungalow is even more important. “I can walk out my front door and almost touch four different world-class art pavilions,” says Bob. “I love the energy of the neighborhood.” We first made Bob’s acquaintance during visits to Gremillion & Co., where this one-time rock ’n’ roll musician who studied architecture in college has long worked as a gallerist. I had known Bob for years when one day he invited me to visit the home where he and Judy were living at the time, in another Menil-owned property. The startlingly beautiful work on view presaged his current well-received career as an artist. (Recent exhibitions include a one-person show at the Jung Center, his solo this spring at Colquitt dealer D.M. Allison Gallery and inclusion in the edgy “Wet” group show curated by Donna Tennant and Henry Hunt at the Williams Tower Gallery.)

What’s compelling about Russell’s work is its feeling of being created in a bygone era — one surmises living in the bungalow reinforces this sensitivity. His collages are remarkable, but in a nuanced way: Combining paper, torn bits of canvas and pencil markings, these understated works possess a nocturnal air informed by cubism and precise geometry. There’s always an open-porch policy at bungalow Russell: The couple entertains in the best way possibly, informally and organically. Bloody Mary Sundays, dropins by neighbors (including our next profile, Amber Eagle), relatives and a small stream of other fascinating visitors as well as a friendly neighborhood-fed non-feral cat make for a sense of community, all within this leafy allée footsteps from the Twombly Gallery, across from the Menil. “After living near Rice University, in Austin and a Houston downtown loft and having wonderful memories of them all, this home has been the best,” Judy says.