Country Freedom

By Kevin Tankersley

The Joneses look to the future with home on 100 acres

Pictured: Photographs by Grace-Marie Brunken, grace-mariephotography.com

When a property changes hands, there are often things that convey to the new owner. Maybe it’s the curtains or major kitchen appliances. When Jamie and Kevin Jones bought land in Axtell, they instead inherited a small herd of animals.

The family – which includes 5-year-old Rae and her 3 1/2-year-old brother Jacob – has been in the new house on 100 acres for a little more than a year. Kevin works in Downtown Waco, overseeing Simple Bills, a company he started after graduating from Baylor with an entrepreneurship degree in 2009. Jamie, who graduated a year later with a degree in elementary education, now does design work with Mike Gilmer of Barn Light Homes, who built their house. Her design business is at stableacredesign.com. Rae and Jacob are in school in Waco three days a week, and Jamie home teaches the other two days.

WACOAN: So how did you end up out in the country?

Jones: We had been looking for land. We wanted to be on some acreage. We initially looked out in the Crawford area and just didn’t find what we were looking for. We didn’t think we would be out here, but our Realtor found the property. We toured it and fell in love.

We’re on 100 acres. It’s a lot. We were hoping to stay more toward the 30-[acre] range, but we found it, we loved it and thought, ‘This is what we want.’ We jumped on it.

WACOAN: Where were you previously?

Jones: We were in Hewitt. We lived in a starter home in Hewitt and loved it, but our hearts were out here.

WACOAN: There’s quite a difference between here and Hewitt.

Jones: And the drive. The drive hasn’t been too bad. My husband works downtown, and it takes him 20 minutes. The commute isn’t really longer, it just feels longer.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday are kind of our errand-running days. Then we are big homebodies on Tuesday and Thursday, which is fine. I love the slow pace. The Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings are busy getting out the door in time, so I really enjoy the Tuesday, Thursday.

WACOAN: What are you doing with your 100 acres? When I drove in, I was greeted by donkeys.

Jones: When we bought the property, it came with five donkeys and a llama. We knew they were on the property when we came to visit, but long story short, they couldn’t get them off, so they stayed. They’ve become our little family mascots. Our daughter named the llama Pookie. It’s hilarious. You can’t help but laugh every time you see it. It’s so odd-looking.

WACOAN: Where do the donkeys and Pookie live?

Jones: They normally stay pretty close together. They hardly ever go to the back half of the property. They’re almost always up here in the front.

We’ve heard donkeys and llamas are good for keeping snakes away. We’ve been here for a year, and we have not seen a snake. I would expect to see lots of them, so I’m really thankful. So the donkeys can stay and keep the snakes away.

WACOAN: Are the donkeys and llama a lot of work?

Jones: No. We do nothing. They graze on all the grass. We honestly don’t even know how long they’ve been out here. My guess would be eight to 10 years.

WACOAN: Besides the donkeys and llama, you have dogs?

Jones: Remmy is the new puppy. She’s a lab. Jack, the big dog, is also a lab.

My husband is a big duck hunter, so we have three [stock] tanks. There’s one in the middle of the property that’s the biggest. Then we have one in the back that we believe is spring-fed. The people we bought it from never saw it low in droughts.

Duck season just finished in January, so from November to January, [Kevin’s] living his dream. Just wake up in the morning and hop the tanks and go duck hunting.

WACOAN: So he doesn’t have to drive anywhere to go duck hunting.

Jones: He just walks out. We have a [utility vehicle] to get us around. It’s kind of needed on 100 acres. When you start walking it, you remember, ‘This is quite a bit of land.’

Our property is a perfect rectangle. It’s 1,500 feet at the front and about 3,000 feet long. It’s fully fenced-in, which is great. It’s how the donkeys and the llama stay. And we have cattle.

A good friend of ours who lives in Mount Calm, which is just about 10 minutes past us, has quite a bit of cattle on his property. He agreed to expand his cattle hobby a little, so we have [some of his] cattle out here. We had about 35, and he just came and hauled some off to the auction, so I think we’re down to 21, maybe.

WACOAN: Cows? Bulls?

Jones: We have one bull. That’s why he had to come and pick through. We were getting too many bulls that were getting too big. We’re learning about raising cattle. One bull and then all the rest are heifers.

And we bought one [heifer] for Rae and one for Jacob. Rae named hers Sunshine, and Jacob named his Taco, which is just hilarious. He hasn’t quite understood what beef and hamburgers and taco meat is.

WACOAN: Were y’all in Hewitt for the nine years before moving here?

