Absolutely Everything

By Kevin Tankersley

Speckmiears renovate and refurnish their Southern home

Pictured: Photos by Cecy Ayala, photographybycecy.com
Styled by Melissa Hoekstra

Art is a huge part of a home,” says Melissa Hoekstra, owner of James & Reid Home Antiquities. “If you create it yourself or go find pieces that speak to you, it tells a story. It tells something about you.”

And Hoekstra helped Debbie Speckmiear tell her story. Speckmiear has been painting for years but has kept her artwork sequestered away. Hoekstra encouraged Speckmiear to take her paintings out of storage and display them in prominent places in the Woodway home she shares with her husband, John, a family medicine physician at Hillcrest Clinic – Midway. One of Speckmiear’s paintings now hangs in a den just off the master bedroom, and another — an ocean scene — is in a newly renovated master bathroom.

“I had her pull out all of her art,” Hoekstra said. “She didn’t have her art on display. It was upstairs hidden because every artist is never finished with their work. We got that out, and she just loved it.”

Hoekstra also helped Speckmiear rework the living room, making the space much more livable. The furniture that Hoekstra replaced was “so oversized that you couldn’t even walk around in that room,” she said. “The room is a very large space, and I wanted people to be able to walk around the whole perimeter of the room. We did the couch, the swivel chairs, the coffee table — it’s a table from France I brought back from one of my buying trips — and the two smaller chairs.”

Speckmiear had the house painted a few years ago, and Hoekstra said the paint choice was perfect for the style of the home.

“They built that house as a replica from the 1880s to the early 1900s, with the real brick floors and transom windows,” Hoekstra said. “In England, white [paint] is not real white like you and I would think of. It’s got a green tint in it. Back in the days before electricity and [rooms were] lit by candles, it looked white. She used just the perfect color to go with the period of her home. That was spot-on.”

The Speckmiears moved to Waco in 1979 and bought their 3 1/2 acre lot in 1985. It took them a while to finalize house plans, but they finally moved into their new home in 1995. Debbie Speckmiear grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and frequently visited Tyler, and she was inspired by the Southern architecture of the two cities. Their Woodway home features wooden shutters, a covered front entry with an old Southern design and even simple screen doors that allow them to hear the birds from the wooded area on their property.

WACOAN: How did Melissa help you in the living room?

Speckmiear: We had one couch, an old leather chair and this gigantic chair, overstuffed. We’ve lived here 25 years. We never sat in here. It’s our biggest room, and it just didn’t work. We weren’t comfortable in here. So we spent all our time in the study. And only when people came over did we come in here.

One day recently, John said, ‘I want new furniture.’ And I said, ‘What’s wrong with what we’ve got?’ And he said, ‘I want regular-size furniture.’ I had been recently in Melissa’s shop and walked in and immediately went, ‘Oh, this girl has my taste.’ I like English and French, and that’s what a lot of her stuff is.

So when John said ‘I want furniture,’ I went to a couple places and thought these cannot help me, and I don’t have the ability to pick out furniture. I’ve tried, obviously, by what I had bought; it was terrible. And so I went with her.

Look what she did. She pushed the furniture in and she made more seating, and it’s normal-size furniture. She ordered these two [chairs] and picked out the fabrics. I kind of guided her. I wanted some blue. When they came, I said, ‘They’re too small.’ And she said, ‘No, no. They’re regular-size.’ They came in, and she put them right here [flanking the fireplace], and it was perfect. Perfect.

The first thing that happened was [our son] Clint called the night before and said, ‘We’re coming over with my friends to have [a Super Bowl party]. And we all ate right around this [coffee] table. And it was so fun and nice. I think if I had the other stuff, we would have crammed into the study because it just didn’t work [in the living room].

This furniture is white and refreshing. And I love the artistic blue pillows she did. She did geometric on these chairs. When she said that, I was like, ‘Geometric? That’s not English.’ She said, ‘Trust me.’

Then the coffee table, it is from France. It was a little farm table or something. And she said, ‘Well, we’ve got to cut it down.’ I said, ‘No. I want this taller table. That’s what I like about it.’ And so we all sat around and ate here [during the Super Bowl], and we were just happy as clams.

