A few years ago, when the American Institute of Architects hosted a tour of “Where Architects Live,” one home simply had to be included. Tucked behind trees and berms on a winding lane, the innovative complex of modular structures reflects the enigmatic family you can find sitting by the fish pond or swimming in a pool shaped to match the Vietnam peace table.

“I’m not sure how I came up with that idea,” laughs architect Mark Domiteaux. “It just seemed to fit.”

The pieces of the puzzle / To understand people who live in a home that evolved one serendipitous section at a time, it helps to know their whole lives up to this point have pretty much fallen into that rhythm.

For starters, Mark met his future wife in the usual way…racing cars.

“She was just sitting there at the track, reading an art history book. You just didn’t see people at the track reading art history books,” says Mark, who met Lisette Cavnozian competing with Formula Fords in West Palm Beach in the mid 1970s.

“Never mind that I was the only woman driver,” Lisa says. “He was curious about the book…I was teaching art history at the time.”

The diminutive, soft-spoken woman is equally casual about her experience breaking the gender barrier at the track.

“I started going there with a doctor I was seeing whose hobby was racing, and I decided: If I’m going to spend this much time out here, I’m going to race, too – not just sit around watching.”

Although some of the guys “gave her a hard time” and “the bathroom was absolutely horrible – like a prison camp,” Lisa says she enjoyed racing and even brushed shoulders with Paul Newman once coming out of the much-lamented bathroom. She does claim, however, to have been given the “Courtesy Award” for being the politest competitor, and the slowest.

“No, no,” Mark says. “She was very good.”

Mark and Lisa remained friends for years, although almost losing touch as he left Florida to change careers and study architecture: “My father had raced cars, so he couldn’t say much back when I dropped out of school to do the same. But after awhile…meeting Lisa was part of it…I realized that there was a whole world out there that I didn’t know about – I decided that I didn’t want to be one of those guys who couldn’t have a conversation about anything but valves and stuff. Being around her, I saw the other half of life I was going to miss.”

Lisa, in the meantime, was just lazing around Florida, learning how to knit and fold napkins, right? Oh sure.

“I got an offer to start racing for money – sailboats, not cars,” she says, as if that were a normal predictable development in any art teacher’s life.

And so it was that Lisa spent the next leg of her life on a competition boat crew sailing around the world for media mogul Ted Turner who she says, choosing her words carefully, “loved to sail, was a great helmsman, and was great at business…but kept us all on a very short lease.”

Saving up her racing earnings for graduate school, Lisa gathered exotic memories of foreign ports and cities, like the time she thought the famed Dorchester Hotel in London was on fire because of the overwhelming smell of smoke from her room.

“But it turned out that a wealthy Mideastern family had just decided to roast a goat in their suite down the hall,” she says.

Meanwhile, back at the Rhode Island School of Design, Mark kept sending Christmas cards to Florida, and finally Lisa intercepted one and called him. They scheduled visits while Lisa continued to race sailboats and finish graduate school (in psychology, not art…another career in the works).

When wedding bells rang in 1981, the couple decided to move wherever either one got “the first job offer.” And Dallas wanted both of them: a position with an architecture firm for Mark and a counselor’s job at St. Marks for Lisa.

By the mid-1980s, Lisa had started her own practice, dealing with kids and adults – “some of my patients come back later in life.” Mark, on the other hand, decided the real estate crash meant it was time to take a hiatus from architecture. So he became a chef.

“I like to cook – it had always interested me,” he says.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of San Francisco, Mark became pastry chef at the Riviera Restaurant. Then when real estate began perking up a few years later, he started his own firm, Studio Domiteaux Architects.

About 15 years ago, the family grew – son Matthew livens up the couple’s unique neighborhood compound along with giant slobbering dogs Maggie, Annie and Louise, and a very small black cat named Eli. Matt’s a typical teenager who likes to entertain visitors by reading excerpts of how British art critics deride exhibits – “so much fiddle faddle” – and contemplate Eli’s fate in “existential Hell” while being systematically hunted by the household canine contingent.

The view from here / Mark handles both residential and commercial design these days, and says he likes to “help people come up with something truly their own, not just another Dallas mansion. It’s a great puzzle.”

At his latest public venture, the Head Start Center at Fair Park, Mark has spent countless hours walking through how teachers and students need to function in the space, and thinking through how a correctly designed facility could help them cope with limited staff and resources. He says he sees himself as “an architectural therapist.”

So is that who we have in the end? The cars spinning around the track, the boats splashing around the world, the many homes, the multiple careers – did all those twists and turns somehow create two therapists?

“It’s all self exploration,” Lisa says. “It’s discovering yourself.”


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