Synergy and Serendipity: A Princeton Home Captures the Spirit of Its Owners

By Ellen Gilbert

Photography by Jeffrey E. Tryon

Art and energy efficiency meet to good effect in the remarkable home of Princeton residents Ilana and Mauricio Gutierrez and their three children. “We’re fortunate to have a lot walls,” observes Ilana as she leads a visitor into the ultra-modern house they have occupied for 18 months. The welcome wall space, which includes an actual art gallery, is used to display the couple’s growing collection of modern Mexican art, mostly acquired through Eva Beloglovsky, a Mexican art dealer who also happens to be Ilana’s mother. Some of the art is for sale; the rest has a permanent place, at least for now, here in Princeton. The collection is comprised mostly of paintings on canvas and prints; sculptural pieces include a large outdoor work on the front lawn.

Green Living

In addition to housing the unusual art collection, the house also boasts some exemplary sustainable features, including a sedum-covered green roof.  Solar panels are on the way.  Mauricio, who is the executive vice president and chief operating officer at NRG Management, is delighted to have found a home that speaks so directly to his work.  NRG, a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 Company with headquarters in Houston and Princeton, is one of the country’s largest power generation and retail electricity businesses. As he describes it, he is responsible for “making sure that the trains run on time,” keeping that NRG’s entire generating and thermal operation fleet operate at top levels of safety, performance and environmental sustainability.  (For more on NRG, see the article about CEO David Crane, “Leading the Clean Energy Charge,” in the October 2011 issue of Princeton Magazine.)  Mauricio regards the house as a kind of unofficial laboratory for the company. The first utility bill they received after moving in turned out to be almost half of what they had paid in their previous home in Lawrenceville.

Byron Gálvez

The heart of the art collection is comprised of works by Mexican artist Byron Gálvez (1941-2009). After collaborating in a business relationship, Gálvez and Ilana’s mother fell in love and married.  A child at the time, Ilana was already steeped in the art world as a result of her mother’s business.  Now Gálvez became an important influence.  Her knowledge of his evolution as an artist is apparent as she speaks of his work, which includes larger pieces for public and corporate spaces.

Although originally interested in abstract imagery, Gálvez was drawn to more figurative painting and sculpture in the 1980s. The influence of Picasso is evident in the artist’s depictions of toreros; acrobats performing in the Cirque du Soleil; and some erotically themed pieces. His larger works include an 80 by 100 meter mural installed in the Pachuca, Hidalgo cultural park.

Other artists featured in the collection are modernists like Francisco Javier Vázquez Estupiñán, who goes by the professional name “Jazzamoart,” a reference to his favorite subject.   Jazzamoart’s saxophone-player is an eye-catcher, as are other artists’ renderings of an acrylographic image of watermelons, and a completely black, but highly textured off-center canvas covered in small fabric squares.

Byron Gálvez left Eva the means to continue supporting the sale and preservation of his art.  Ilana’s focus right now is on collaborating with her mother (who visits often) to buy and sell Gálvez’s and other artists’ works around the world.  As soon as the children get home from school, though, she enjoys being a full-time mother.

Fate

The couple uses the word “destiny” in describing their relationship with the house, and compare finding it to “a second marriage.”  With just the outside of the main building completed when they “stumbled” on it, they were able to work with architect/developer J. Robert Hiller, FAIA, and builder Peter Edwardson on design details that followed.

Natalia, 13; Alex, 10; and Sebastian, 6 each have their own bedrooms and bathrooms, but Ilana makes a point of emphasizing that “we all live here,” and that the house in its entirety is child-friendly.  Built-in shelves and seating spaces are plentiful. The furniture is in quietly muted earth tones, like teal, that allow the art to take pride of place, along with numerous groupings of family photographs taken over the years.

Which is not to say that the children are impervious to the dramatic canvases all around them.  They acknowledge being scared of skeletal “day of the dead” depictions, but served as stalwart, informed guides during a recent art show held by Ilana in the house.  A large abstract painting, created by the children and some classmates, has been framed and matter-of-factly hung like any other painting in the collection downstairs.

Settling Down

Ilana, 39, and Mauricio, 43, are both Mexican-born and have been married for 16 years.  Before coming to the Princeton area they lived in Paris, Colorado, Houston, and Minneapolis.  Natalia and Alex were born in Houston, Sebastian was born in Princeton. The children attend the Princeton Junior School, where the couple was impressed with the degree of environmental consciousness reflected in the curriculum, and Mauricio currently serves as treasurer of the Board of Trustees.  The pleasures of living in Princeton include its proximity to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

On a recent late-winter morning, workmen from Willard Brothers Lumber were delivering a custom-made dining room table created out of a black walnut tree that had been split in half.  The square shape is deliberate; Ilana and Mauricio like the idea of an inclusive conversation among all their guests, rather than the usual tête-à-têtes that occur at long rectangular dining room tables.  An elongated oval in the middle of the table exposes the edges of both sides of the tree, and Mauricio made sure that the tree’s natural knots and gnarls were left just as they were.

In the meantime, overseeing both nature and artifice are three Andy Warhol-like pop-art portraits of each of the children, which seems entirely appropriate. “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself,” Warhol once observed. The Gutierrez household is very much a work in progress.

 

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