Jones: No. When we first got married, we lived in a duplex our first year of marriage, then rented a house our second year of marriage. We bought a house in Waco, out near Park Lake [Drive] and Lake Shore [Drive]. We lived there for about three years and then found a house in Hewitt and were there for about three years. Then we decided to build.

WACOAN: Why did you want acreage?

Jones: My husband loves duck hunting, and he would love to have a property that he could just walk out and hunt on. So finding a property that had a pond or tank on it was really important.

We love Waco and knew we wanted to be here for a long time. We just loved this place. We loved the idea of kids growing up and having cattle and hopefully one day having horses and just being out on some acreage. We just really love that.

WACOAN: So who designed your house?

Jones: It’s a Southern Living floor plan. We wanted something small that we could afford. We have dreams of one day this being a guest house and we build another permanent [house] close by. We both have really big families that love coming out here. We’ve got quite a bit of boys in the family who can roam and shoot their guns and hunt and fish. So we want this to be a guest house.

I kept that in mind, something that I could really feel comfortable in for the next however many years. I loved the floor plan. It’s a cute little farmhouse, just what we wanted. It’s a three bedroom, 2 1/2 bath. It’s between 1,700 and 1,800 square feet. We didn’t change much of the floor plan, but we expanded the laundry room into the back porch.

WACOAN: Who built the house?

Jones: Our builder was Mike Gilmer with Barn Light Homes. I designed the house. And I’ve been working with Mike doing interior design. I’ve been helping his clients work through the process of building a custom home – cabinetry to wall colors, tile floors, light fixtures, plumbing, all that.

WACOAN: How did you get into design?

Jones: I just love design. Even in my spare time I’m on Pinterest a lot designing pretend houses. I love it. I love making things beautiful. I’m crafty. I sew. I have a die-cut machine. I love making and creating things. When I got married and had my own house, that love just really flourished.

WACOAN: So tell me about your house.

Jones: It’s an open floor plan but really quaint and small, which with the two kids is really perfect. The only time it feels a little bit too small is when we have our huge families all come out, then it gets a little tight. But they love being outside, so as long as the weather cooperates, everyone is outside.

Now that the inside is finished, I really, really love it. Our next phase is to focus on the outside and make that a little bit more enjoyable. We added a patio out here. Hopefully adding a pergola will be the next step and getting some landscape done. A fire pit, that kind of stuff.

WACOAN: When you were designing the house, what were some must-haves for you?

Jones: The floors were a really big deal to me. They’re rustic, high-variation floors that really lighten up the space.

I searched for something that was in the budget – not $10 a square foot – and was still durable enough that I wouldn’t cringe every time something spilled or scratched. I’ve been really happy with the floors. It’s an engineered hardwood. The finish is a UV-cured closed pore surface. It gives the look of something that is oil-finished that you have to maintain over and over, without doing that. It’s been a go-to with Gilmer and the houses we’re building.

I love the white cabinets. [The counters] are quartzite. It’s very similar to granite, and it has a honed leather finish, so there’s some texture on it. And it’s not really bright and shiny. I wanted character. I wanted some open shelves.

There’s a little bit of shiplap on the walls and a little bit of a different stair railing. Just the touch of something different. It was kind of fun working with the floor plan. The barn door [on one closet] was another fun touch that is popular right now.

In our bathroom, I did the same stone on the countertops and a little touch of shiplap behind the mirror. I did a really fun cement tile in the shower. I got to pick the colors I wanted on the design. We’re not big tub people. We had one in Hewitt and never used it. So we just have the big shower and saved space on the tub. I haven’t regretted that decision.

WACOAN: There aren’t any blinds or curtains on the windows in your bedroom.

Jones: So that was something a little different we’ve never had to think about before. Normally, you get blinds for privacy. Well out here, you don’t really need them for privacy. Our closest neighbor, you need binoculars to see.

My husband loves the openness of the windows. I kind of want to put some curtains on them just for the design side of it. We’re still battling that decision.

WACOAN: Does all the light bother you when you’re trying to sleep late?

Jones: It’s not blinding. The only time the sun blinds my eyes is in the kitchen in the fall – early morning when the sun is coming up and then right as it’s starting to fall in the early evening. But I would love to put curtains on those windows for that aspect, that it’s hurting my eyes. But my husband wants it just open and no hindrance of the views.

The views was another win for us when we toured the property. West is just 8 miles that way. We’ve seen a lot of really cool storms come in.

We’ll see that a thunderstorm is coming, and we’ll get on our phones and look at the radar and it’s all the way up in Dallas. We’re sitting out on the porch enjoying the weather and seeing this lightning storm. That’s been really, really fun. We love being outside on the patio. In the winter, it’s just bare, so you see farther.

