Cozy & Budget Conscious

By Gretchen Eichenberg

The Griesemers' French country home reflects an eye for detail

Pictured: photo by Sarah Hess, fleetingmomentsstudio.com

Ashley Griesemer always wanted to build a house.

“It’s been a dream of mine to watch a home come to life from start to finish,” she said. “A home with big, tall windows — as many of them as possible — and an open floor plan. And a big island in the kitchen.”

Last year Griesemer got the chance to make her dream a reality when she and her husband, Shawn, decided to trade their quaint home in Castle Heights for a lot in Woodway. The couple had remodeled several homes, including their last one, which they loved. But the opportunity to build from the ground up and have a backyard that’s adjacent to a park and playground had this pastor’s wife and mother of four saying, “Yes, please!”

“With two young boys, the idea of the park in our backyard and a pool right around the corner sounded so great,” she said. “We have a gate from our backyard to the park, so I can watch [the kids] from my kitchen window,” she said.

This wasn’t the Griesemers first go-around at building a house. In 2005 they purchased a large lot and began planning their new home. But when Shawn made a career change to pastoral work, they decided such a large home might not fit their new lifestyle or their budget. Griesemer never gave up on her dream, though, and the couple settled on a smaller lot in 2014.

“It’s a much more manageable lot and was much more manageable project,” she said. “So waiting was definitely the right thing to do. Everything came together in time.

That kind of patience, paired with Griesemer’s sense of style, is how the family’s four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath home became a place where French country meets both coziness and budget consciousness.

“I love French architecture and design,” Griesemer said. “I would say our home is traditional in that sense. But designing a home in that style can be pricey. So I like to put money into the really important things and save money wherever I can.”

Griesemer grew up the daughter of well-known Houston interior designer Ann Tiffany, ASID, where she learned an appreciation for fine features and how to mix things old and new for a look that appears expensive but at a cost that’s not.

“I was basically her apprentice,” Griesemer said. “My mom taught me everything I know about design.”

When Ashley and Shawn bought their first home in Denver, Colorado, in 1998, those years of training were put to use and even sparked her own business, Ashley Griesemer Design.

“People came into our home, and they liked what they saw,” Griesemer said. “Friends began asking me to help them, and I actually started working immediately.”

Shawn is director of international operations at Antioch Community Church, where he’s served for 10 years.

“We have a lot of church gatherings and college students in our home, and having a space that’s open and comfortable is definitely a priority for us,” Griesemer said.

And with two teenage daughters — Annie, 17; and Molly, 15 — and two active boys — Bear, 7; and Samuel, 6 — an open floor plan with lots of room to spread out and to breathe is exactly what Griesemer ordered.

The center of the Griesemer home is unquestionably the kitchen. A bank of tall countertop-to-ceiling windows span almost the length of the kitchen. The palate of the kitchen and the connecting dining and family rooms is a combination of light, bright and white.

“Because the windows go to the ceiling, I had to give up the upper cabinets, but it was so worth it,” Griesemer said. “Lots of big, deep drawers and two built-in hutches make up for the space.”

Below the windows is a large white farmhouse sink surrounded by white Carrara marble countertops, installed by Texas American Marble and Granite of Waco.

“I splurged on a hot water dispenser for the sink because we love to drink tea,” Griesemer said.

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A 36-inch, six-top stainless gas range by Bertazzoni of Italy sits below a custom-built cast stone hood with a faux finish that gives the look of limestone.

“So this is an example of how I save in one area so I can spend a little more in another,” Griesemer said. “Bertazzoni is a very nice range but much more affordable than some high-end brands, like Viking. We went with that, which made having the beautiful cast stone French hood more doable within the budget.”

A massive 8-by-5-foot island, topped with Carrara marble, is the command center for cooking, schoolwork and conversation. The island houses a microwave, ice machine, pullout trash can and lots and lots of drawers for storage. Above the island custom-made copies of iron French street lanterns hang, providing plenty of light.

The refrigerator looks like a built-in, but that’s another one of Griesemer’s tricks of the trade.

“It’s actually a counter-depth refrigerator from our previous home, which gives you the look of a built-in without the high cost of one,” she explained. “It doesn’t stick out from the cabinets, and you don’t really see the sides, which just gives a more finished look at a fraction of the cost.”

Finding ways to save money while maintaining great style is part of the fun for Griesemer.

“I want beautiful things, but I can’t afford to do it all,” she said. “I do my research, and I find doorknobs for $8 each rather than $40 each. Faucets are another place to save. My mom called them a ‘one glance.’ People will glance at them once and move on, so there’s no reason to put all your money there. You can save hundreds, even thousands, by looking for alternatives.”

The kitchen opens into a sitting area, dining room and family room, which are all one room. The walls are bathed in Sherwin-Williams’ Gray Screen, a cool neutral paint color that provides an easy backdrop for both light-colored textiles and dark wood furniture.

The dining area, right off the kitchen, features a large table where the family of six gathers for dinner each night.

“I just wanted to do away with the idea of a formal dining room,” Griesemer said. “I’ve had them before, and we never used them. With the dining table right here in the center of our home, every inch of space is put to good use.”

