welcome to On the way to renewalwhere we follow the creators through the process of renovating and decorating historic homes. In our very first On the way to renewal series, designer Caitlin Wilson invites us into her 1920s Georgian home in Dallas’ Highland Park as she reinvents it for modern living.
If I could live in any other era, it would be the 1920s. As a designer, I am drawn to fearlessly feminine colors and patterns, and I love the splendor and romance of the Jazz Age. I could imagine being part of extravagant parties in homes characterized by glamor and sophistication.
The Highland Park neighborhood of Dallas epitomizes this greatness. When we moved here five years ago, Texas opened my eyes to black tie tea parties and dinners. Throw away your notions of a Texas barbecue (although these are unbeatable!); I love how the gatherings here elevate the parties to evenings.
Four children later, with a fifth on the way, our first Highland Park home was filled to capacity and I was ready for a new design challenge. One thing was certain: we wanted to stay in the neighborhood.
Designed in 1915 by the same city planner who developed Beverly Hills, the 2¼ square mile community of Highland Park is entirely walkable. Each lot features a different architectural style – Mediterranean, Colonial, Georgian, Tudor, Modern – and the streets are lined with magnolias and mature oak trees. It is an ambitious district that makes you dream in every sense of the word.
When we first saw our future home, a stately Georgian with symmetrical arched windows and a grand entrance, we all fell in love. Its location was idyllic, overlooking a beautiful cove with a footbridge where our children could play. The house itself appealed to my romantic nature. It almost looked like the White House – formal and traditional, built in 1920, with classical arches and columns.
It also took a lot of work. The owner was planning to tear it down, and I think a lot of buyers would have replaced it with new construction. the carriage porch, once a large covered entrance to the house that could accommodate a car below, was literally collapsing. All windows needed to be replaced. Electricity and plumbing required a total overhaul.
We knew we had found a gem, but to restore this home to its original magnificence, we needed help. First, we enlisted the expertise of Wilson Fuqua, a local architect known for his historic renovations. Then we brought in a builder, Coats Homes, who was the perfect liaison between preserving a historic, traditional style and upgrading it for living in the modern world.
At first we planned to live in the house while we renovated the kitchen and bathrooms. But after six months, after realizing that to repair the foundation at the back of the house, it had to be taken down to the posts, we moved to make way for a full renovation.
These six months before we had to move were an adventure, an opportunity for us to learn how the house works and flows. We took the old layout and made it our own. The old family room has become our ballroom. There we set up a trampoline and my dance loving daughters have twirled, jumped and slammed their way across that room more times than I can count.
Our 6 month test drive also taught us a lot about the house and helped us better understand what we wanted in the renovation. Here is what we decided:
- We need a bigger kitchen. In 1920, kitchens were not the gathering places they are today. What was originally intended as a small maid’s kitchen is no longer practical for hosting friends, family dinners, afternoon crafts, and late-night conversations with my husband. As a family, we spend so much time in the kitchen, and I want it to be a space where we feel comfortable and at home.
- The ballroom remains. Hardwood floors, huge ceilings, tall windows and patio doors – I love the open charm of this space. Open those doors and it’s the perfect place to entertain.
- We don’t need a big playroom. Children tend to follow you everywhere you go, toys in tow. We don’t need a dedicated room to store toys on the ground floor. Every room can be a playroom!
- But we do need a place to store these scooters. This house did not have a garage, but fortunately, since an alley passes behind the backyard, we can add one without disturbing the front facade.
- Confidentiality is important. We live on a popular hiking route and you can’t believe how many people are walking around, especially during the holidays. Sometimes it felt like people could see inside and we wanted a bit more privacy. Our solution: Turn the front veranda into a more open area, rather than a workspace or private room.
Over the next year, I am excited to share our renovation journey with you. Join me as we dive into the details of modern and traditional home design. We’ll share our process for choosing tiles, window treatments, and paint colors. We’ll share ideas for organizing children’s spaces, offer tips for preserving family treasures, and even show you around the secret gardens of our home.
Let the journey begin!
This is the first part of our On the way to renewal series with Caitlin Wilson. Check out the rest of the series here.