Back to Life

By Charis Dietz

A local designer and her family revive a century-old Waco home

Pictured: photos by Jeff Jones,

We have no idea what we’re doing. These words may have crossed Hilary Walker’s lips when she and her husband, David, decided to buy and renovate an early 1920s Tudor-inspired brick cottage on Colcord Avenue for their growing family a few years ago. But while the couple had never previously been through the thrills, throes and woes of a full home renovation before this one, the house had great bones and, with Hilary at the helm, the project also had strong creative legs to stand on. An interior designer by trade and a life-long thrifter, Hilary has long had a special knack for taking old things and reimagining charming ways to bring them back to life, whether in her family’s home or in her personal wardrobe. And though the inevitable remodeling snafus surfaced along the way — like needing to move into the unfinished house early, sans working plumbing, with two small children — a combination of her design values and life values kept the compass in hand and the couple’s dream for creating a family home with character and warmth headed toward true north.


Among Hilary’s earliest memories, around age 4, are the hours upon hours spent rearranging the rooms of her first small dollhouse with the tiny furniture that came with it. By age 10, her fascination with miniatures — along with the size of her dollhouse — had only grown.

“I was just really drawn to this idea that you could make an environment and create a story inside of it,” Hilary reflected.

The home environment she’s most interested in creating these days is one that’s inspiring but accessible, comfortable and comforting.

“When a home feels too perfect or pristine, it feels uninhabitable,” Hilary said. “You can’t fully let down or relax or feel at ease in what should be the world’s safest place for you.”

The magic of creating spaces that feel good, she says, lies in the art of layering, both aesthetically — colors, patterns, textures and materials — and emotionally. Adding this invisible breadth allows us to sink into a space more fully, to be more wholly ourselves.

“Maybe you have a piece of art that you purchased on a trip or a piece of furniture that was handed down from your parents — these are emotional layers that add meaning to your home,” she said. “And when something’s meaningful, you can connect to it.”

Some of the pieces Hilary feels most connected to in her home are works of art made by her father in his college years, of which she has framed and hung nearly a dozen. One of her favorites, a charcoal sketch of a jaunty men’s dress shoe standing on its heel, is an eye-catcher for anyone visiting the Walker home. For Hilary, though, the piece brings a little surge of delight and a reminder of her love for her dad every time she sees it on the wall.

One of the most practical and utilized elements in the home, a hefty and beautifully crafted Parsons-style kitchen table, holds its weight in sentiment too, as it was made by Hilary’s brother.

But not all the nostalgic items on display in the Walker home are family-related, handmade or gifts. Some are simply visual reminders of a remarkable moment in time. A framed “Modern Dance” album cover hanging on David’s music studio wall reminds him of the college days when he played hand percussion as an accompanist for modern dance classes — some of the same classes in which a certain girl named Hilary was a dance student.


Close to 90 percent of the furnishings in the Walkers’ home were purchased second-hand, down to the frames around their photos and artwork. Why? Partly, it’s the thrill of the hunt, says Hilary. And no potential treasure trove is off-limits. Antique malls, estate sales, thrift stores, online second-hand marketplaces — she frequents them all, including Laverty’s, Waco’s famed antique hotspot.

But mostly Hilary likes to shop second-hand because good (read high-quality and unique) things come at good prices to those with the patience to peruse. Growing up with a mother who was keen on thrifting, Hilary had lots of opportunity over the years to observe the difference between what’s been made to last and what’s been made to replace.

“I am very inspired by craftsmanship. Obviously, not all vintage things are high quality, but if you go back far enough, craftsmen were working with whole materials — solid wood, solid metals, not stapled joinery,” Hilary said. “There are so many good things still out there. And what a shame to let them go to waste. It thrills me to find beautiful, useful and interesting old things that were made well and be able to continue their life somehow, versus always opting for something new.”

One of the second-hand finds that is most near and dear to Hilary’s heart is a nostalgic, vintage Jenny Lind-style crib she found on Craigslist. Purchased for a pittance, not only did the crib cradle the Walkers’ son, Gabriel, as an infant, it held up just as beautifully for their daughter, Ada, who was born four years later.

With old houses come tiny closets, and when the Walkers moved into the brick cottage, high on the list of furniture needs was a wardrobe for the primary bedroom. Savoring the chance to search for something special, Hilary didn’t rush the process. And Facebook Marketplace came through with a fabulous vintage Art Deco wardrobe in honey-colored burl wood with a matching interior.

“It took me a long time to find the right one, but I tracked it down. The whole thing is just gorgeous, inside and out,” Hilary said. “My clothes may be very tightly packed because it isn’t a ton of storage, but I don’t mind. I’m happy to squeeze because it’s such a special piece.”