The table is a family piece, which Griesemer paired with a set of antique French ladder-back chairs she had always wanted. She enhanced the chairs with ruffled white linen seat covers by Pom Pom at Home, which she purchased locally at Honey’s Home-Style.

“I have always wanted to own a set of ladder-back chairs,” Griesemer said. “But fine chairs are very expensive. I looked and researched until I found the perfect chairs at the right price, and I found them on Craigslist. Are the chairs perfect with my table? No. But I love that the table is an heirloom, and the linen seat covers blend the styles together.”

A heavy rustic iron chandelier by Aidan Gray Home hangs above the table, and a Welsh dresser at the end showcases Griesemer’s blue and white dishes.

“I purchased the chandelier at Honey’s, and it was definitely a splurge,” Griesemer said. “After we moved in, I bought another one for the family room. I wanted to be sure the room wasn’t going to be too busy for another chandelier. I really love them.”

A third chandelier can be found in the powder room, just off the dining room.

“I’m really proud of this one,” she said. “I knew exactly what I was looking for, but it took me awhile to find it.”

The family room, which is just off the dining area, is cool and bright with gray walls, white molding, more windows and Dordogne-glazed porcelain tile floors in a color the brand calls Ivoire. The windows are accented by blue and white buffalo-check cotton pleated drapes, made by Griesemer.

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“I made the living room, dining room and kitchen drapes,” she said. “I made my kitchen drapes from the living room drapes in my house [in Castle Heights]. I’m all about repurposing!”

In keeping with that sentiment, a cozy stone fireplace features a mantle made of old, reclaimed wood from Cunningham Lumber, a family-owned business in Hillsboro that specializes in old and specialty wood, like longleaf pine, rough-cut cypress and cedar.

“We searched for an hour or more through several acres of wood to find the right one,” she said. “It was well worth the search, even dragging my two little boys along. It really helped our new house look not too new and adds to the French feel.”

Several family pieces create warmth in the family room: a coffee table, a piano passed down from Griesemer’s grandfather to her mother and then to her and a pair of alabaster and marble lamps from her paternal grandparents (fitted with fresh, new linen shades). An antique French armoire that houses the family TV is one of the first big purchases Ashley and Shawn made as a married couple.

“I love the history and the stories. That armoire has moved with us many times,” Griesemer said. “Friends who have helped us move over the years are probably too familiar with it. Incorporating different styles from different time periods is just more interesting.”

A spacious master suite sits off the family room and has three-quarter glass French doors that lead to the backyard. Bedroom drapes are still in the works, and she’s making them in her spare time, of course. Draped across the bed is a luxurious sea foam green quilted velvet coverlet by Bella Notte Outlet, which was a gift from Griesemer’s mother. Her grandmother’s marble top dresser is perfect as a bedside table.

The master bathroom is large and full of amenities that older homes — like the ones where the Griesemers had lived before — just can’t offer.

“Older homes don’t have great bathrooms,” Griesemer said. “So I really appreciate what I have now.”

The space includes separate sinks and vanities, one with a sitting table in white Carrara marble with a subway tile backsplash. Counter-to-ceiling vanity mirrors with elegant brass sconces make the room look twice as big as it really is. An oversized soaker tub, large stand-up shower and separate toilet room all were on Griesemer’s dream home list.

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Outside the Griesemers enjoy a low-maintenance backyard without a lot of grass to mow but with a great A–frame covered patio for entertaining.

“We wanted to create an outdoor living space where we could hang out with family and church friends,” she said.

With a sea grass rug, some classic wicker furniture and a couple of rocking chairs from their previous home, they did just that.
The boys share a bedroom downstairs, while the girls share one upstairs.

“A friend told us long ago that kids who share a room learn to live and deal with others, no matter what’s going on in life. I’m so glad we took their advice because, though we all need to get away from people sometimes, no one in this house can do that for too long. Having another person around just might help you talk through or solve a problem.”

Next to the master bathroom, Griesemer is most excited about her spacious laundry room.

“I lived a long time with my washer and dryer in the garage,” she said. “And though there are certainly worse problems, it sure is nice to have this dreamy laundry room.”

Just like the rest of the home, Griesemer carefully planned the details of her laundry room to get the most out of the space. With a sink, cubbies for each family member’s belongings and cabinets galore, she’s pretty much all set.

And this busy mom needs a room for organizing and storing her supplies. In addition to her interior decorating business, Griesemer created and runs a doggie poop-scooping service called Doody Free.

“You know, I just enjoy the process of dreaming up and creating a business,” she said. “It’s fun for me. I’m always coming up with ideas for businesses, and Doody Free helps our family income a little bit each month. Being a pastor’s wife, I’m on a budget, but I also see lots of opportunities to help people who are going on mission trips and who are going out and changing the world. I want to be able to say ‘yes’ to anyone who asks. That’s why I work.”

The Griesemers are a founding family of their boys’ school, Valor Preparatory Academy, a Christian classical university-model school beginning its second year of operation in Waco. Griesemer is a dedicated board member. Their daughters attend Midway High School.

The little luxuries, the fresh French style, even the way the sunlight streams into the Griesemer home is the result of careful planning. Griesemer’s eye for detail and her knack for blending the old with the new enable her to put her money into the most important aspects of her home. That leaves her free to focus on what really matters — her family.

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