Tales as Old as Time: Story Time at the Rienzi

You might be questioning taking your little one to story time in a mansion filled with fine home furnishings and breakable European objets d'art. Trust me when I say to leave the doubts behind as you and the kids embark on a cultural journey through the Rienzi, which is an extension of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit is housed in a 1950s mansion and features 17th- and 19th-century art, antiques, and decor.

Located on Kirby Drive in River Oaks, the Rienzi museum and gardens are about five miles from the museum's main campus. The mansion was the former home of philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III, and it was designed by Houston architect John Staub in 1952.

Storytime, led by well-versed docents, takes place every day of spring break (usually in March) and on certain weekdays during the summer. Imagine "Tea Rex", the story of a dinosaur invited to a tea party, read in the parlor where an antique table is set for afternoon tea. Or "Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin" read in the drawing room where important guests were once entertained. Poetry is read in the garden and followed by a picnic with your literature-loving little one. Storytime is recommended for kids ages 3 and up, but my toddler has been enjoying this activity since she was 2, so don't shy away from attending with younger ones. Admission is free for children and price varies for adults. Drop-ins are welcome, but space is limited, so it is recommended guests call for a reservation.  

Normally closed on Mondays, the Rienzi is open on Monday holidays and invites families to come and take part in kid-friendly activities. We visited this past Labor Day when the theme was Flora and Fauna. Kids of all ages could get crafty making and decorating fairies, deer, butterflies, and rabbits. Storytime followed, and children heard "King Bidgood's in the Bathtub" and "Madame Lagrande and Her So High, to the Sky, Uproarious Pompadour" in the parlor, but not before discussing the art in the room and how it related to the stories. The children were enthralled with the paintings on the ceiling and the guide did an excellent job of answering their questions.

Tours of the museum were also available, but exploring on your own is encouraged as well. My toddler tired herself out running through the Great Lawn and inspecting flowers and foliage throughout the extensive grounds. Water and lemonade were available for consumption in the living room or outdoors as food and drink are not allowed elsewhere in the museum. Word to the wise: if you have a nice camera, this is the time to get it out. Opportunities for photos are endless – the lush gardens, the sparkling pool, and spacious outdoor terrace just to name a few.

Rienzi Collection
1406 Kirby Drive
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 1-5 p.m., Sunday. Closed the month of August
Free parking is available at the Rienzi (directly in front of the house and along the driveway) and on Lazy Lane.
Strollers are welcome outdoors but not inside the museum. You can park your stroller at the entrance to the house.  

All photos by Frances Broussard Denenburg

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