Glass Houses 2: Precarious House

Marco Villegas has lived in his large, two-story Montrose home for 13 years. He moved in with his college roommates, and when they moved out he took on their leases.

Marco Villegas has lived in his large, two-story Montrose home for 13 years. He moved in with his college roommates, and when they moved out he took on their leases. Room-by-room, the house became his. Now, friend and neighbor to his landlord, he pays a fraction of the going Houston rent to occupy a space that accommodates two kitchens, several studios, and generous storage while leaving a little room for his life apart from painting.

The house is rough in places – losing the fight against Houston’s climate and soil. The floors aren’t level. There are leaks. Upstairs, mildew stains trace coral patterns across the ceilings and walls and some of the circuits don’t work. But the spaces too rugged to be occupied by people are occupied by art – meticulous geometric paintings that couldn’t be more different than the rooms they live in. Six feet tall and standing back-to-back along the walls and in the corners, the polygon canvases have an almost human presence. Because they’re stored in a row of repurposed bedrooms, this human presence adds up to a bogeyman effect: Marco Villegas has geometric giants living upstairs.

In the heart of the building, at the top of the stairs and the end of a narrow hallway, is Marco’s study. Half fake-wood 1970’s paneling and half peeling 1920’s wallpaper, it’s the only room in his house of high ceilings and open windows that feels fully enclosed. It’s also the only room in the otherwise analog house where his digital tools have a home: tucked in a corner are his computer and stereo, where he creates the initial plans for his paintings and maintains his comprehensive collection of Mp3s – dividing his time between his work as an artist and his work as an ambassador of good-music-you-haven’t-heard-yet.

When I came to take pictures, Marco (kindly, soft-spokenly) prodded me more than most as to what I (a first-time visitor) would have to say about his house. There are plenty of people who have lived in places longer, but not many whose college apartment has, over more than a decade, become their professional studio and adult home. As someone who’s attempted to conceal his life’s inelegant transitions in a series of apartment-hops, I know that staying put is harder than moving. We try to re-configure the spaces around us to reflect who we are. No doubt, Marco’s house has been re-configured a dozen times since he first signed a lease – to accommodate roommates, parties, loved ones, art. He’s spent a long time customizing it. It follows that he’d want me to get it right.

 

David Harrison is a writer and photographer living in Houston.

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