Of course, treasure hunting isn’t always about what’s utilitarian though. Sometimes you just have to throw practicality to the wind and chase a thing down simply because it strikes your fancy and brings delight. That’s how Hilary felt about two Danish modern-style chairs she spotted on Facebook Marketplace. With distinctive silhouettes, chunky tweed-style orange upholstery and at $40 for the pair, they were calling her name. No matter that it was an hour and a half drive each way to retrieve them with a fitful toddler in tow, those two chairs now grace Hilary’s home office in all their orange glory, and she has no regrets.

“I still can’t believe I made the crazy decision to drive all that way to get them — it was not a smooth trip,” Hilary said, laughing. “But boy do I love those chairs.”


That freedom to just go for it if you have a vision for it applies to paint colors too. At a time when popular home design can trend toward an abundance of whites and light neutrals for walls and furnishings, almost every room in the Walker house is painted a different color, most of which might be considered bold for interior walls (not to mention ceilings).

“Designing and decorating your home is an enrichment of your life. So given the option, I will choose variety, because I like that being in my home isn’t this one-note experience, but something very rich,” Hilary said. “Color elicits emotions and memory. It taps into something beyond what you’re seeing. So we can employ it as a tactical tool in our homes.”

In a busy space like the kitchen, where a million things are happening at once in a family of four, she opts for brighter, lighter, airier walls. But for a space with a singular or intimate purpose, like a formal dining room where occupants gather around a single piece of furniture, Hilary likes to choose a very deep or dark paint color, one that makes you feel tucked in and wrapped around. That, along with inspiration from the colors of changing autumn leaves, is the reason why the cottage’s dining room is a dense clay red, both walls and ceiling.

And it’s also why David, a music composer and arranger who often works from home, chose midnight blue for his studio. The moody hue not only looks pretty fabulous behind his collection of guitars and other instruments, it’s also an apt stage-setter for keen focus and getting lost in his work as he figures out a new melody.

Gabriel’s room color, a muted ember orange, was chosen for a more straightforward, but equally as important, reason: Everybody who knows Gabriel, now age 8, knows orange has been his favorite color since forever.

“Finding an orange that worked was a good challenge for me because it’s a very infrequently used wall color,” Hilary explained.

The labor of love was worth it, though, when she saw the look on her son’s face as he took in his new, perfectly orange room for the first time. So worth it.

How does Hilary choose high-energy colors in hues that feel suave and soothing?

“I always go for the version of that color that’s slightly more earthy and harder to describe — meaning it’s not a typical ‘Crayola color.’ These types of hues are easier to live with and make for more interesting spaces.”


What you know about a house before and after it becomes your home are two different stories. When Hilary and David purchased the residence on Colcord Avenue, she saw a house of a certain age that was made to last a very long time. She saw the craftsmanship baked into the 100-year-old details. And she knew that, after a fresh coat of dark stain, those original wood floors over time would get worn back in just right.

What Hilary didn’t know then was how the big oval dining room table, more seldomly used for meals together than the one in the kitchen, would end up primarily serving as a craft-making and Lego-building platform for Gabriel and Ada. While turning the formal dining room into an extra play space — often filled with cardboard, glue bottles and tiny plastic pieces — is not exactly the aesthetic Hilary originally envisioned for the space, it’s right for this season of her life. It keeps the kids close by while Hilary, who loves to cook, works in the kitchen. They can ask their questions and she can keep tabs on those busy little bodies.

She also didn’t know before this house became a home was that the sofa in the living room, the one with a view of the often-busy street out front, would be the perfect napping spot on the rare day when she can steal a moment to curl up on the cushions and window watch. Before this house, Hilary never would’ve guessed how much she could enjoy the sights and sounds of a buzzing neighborhood — the dog walkers, joggers, gaggles of teens and even the traffic — all coming together as a surprisingly soothing symphony for a midday snooze.

And not even David, who once observed laughingly that “Hilary’s love language is natural light,” couldn’t have guessed the space in this old house where the light would be at its best. Outside the windows of their primary bedroom, far from the brightest room in their home, there’s a stand of crepe myrtle bushes. As the sun comes up on that side of the house, the morning light pushes through the foliage, creating an illustration-like silhouette on the white roller window shades.

“It’s so beautiful. The light is dappled and sparkling and shimmering. It moves on the shade as the wind blows the bushes, and it just really, really delights me,” Hilary said. “That room is pretty dark, but the special way the light comes in at that moment of the day is absolutely one of my favorite little things about this house.”

Indeed, isn’t it always the little things — or as Hilary might say “the little layers” — that make the magic in a home? Layers of good old things being found and repurposed, new memories being made, color being added and a steady connection to the simple things that matter most…all bringing us back to life.