WACOAN: When did Melissa finish everything, just before the Super Bowl?

Speckmiear: Yes. And what I like about her is it’s a homegrown outfit. They’re just a little family shop. And I love that.

WACOAN: What attracts you to the English and the French look?

Speckmiear: Everything. The beauty of the architecture. I love beautiful architecture, always have.

My sister and I used to drive through the old neighborhoods of Shreveport, Louisiana, very Southern. And Tyler, very Southern. Those old homes — the character, the porches, the softness — some of them are regal, but they’re all different. Each one of them is just beautiful.

I’ve been drawing house plans for a small Greek Revival, a one-story. This [home] is a booger to take care of. It’s 3,800 square feet, and I’m getting older. I still do a lot of the yard, but I can’t do the heavy stuff I used to do.

WACOAN: What brought you to Waco?

Speckmiear: We looked at other cities [after John graduated from medical school]. Finally we were going down the highway, and we’re running out of time. He was about to graduate from residency, and I said, ‘Oh, look.’ I didn’t know how to pronounce it. W-A-C-O. We drove down Valley Mills [Drive] and had lunch, and I said, ‘Well this looks like a pleasant town. It’s not too big, not too little.’ So we moved here.

WACOAN: When did y’all move to Waco?

Speckmiear: In 1979.

WACOAN: Where all have you lived in Waco before this house?

Speckmiear: We lived down on Oakdale [Drive]. Then we bought [this] lot, but we didn’t have enough money to build. We moved just over to Sandalwood [Drive] and stayed there until we could afford to build the house. That was a pretty cute little house, and then we moved over here.

We didn’t have furniture — like in the study, we had no furniture for, I’d say eight years. Just to afford to build this house was a killer. So slowly, I’d say over the last four years, we’ve started buying some furniture, and we’re 65.

WACOAN: Tell me about your new bathroom.

Speckmiear: This [backsplash] is real marble. It took me a year-and-a-half to find that.

WACOAN: Where did you find it?

Speckmiear: Gibson’s [Interiors]. I went all over Louisiana and all over the state of Texas. I went to Walker Zanger, everywhere. I couldn’t find anything like it.

I went into Gibson’s, this little store in Hewitt, and said, ‘I can’t find anything I like. Do you have any old, trashy stuff?’ They said, ‘Yeah, those two drawers.’ I sat down on the floor and pulled every single thing out, looking at every piece, and got down to the very bottom. And here was this, and [it was] love at first sight.

WACOAN: So what’s different about your bathroom now?

Speckmiear: Everything. You remember [the trends] 30 years ago? Reds and greens, dark red. This [shower] had a little door and was all enclosed. We had no cabinets, no cabinets. Nathan Alford [of The Alford Company] did this. It’s called a pod [cabinet structure]. He picked the cabinets.

I wanted to just spend a little bit of money, and Nathan gets over here and says, ‘This bathroom’s hideous. It’s a dungeon, and you’re not going to use your same cabinets. We’re going to get you some space.’ And he did.

And this [bedroom and bathroom flooring] took me a year-and-a-half to find. I wasn’t going to put down real marble. My advice to anyone is never put down anything real, or that’s all you’ll do the rest of your life is just take care of it.

WACOAN: If it’s not real marble, what is it?

Speckmiear: It’s porcelain. I went everywhere looking for a floor. I couldn’t find anything. I just went somewhere and they had hundreds of samples, and I just started going through them. I got to the second-to-the-last [one]. I went, ‘There it is.’ You know what you want in your mind.

WACOAN: How long did it take to do the bathroom?

Speckmiear: That’s the bad part. Nine months.

WACOAN: Did you do the bedroom and the bathroom at the same time?

Speckmiear: This is how I ended with a white floor. You’re not ever supposed to put a wood floor next to another wood floor. I tried to do it, and it looked horrible. So what did that leave us with? Tile. I had another decorator over here, and she said use white floors. I said, ‘I’m not using white floors.’ And we love them.

WACOAN: Are the tile floors cold when you get up in the morning?

Speckmiear: We have hard floors everywhere, so we’re used to it. Yes, it’s cold, but we like it cold. We usually don’t go over 68 degrees in the house all year round.

