Q&A: Shawn Watkins, home remodeler

Shawn Watkins hangs out in his newly built guest house with dogs Mia and Bubba. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)
Shawn Watkins hangs out in his newly built guest house with dogs Mia and Bubba. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)

After 12 years in the restaurant business — opening store after store, where, hands on, he learned how to make aesthetic visions reality — Shawn Watkins switched gears. About 13 years ago, he brought his hard-won construction and design chops to Watkins Remodeling. His restaurant-biz buddy, Glenn Hartzell, serves as his right hand man — both don long hairstyles restricted to artists or otherwise freelancing males (“I used to have to wear a suit,” Hartzell says, incredulous). Watkins is husband to Jalie, father to two Wallace Elementary students (plus dogs Bubba and Mia). Along with Jalie’s mom, they share a 3,500-square-foot mid-century masterpiece in Highland Meadows, a Lake Highlands nook studded with architectural gems. Nestled amid a thicket of trees and brush, the Watkins’ house is one of the last projects by award-winning architect Niles F. Resch, who died in 1958, shortly after its completion.

Many of the homes in your neighborhood look like they might have in the 1950s — how does an area maintain such character?
The story from some of the oldtimers is that this whole quadrant over here is an architectural enclave, that all the lots were purchased and built on by architects. Next door is a Ju-Nel home, the one behind was featured in Architectural Digest, the one on the corner supposedly was built for a veteran, and it was one of the first ADA [American with Disability Act]-compliant houses. I’ve been in a lot of these and they are all cool — built in the ‘50s some in the ‘60s.

Why did you and Jalie choose this place?
We had finished remodeling our Lochwood home and knew we’d only move for the perfect mid-century modern, good-boned house.

What are the hallmarks of such as house?
Watch your step — split level is a big thing in mid-century. It incorporates nature — large windows and glass doors that allow ample sunlight. Exposed beams, wood ceilings, prevalent brick, thick woods, white rock or concrete walls, low-pitched roof. The cool part of having the original blueprints, which were left here, is that we know what has been done and we know the architect’s vision. See, that spiral staircase on the outside of the house was original. We know the architect died shortly after this build. We aren’t even really sure that he finished everything. It is still a work in progress today, but in the two years we’ve been here, we have done a lot.

Funky patterns in tiles and backsplashes are fabulously of-the-moment, and don’t forget the pops of color. Classic staples such as hearty woods — think walnut or mahogany — will always be a part of mid-century modern style.
Funky patterns in tiles and backsplashes are fabulously of-the-moment, and don’t forget the pops of color. Classic staples such as hearty woods — think walnut or mahogany — will always be a part of mid-century modern style.

Like what?
We’ve updated living area, gutted the master, mostly the bathroom. Torn out and redone the closet, changed out all the interior wood to walnut, a very mid-century wood that I love. This second bathroom has all original tile. We raised the ceiling to bring the original wood out and stained it. Many of our lights are salvaged from other jobs. Downstairs has three bedrooms where the kids and Grandma live — it has a door to the pool area — we’ve redone some of the paneling and walls. You’ll see more walnut. We did polished concrete on the floor. We just finished the [two-level, 850-square-foot] guesthouse out back; we cleared out some bamboo in the yard for it. This is a half-acre property. There is still a ton of bamboo, trees, foliage and nature — the homes around here were built into the hillside. The guesthouse floors are concrete. It has TVs, a bathroom …

… and TVs in the bathroom?
Yes, ha, you never know whern you’re going to need it … guest bedroom, more walnut in key places, fun tile in the shower. The accessories pay homage to accents in the main house. Most are salvaged pieces, such as this iron yellow headboard fashioned from demolished buildings in Dallas. I am an estate sale junkie — that’s where so much of this comes from. Like this Marilyn [Monroe] painting, this calf-skin rug, these embroidered pillows, these chairs, the pool table … [not seen is a 165 inch drop-down poolside TV, for movie night].

What’s with this amazing giraffe-wearing-a-floral-crown painting?
This was done by a friend of mine, Heather Gauthier. She’s doing another piece for me for the guesthouse. A four-by-four elephant with butterflies coming up around it, dark background.

Aside from your own place, has work increased recently in Dallas?
Remodels are big right now and people are doing bigger jobs, too. There is more equity in homes, interest rates are still low, a lot of additions going on as well, all over the White Rock area.

What trends stand out today?
We see more of different types of wood and color. Even brass is coming back, surprisingly. Yes, golds and brasses, farm house-y kind of look — when it’s done right it looks really good. Home automation is big, and voice-activated … Amazon Echo allows for all-over voice activation. Technology is ever evolving but this stuff now is easily integrated into different hubs, and it’s easy to update software and firmware, like you do with your apps, so that it will not go obsolete within a couple years. Arabesque is back — so many cool patterned tiles are out right now. The Edison bulb is back, and in various shapes and sizes. The thing is, with things that are easy to replace, you can have fun, go trendy, and then keep the bigger things more classic.

Tips for estate sale shopping?
I follow estatesales.net and put in our zip code. Of course I look at anything that indicates “mid-century.” Definitely look every Monday and Thursday and arrive early.

Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

A majority of the materials and accessories in the Watkins’ restored 1950s-era home are reclaimed from other remodeling jobs or purchased at estate sales. Iron salvaged from a destroyed industrial building has a second life as a headboard in the guesthouse bedroom. Eye-catching patterns, such as arabesque seen on a lampshade, can be easily replaced when they go out of fashion, while classic materials such as rich wood and leather are timeless.
A majority of the materials and accessories in the Watkins’ restored 1950s-era home are reclaimed from other remodeling jobs or purchased at estate sales. Iron salvaged from a destroyed industrial building has a second life as a headboard in the guesthouse bedroom. Eye-catching patterns, such as arabesque seen on a lampshade, can be easily replaced when they go out of fashion, while classic materials such as rich wood and leather are timeless.

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