The Lake Highlands Women’s League Home Tour, embarking on year 36, garners a significant sum of dough each year to fund life-changing college scholarships for Lake Highlands High School seniors. The foundation also distributes funds to a dozen other organizations — schools, library programs, the YMCA and credit counseling nonprofits, to name a few. The cause notwithstanding, the event in and of itself fosters neighborhood sociability, inspires innovation, breeds pride in Lake Highlands properties and forces participants to cross all those little home improvement chores off the to-do list, notes homeowner Diane Cheatham, whose home is on the tour.
And the specialness of Cheatham’s home — a modern Star Trek-inspired architectural masterpiece — cannot be adequately stressed.
It should be noted that Cheatham owns the ultra-contemporary neighborhood in which her home is situated. Several years back, she purchased 14 acres of brushy land just east of Central Expressway and south of Forest and built there a village of sustainable homes varying in shape and square footage — their values range from $300,000 to several million dollars. Representing the upper end of that scale is her three-story, 4,336-square-foot home, built, as is every aspect of the Urban Reserve community, with an impeccable respect for Mother Earth, originality and whimsy.
Cheatham hired a pair of nationally acclaimed architects, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien out of New York City, to build her Urban Reserve home (other homes there are built by various well-respected modern architects).
“They don’t build many houses, so I had to go there and talk them into it,” Cheatham says.
When describing her vision, she says, she mentioned her love of Star Trek and the aesthetics of the Starship Enterprise.
She says she wasn’t sure if they thought she was nuts (“They had a glazed look,” she notes, “and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve said the wrong thing’ ”), but they took the job. Turns out they were listening — visitors to One Vanguard Way initially are “beamed up,” as Cheatham calls it, by way of elevator rather than dematerialization, to a futuristic third floor. (Home tour guests will travel upward by stairs — sorry.)
That’s where you’ll find the main living areas: the master bedroom, office, dining room and entertainment rooms. Floor-to-ceiling windows, when the electric blinds are up, reveal treetops — the DART rail peeking through them — a pond, rows of bamboo and a clean line of gray and ecru-hued homes.
Artwork ranges from a bold chromogenic print to a sculpture that resembles a balled-up page of paper to delicate wire wall art, and there is enough of it to fill a little museum.
Down one floor, by way of concrete stairs outside, are an outdoor pool, al fresco kitchen and dining area, and an indoor office. The bottom floor features a rectangular koi pond, with one pond-side bedroom whose glass walls no doubt make guests feel, as they sleep in its plush bed, surrounded by forest. Also down here, in a spacious wire cage, is a chicken coop housing about a dozen birds.
“It is all part of the recycling, sustainability thing,” Cheatham says of the chickens. They produce eggs and, more importantly, they eat scraps.
Participating in a home tour can be arduous. Homeowners have to ensure the property is in prime condition and entrust their palace to representatives of the LHWL. That does not worry Cheatham a bit, she says.
“I have been on a lot of house tours, but I’ve never been on one that’s as well managed as the one these ladies do. I think they do equally as good a job in deciding how to spend the money they raise,” she says. “I guess I felt like it would help the tour for us to be on it.”
Personally, she also wants to show off Urban Reserve to those in Dallas who don’t know it exists.
“I figure a lot of people in Lake Highlands — in Dallas— wouldn’t come over to this neighborhood otherwise,” she says.
The LHWL comprises 100 active and 197 sustaining members. Since its formation 44 years ago, and largely due to the annual home tour’s popularity, the group has awarded more than $1,138,000 worth of scholarships to LHHS students and more than $532,300 to other education and neighborhood improvement organizations.
Sonya Noruwa, a 2006 graduate, received a $4,000 scholarship that jumpstarted an education at Texas Woman’s University. Today she is in her last year of law school at the University of Houston. “The scholarship impacted my life,” she says, “because my parents paid for everything out of pocket; being that I was first in my family to graduate from college, it was important to them that they pay for me to go to school and finish successfully. This lifted some of the immediate weight off their shoulders and allowed them to save and keep helping me for years to come.”
Sarah Dossou, who spent a stressful period attempting to emigrate from war torn Togo, Africa, says the scholarship was a dream come true —“Am I dreaming?” She exclaimed when she received the news in 2012. It allowed her to pursue her goal of becoming a nurse by way of the otherwise unaffordable nursing program at Texas Women’s University. “When I help people, I feel my own strength,” she says, explaining her career path.
Those are a but a couple of examples; hundreds of students and parents each spring gather at the LHWL award ceremony, and many are overcome with gratitude and excitement at the opportunity presented by the organization. According to scholarship applications, the recipients often have been through terrible hardships — the loss of a parent or sibling, immigration from war-torn countries, poverty, homelessness, disabilities or illnesses, to name a few.
“This is what we have worked for all year long,” LHWL’s Susan Solomon said after the May 2014 presentation. “When you hear the stories of these students and all the things they have overcome, it makes the months of preparation worth it. We are so grateful to everyone who contributed their time and money for these students. We feel so fortunate to be a part of their success story.”