When Cliff and Donna Welch first saw their home, they knew they wanted it. They liked the house’s clean lines, along with its tree-filled neighborhood and proximity to White Rock Lake.
There was just one problem: It wasn’t for sale.
But they decided to take a chance, leaving a business card in the mailbox, asking the owners to call if they ever considered selling it. They continued their house hunt, and were close to making a purchase, when they got a phone call that changed everything.
“The owner called and said, ‘If you’re interested in the house, you need to come today,’ ” Donna says.
They did just that, hoping the chance they had taken would pay off. Their first thought on seeing the interior: “This is it.”
Cliff, a residential architect, loved the 1954 house for its strong, clean lines.
“I think it’s one of the first international-style homes in the area, with a very open floor plan, as opposed to the rooms being more confined, and very simple horizontal lines,” he says.
But he saw those lines beneath a very busy decor.
“The stuff here fit the house, but there was just a lot of it,” Donna says. “There was something on every horizontal surface in the house.”
“This house lived through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and there were remnants of all of it,” Cliff says. “It was very dark, with dark curtains, lime green shag carpet and lots of wallpaper. It just needed freshness.”
They bought the house from the daughter of its original owners, Esther Webb and John Houseman. (Esther, an artist and silversmith, was known in Dallas as one of the Lady Blacksmiths and co-founder of the Dallas School of Creative Arts.)
Knowing the daughter’s attachment to the house, they assured her they would make it a home.
“We told her, ‘We will take care of your house,’ ” Donna says. “We told her we’d raise our children here and would love it.”
The Welches started work on the house as soon as they moved in, with the challenge of making it look new while changing as little as possible.
“We tried to stay true to the house’s original style,” Cliff says. “There is literally no surface in the house that has gone untouched, but I think the house probably feels more like it did originally.”
They sanded through layers of paint inside and out, finding the original colors and matching them as best they could. They fixed the house’s flat roof. They cleaned or replaced all the hinges and hardware. And they removed every window, sanding them to look brand new.
“We took vacation [time], and thought we could do it in one week,” Cliff says. “Ten years later, we’re still painting.”
In the living room, they painted just one wall. But they did it multiple times until they got just the right color, before accenting it with one of Cliff’s original paintings. They furnished it with cool modern furniture, meant to complement rather than compete with the room’s most striking feature: the backyard.
It is now an integral part of the room, thanks to large windows and a 20-foot sliding glass door that must be one of the largest in Dallas. That’s a nice feature with just about any backyard. But it’s much more so when the yard backs up to park property, with only a creek marking where one ends and the other begins.
The kitchen, which also has a view to the outdoors, was almost a total re-do. They left original metal cabinets intact, refinishing and painting them a bright white. They also replaced the vinyl floors with cork, adding warmth and texture to the room. And they reconfigured appliances, moving the refrigerator from the middle of the room.
They went a full year without a functioning kitchen, touching almost everything but the original stainless steel oven, which they kept despite the idiosyncrasies that come with a 50-year old appliance.
“You burn a few things, and then you know what not to do next time,” Donna says.
The Welches decline to guess how much time they’ve spent on the house over the past 10 years. They just know it has been a lot.
“Instead of going on vacations, we’d work on the house,” Donna says. “We’d work on it at night and on weekends, whenever we had time. We both appreciate what we have, so if it means we skip going out to eat or not doing other things, that’s OK.”
The result of all that work? For starters, some nice recognition from architecture and preservations groups. The house was awarded the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects’ prestigious 25-Year Award, as well as Preservation Dallas’ first Residential Renovation Award.
But more importantly, the Welches have a home, one that fits their style, their interests and their lives.
“At first everybody said, ‘You’re crazy; you’ll never be able to raise a kid in that house,’” Donna says. “But our son loves it. Instead of watching TV, he’ll watch the birds, or we’ll get some bread and go feed the ducks.
“You don’t feel like you’re in the city with this house.”