Forces of nature
Single-family homes are blooming all over Lake Highlands, like subdivisions of soaring sunflowers. Within older neighborhoods known for daintier houses, the latest builds loom large, often looking down on bordering constructs. But hiding behind lofty stalks of bamboo or fat tree trunks and several decades’ accumulation of verdure endure true architectural jewels.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, an architectural duo started designing houses that strayed from the White Rock area’s familiar dwellings. Lyle Rowley and Jack Wilson named their contemporary company Ju-Nel, a nod to their wives Julie and Nelda. Deviation from the cookie-cutter colonial types throughout the neighborhood would not be easy. Procuring loans for unprecedented projects was tough, Rowley told the Advocate in 2006. “We had a devil of a time,” he said.
Finding land on which to build was simpler. Most builders of the day looked for flat lots that could be leveled for another “cracker box,” as Rowley described the status quo.
Ju-Nel artists wanted slopes and bold, thick and aesthetically appealing natural surroundings — creeks, woods, chirping birds, wildflowers.
Drivers or joggers along Guildhall, an undulating street west of Ferndale, two miles north of White Rock Lake, are not apt to notice Brooke and Christian Berger’s home. Its magnificence comes into focus from the walkway as visitors wind past herbaceous borders, mature oaks and bamboo stalks to a side entrance.
The Bergers moved to Dallas from San Francisco and befriended the home’s owners, with whom they attended church. “If you ever sell this house, we want it,” Brooke told the couple, and she meant it.
Last May, Brooke, Christian and three little Bergers moved in.
Devotion to design and integrating nature are the ideals that steered the Ju-Nel style. That and smashing the “cookie-cutter” mold Rowley described. This meant architectural elements like low-pitched roofing, often meant to accommodate tree overhangs, and vaulted ceilings. Windows replaced walls and followed the roofline, maximizing sunlight and outdoor views. Classic smooth wood, whitewashed brick interiors, two-way fireplaces, Japanese screens and modern lighting fixtures are Ju-Nel signatures that remain today in the Bergers’ home.
In a corner of the living area hangs a stark white Louis Poulsen signature lamp, a touch installed during some stage of construction. Christian doesn’t like it. He wants to get rid of it, Brooke says, smiling wide at her husband’s ridiculous suggestion.
Just inside the door is a small kids’ play area with one full wall of family photos. A rainbow-colored rug runs atop a hardwood floor, beneath a tiny table. Brooke loves rainbows — the colors and the prism itself. The home’s hues are white, greys, ecru and natural wood with pops of yellow and orange. But rainbow love appears in sundry places, typically in child-occupied spaces.
A mostly white kitchen, with doors that close on both sides, is diminutive by today’s standards, but Brooke says, “If it was good enough for a 1960s homemaker, it’s good enough for me.”
She sure doesn’t mind shutting off the kitchen at times — whether to hide dirty dishes or for a moment of isolation, she says.
Clerestory windows just beneath the ceiling allow for ventilation, light and a sense of connection to the remaining floor plan.
Previous owners installed steel appliances and marble backdrops, tile and a center island. Otherwise the cooking space is humble, quaint, wistful. Décor is minimal. A circular arrangement of flattened pennies, collected from travels, texturize one white wall. A brief hall, home to a piano and violin (instrument of eldest son, Frederick) connects the dining area. Here the eye is drawn to the two-way, white brick fireplace. Whitewashed firewood occupies the inside. A cow skull is suspended over the fireplace, and Brooke makes everyone laugh when she talks of acquiring it with help from an enthusiastic friend.
“I mentioned wanting one while we were in Santa Fe, and she says, ‘Hang on, I got a skull guy!’ ”
On the opposite side of the fireplace, the living area is all light, greenery and a wall of bamboo. These things are outdoors, of course, but the floor to ceiling windows make them part of the home. Minimalist accoutrements include a soft-leather chair from Room and Board. A tiny art piece sits atop a skinny wooden table. The artist? Oliver Berger, 6. Above hangs a massive map of the world. Gorgeous greens, blues and earth-tones hide a piece of equipment Brooke mischievously reveals: a slightly smaller-than-the-map flat screen TV. Aha, this family does not rely entirely on books (arranged on shelves throughout the home in, no joke, colors-of-the-rainbow order) for entertainment.
Reprieve from daylight occurs downstairs, under the ground-level floor, where the bedrooms and bathrooms live. Colorful children’s rooms offset all the earthy, gentle coloring upstairs. The boys’ big bedroom could be a Wes Anderson movie set. Twin beds, one aside a wall and window, the other a foot from a glass sliding-door closet, sit with rainbow upholstered ottomans at the foot of each. Pillows embroidered with F and O, respectively, are near the vintage bookshelf-drawer combo. The arrangement is symmetrical enough to satisfy the most obsessive-compulsive sensibilities.
Baby Louisa’s room is peacefully, predictably pink with a vintage smooth-wood changing table.
The master bedroom is spacious and features a sentimental Wilco poster. “We love Wilco, went to see them together,” Brooke says of the band. Tons of family photos hang, rest on skinny shelves or hide in de-digitized picture books.
The backyard pool is set far from the home. In all, the family lives on three-quarters of an acre. Bamboo fills the empty spaces. It is a fast-growing plant in late winter. “I have to cut them almost every day,” Brooke says.
This woman loves her home and cares deeply for it. She likes sharing it with friends and guests, which is why she agreed to place it on the Lake Highlands Early Childhood PTA home tour. That way, anyone with a ticket can walk through this timeless house that so impeccably blends the old and modern, as well as form and function.