One of the tour’s featured homes is a mid-century modern lovingly restored by a lesbian couple
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Renovating homes, said Summer Riggins, “is not my primary job, but it is my passion.” And the home she renovated and shares with partner Jill Reeves is featured on this weekend’s 15th annual White Rock Home Tour.
The founders of the White Rock Home Tour were interested in mid-century modern architecture. They lived on a street of homes that featured low, horizontal flat roofs with open spaces rather than lots of small, dark rooms. The designers, Lyle Rowley and Jack Wilson, appreciated nature, so their work featured quite a bit of glass, allowing abundant natural light.
Their houses are known as Ju-Nel homes.
Today the tour remains committed to offering some of the area’s most interesting mid-century homes. Among those homes is that of Riggins and Reeves, who took their 1961 Ju-Nel home “back to the studs.”
Riggins explained that she was working as the person who “would design and execute the renovations” with a woman who then flipped the renovated houses. One day, her business partner called, said she was in the White Rock neighborhood and had seen a house up for sale by owner that had great potential.
Riggings and her business partner looked at the house together. But when her partner left, Riggins remained behind to talk to the daughter of the woman who had owned the house for more than 50 years.
“We [Riggins and Reeves] bought it on a whim,” Riggins said of the house, noting that they made a promise to the owner’s daughter that they would renovate it in a way that would honor her mom.
The couple moved in but waited six months before beginning renovations so that they could get a good feel for what the house really needed. They started remodeling in 2019 and finished in the middle of the pandemic.
The floor plan remained almost entirely the same — with the exception of the kitchen that had started out very small.
“Some aspects were not easy to renovate,” Riggins said. “When we pulled out some walls, there were holes in the terrazzo.”
Contractors mostly brought them bad solutions. But they persisted and found someone who was able to custom-match the terrazzo so well it’s almost impossible to tell what parts are original and what’s replacement.
Finding the right contractor was “painstaking,” Riggins said, “but we weren’t going to bend on that.”
A problem common in mid-century homes is they’re often dark with small rooms. That wasn’t something that needed updating in this renovation.
“Every wall of this house looking into the courtyard had floor to ceiling windows,” Riggins said, and the floor plan was already open and expansive. “It’s 2,400-square-foot, but the house feels massive.”
As they completed renovations, Riggins said she wanted to honor her commitment to the previous owner’s daughter, who had been married in the backyard. But as she met more people in the neighborhood, she learned that many of them had been in the home for elegant parties over the years and thecommitment grew.
The Forest Grove neighborhood where the house is located used to be a tree farm. Driving through the neighborhood, you’re driving under a canopy of trees, Riggins said. One of her favorite things about the sunroom, she explained, is looking up and seeing only trees and no sky.
She called the renovation “a loving and long remodel.” Although it went slower than most homeowners would want, she’s glad they took the time to study the home’s details. While most people would have replaced the front door that needed some work, for example, they kept the door and it’s ornate hinges.
“The hinges are absolutely beautiful,” Riggins said.
Money raised on the White Rock Home Tour goes to the Hexter Elementary PTA, one of DISD’s highest performing and most diverse elementary schools.
The funds are used for campus improvements, technology and literacy.
The White Rock Home Tour takes place from noon-5 p.m. on April 22-23. Tickets $20 in advance, $25 at the door. More information at WRHomeTour.com.