The White Rock Valley residence showcased all those things that style-savvy mid-century Dallasites loved about Ju-Nel architecture — low-pitched roofing and vaulted ceilings; windows stretched to maximize sunlight and the outdoor view; distressed-wood decks, punctured and edited (same as the soffits overhead) to accommodate trunks and branches, always drawing surrounding nature into the home’s design.
Shrewd shoppers like Sarah and Miles Durham understand the intrinsic value of a Ju-Nel house. Beginning in the late 1950s, the Frank Lloyd Wright-worshipping duo Lyle Rowley and Jack Wilson, who named their company for wives Julie and Nelda, designed and built about 50 of them, mostly in White Rock-area neighborhoods.
The Durhams know you snatch up a Ju-Nel when you find it, and care for it like the precious gem that it is.
An architect from a family of architects, Miles wouldn’t think of leaving well enough alone. Though the structure, upon purchase, was charming and well preserved, its new owners would strip, gut and tear it almost right down to the studs. Then they would rebuild — preserving and repurposing its finest parts — and polish it until it seemed like something plucked from the set of Mad Men, season one.
The topography of White Rock Valley, with its steep and abundant hills and flourishing foliage, lends itself to the Ju-Nel design. The builders looked for sloped, irregular, heavily treed lots — this odd foundation allowed for a floorplan featuring a front door opening to the second floor where a streamlined stairway leads to a lower level.
Miles and Sarah accept, and relish even, that moving, for their family (which includes three children and a shaggy, oversized Labrador mix named Bo), means an indefinite future of sweat investment, dust and displacement.
“We actually lived upstairs while the downstairs was being done, and downstairs while adding the upstairs — no kitchen for a while. That was fun,” Sarah jokes.
It’s all worth it once you see the payoff — a new lawn, pool, outdoor-living area and putting green; a carport and shed; swanky upstairs offices; an entertainment/play room and enhanced preexisting areas.
Altogether, Miles and his team at Durham Builders added about 550 square feet to the existing 2,550-square feet.
Once one project is complete, the Durhams typically begin looking for something new.
They have lived in 12 houses since 8-year-old Elle was born, and they might move again, but not out of White Rock Valley, Sarah says.
“Of all the places we’ve lived, this is our favorite neighborhood. We love the school [White Rock Elementary]. We love our neighbors. Everything.”
Miles, who studied at Colorado State University and for a time played right fielder with the Detroit Tigers, has built and/or renovated more than 40 homes altogether.
Early on he worked alongside his dad and brother, also great architectural talents, he says. Beck, 4, calls himself a “master builder” (of Legos), and appears to be following Dad and Grandpa’s footsteps.
The Durhams’ foray into remodeling in 2006 was a result of the plummeting U.S. economy.
New builds, those huge speculative jobs that brought in big money, dried up.
Luckily, Sarah says, her husband is gifted at perceiving beautiful possibility in a space whose potential might go unnoticed by others.
“He can go into the worst place, a hoarder house, a disaster, and see a vision of what it could be,” she says.
From 2008 until Jack was born, Sarah handled all the finishes for Durham Builders. Though she studied nutrition, not interior design, she has learned a great deal during her time working with Miles. Her finely tuned sensibilities are evident in this house, in the pops of orange and lime green amid natural woods and neutral textiles, in the wall art replete with inflated family images, densely packed bookshelves and the porcelain balls burning in the fireplace.