We saw nothing redeeming in the house whatsoever,” the owners aver. Boarded up and foreclosed, it was truly the worst house in a sociable and attractive neighborhood in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas. “There was no ‘architecture’, other than such small details as the exposed rafter tails and cruciform openings in the front porch’s brick wall.” Otherwise, it was a very generic 1949 ranch with smallish rooms, a terrible floor plan, 8' ceilings, and no relationship to the backyard.
Still, the interesting, oversized lot looked toward woodland. That sort of lot is rare in Dallas. So Chas Fitzgerald and Jackson Hammack bought the house to remake it. Today’s kitchen, interior board walls, fireplace and entry tile, and the front door are new, not to mention the beautiful garden areas. The property has an Arts & Crafts feeling, designed in an eclectic combination of Western motifs with a Modern twist. The tiled fireplace centers the home, as it does in so many bungalows; yet the clean, unornamented lines befit a 1940s house. Re-issues of Stickley and Hickory furniture mingle with modern classics and leather. It’s all very personal.
The owners took care to echo what original assets the house did have. Grouped windows in the corners were repeated in new spaces. The rafter tails were given emphasis. The cross motif in the brick wall was picked up in the design for embossed tiles around the entry door and in the fireplace surround. The brick façade is original, albeit with new windows custom-made to reproduce the horizontal pattern in the original steel windows. Original hardwoods remain. In a bathroom with vintage blue tiles, cabinets were simply refaced.
The project was, nevertheless, a makeover. “We built a new, detached garage out back, and converted the original attached garage into an amazing kitchen,” Chas says. The kitchen is indeed unique. The 1960s glazed bricks behind the stove, some repainted to create an arresting backsplash for the stove, came from landscape beds at the couple’s previous house. “We purposely added a side porch to our kitchen, outside the fence. We call it the friendship door since our friends never need come to the front door.”
What was once a crawl space was converted to a media room for extra living space: the carpenter devised a way to gain eight extra inches of headroom by removing a structural cross beam and steel support pole and sistering the existing 2 x 6 floor joists. Thus, split-level living space was the big reward for some basic reframing of the floor. An addition incorporating a formerly open breezeway (now a gallery) and the old garage at the back of the house includes a handsome set of wood stairs and an iron tree-motif railing, leading down to a master suite with direct access to the courtyard patio. Before the redesign, grade changes had made access to the backyard difficult.
With small collections of pottery, books, and paintings, rooms have a layered, serene feeling. “But the best room in the house,” Chas says, “is more-or-less outside: the screened porch.”
In Texas, a covered porch, properly oriented for sun and weather, gets plenty of use. Equipped with a ceiling fan, screens, and a fireplace, the room is comfortable in most weather. “At Thanksgiving we can set two parties, one in the dining area and the second on the porch,” Chas says. “The kitchen island is set as a buffet. We have both fireplaces blazing.”
Living space extends outside as well, to the courtyard and a series of garden rooms carved out of the nearly half-acre lot. Chas was the landscape architect; “I’m registered but do not practice,” he says. The courtyard is now a neat square formed by the house, the ell that was the former garage, a new detached garage, and black bamboo in a contained bed. The area had been a concrete driveway. Native flagstone was laid on top in some areas, while in others the concrete was saw-cut and removed, then repurposed in the building of retaining walls and garden steps.
With the serenity of an Asian garden, the landscape around the house has a Texas Ranch theme: the koi pond was constructed like a concrete water trough for cattle, and the fence has a pipe-rail frame with cattle-wire mesh.