WACOAN: What do you like about your new bathroom?

Speckmiear: Everything. Just look at it. It’s light, airy. Storage. The floor.

Love the floor. I stay in socks or barefoot. I usually don’t wear shoes in the house. But your feet kind of grip to this [tile]. It’s not slippery. I don’t know how they did it. But it was worth searching.

WACOAN: I like the big windows looking from the bedroom to the backyard.

Speckmiear: Those curtains, I bought those curtains many years ago. I’d never had curtains, never used them, never could afford them. And I went into a shop in Austin many years ago, and I saw a swatch. What I liked about it was there was some silver in it. So I bought 40 yards of it. And John was so furious. I said, ‘Look, I’m just going to wait until I can use it.’ So I just saved it.

[Before the remodel], everything was red. Red toile. It was awful. After 20 years of red, I have light and airy. If I built again, I’d put doors [leading to the backyard from the bedroom] and a little screened porch.

WACOAN: It’s awfully quiet back here. It doesn’t feel like you’re in the middle of Woodway.

Speckmiear: What’s so neat is, one day I was standing down at the bottom of the [outdoor] stairs and here comes a bobcat, just walking up to me. Didn’t see me. Just beautiful.

And we have red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks. And we have big barn owls. There are a bunch of trees that have fallen down [close to the street], and the owl sits over there, low to the ground. He’s looking for mice.

The Cooper’s hawks teach their babies to fly here. One day, I was washing dishes, and it was so cool. I look up, and I see two hawks coming right at the house, dive bombing. It was a mama and her baby. And mama, faster than you can believe, came up behind him and turned it and missed the house.

We see deer, and we have fox. There were two little foxes up here about three weeks ago. I’d never seen one. I heard everybody else had seen them. They’re little tiny. Maybe they were babies. We see turtles. When I grew up, I was a tomboy, so I like all this. I don’t like staying inside.

WACOAN: What all do you have planted in the front garden?

Speckmiear: I thought we could do something out here that’s cool. I put out some purple passion vines, and I ordered some Japanese morning glories. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen with the morning glories. But here comes the passion vine. It took its time, but it got going, and then here come the morning glories. It was beautiful, just beautiful. Passion vines bloom once, maybe two days if you’re lucky.

And I had this rose, the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen. It was Madame Leonie Viennot. I knew it was sort of a rambler, but it starts growing, and that rose grew up here [on the house]. And I mean fast. This was over three years, but it grew up over the balcony.

When it bloomed in the spring one time, you didn’t want to do anything but stay out there. They were pink, not gory pink. A beautiful pink with faded yellow. It’s a very famous rose. But it was taking over the house. It was pulling up some of the wood. So I had to cut it down.

The one in the back, it’s called Multiflora carnea, is a rose that’s been around for probably thousands of years. I just bought him, beautiful. He would bloom like three weeks of small pale pink roses.

WACOAN: What else do you grow?

Speckmiear: We did have lots of roses. You can’t buy a Knock Out rose now. They have a disease. I brought in one Knock Out, and I had like 50 roses. It killed every one of them in one week. Every single one. One lady in Woodway lost 150 roses. So I haven’t bought any for two or three years now, and I just bought these two.

These are Belinda’s Dream roses. Look at her blooming in the winter. Isn’t that cool? I’m slowly trying to get back, because it’s expensive when you lose all these roses, and it breaks your heart. We just love roses.

WACOAN: What do your sons do?

Speckmiear: Clint’s here. He works for [John W. Erwin General Contractor]. He does the bidding [for architecture and commercial construction]. He’s going to get married at the end of the year.

Clay lives in Austin. He works for Malwarebytes. He’s doing very well. He has two little girls.

WACOAN: What’s your favorite thing about your house?

Speckmiear: Oh man, that’s a tough one. It’s funny you say that. I was trying to draw up house plans to downsize to. I kind of knew exactly what I was going to do. I did it and went, ‘That’s pretty much my house.’

WACOAN: Your house on a smaller scale?

Speckmiear: Yeah.

WACOAN: Will you stay in Waco when you downsize?

Speckmiear: Oh yeah. Because my son’s here. He’s going to have babies. And my friends are here. What do I like about [the house]? Absolutely everything.