WACOAN: And this –

Jones: This is the laundry room; this is the room we expanded. The original plan had it just stop right after the window.

We took in half the back porch, which still leaves us, I think, 6 feet of porch on the back, which is plenty enough. Then I did the big built-in locker system on one wall, and I had a desk built in. This is where I craft. So that’s the downstairs.

WACOAN: And the upstairs –

Jones: We have this fun landing area. Our house in Hewitt, we had a bedroom that we made a playroom. Here, we lost that bedroom. I needed some place for the kids to put all their toys and make a mess. It has these little half-walls with desks, and we added this big built-in that houses all the toys.

In Rae’s room, we did the pretty pink walls but nothing crazy. It had to be really tame; this is about as pink as walls are going to get in my house. Her furniture was our furniture, and I refinished it. I painted and distressed it.

WACOAN: And a great view.

Jones: Yeah, her room wins the competition with the views. You can just see forever. Really, really beautiful. We love it.

And this is Jacob’s room. I love his room. It’s so unique and fun. Putting the [four] built-in beds was a last-minute decision when the framing process was going on. We had to have these two half-walls here for support, and it left these two little [areas], and there were two window seats. So the only place to put the bed was in the middle [of the room]. They just completely swallowed the room. We were measuring and playing around and said, ‘You know, we can fit twin beds in these little spaces.’ Now we have four beds in here and the room is wide open. We love it. It’s the sleepover room. We’ve got lots of cousins on both sides, and they love sleeping in here.

The project I started on this week is doing curtains in his room. Each bed has its own light and outlet and shelf. It’s just really fun. We have a little table with four chairs in the middle [of the room], and they still have a ton of room. And he has two closets.

WACOAN: Being out in the country, I wouldn’t think you have city utilities?

Jones: We’re on a co-op [for] water. We have a water filtration system. This property already had electricity on it. You can get access for 120 or 150 feet from the existing electrical supply. There was no added expense for the electricity. We had to do a septic system. We’ve never been on a septic system before, but it’s fine.

WACOAN: What about cable and internet?

Jones: I will not complain because we have internet.

We don’t do a lot of gaming. Downloading movies during the day is fine. I can do all the surfing I want and we can download pretty much whatever we want, and it’s fine.

In the evening, when we want to sit down and watch a movie after the kids have gone to bed is when it starts getting a little spacy. It’s by line-of-sight, the service out here. We’ll just be thankful that we have it.

Our neighbors across the street are really, really sweet. They’re teaching us some of the country ways of life. And even being somewhat close to a busy road, it’s really quiet out here and it’s really peaceful, which we love. We can send the kids outside without worries of anything. It’s fenced, so it keeps the cows out and the kids in. It’s such a joy to be out here.

WACOAN: What’s your favorite thing about being here?

Jones: I love the space it provides and the freedom to pretty much do whatever we want. There’s no permits or restrictions. We want horses. We would love to have a barn. We would like to have our own little set of cattle one day [and] cross-fence the property. It’s just fun to dream. It’s fun to have the space and ability to expand what you want.

WACOAN: Has there been a learning process since you moved here?

Jones: It has, but nothing about it has been a deal-breaker. The hardest part is that it’s a little bit more difficult for friends to come out on weekdays because it’s just a little bit of a drive. From Hewitt, it’s a good 30 minutes. That makes it a little bit more difficult.

Babysitters are a little bit harder [to find]. If you’re just starting to drive [as a teenager], you’re coming out on country roads. If they’re not used to country roads, it can be uncomfortable.

On the flip side of that, it’s made us plan better. It makes things more intentional. When we’re at home, there’s just really no reason to run out and spend money. Let’s stay at home and nest a little. I feel like it’s slowed life down a little bit.

If we’ve committed to things during the week at night, it makes them really intentional because it’s quite a bit of a drive. Once Kevin comes home from work, for us to load up the car and go back in, it’s going to be something that we really want to do. We’ve really enjoyed being at home. And we’ve enjoyed people wanting to come out. ‘Hey. Are you free this weekend? We would love to come out.’

We have three nephews who live in The Woodlands, where we grew up. One has a birthday this weekend, and he wants to come here for his birthday and shoot his gun. He got a shotgun for Christmas, and if you live in The Woodlands, unless you go to a gun range, there’s really not any place to shoot the gun. He loves being out here. And it’s fun for us to be a place to host family, to get away from the busyness and slow down a little bit and just enjoy being outside.

One of the projects we’ve done outside is try to clear the mesquite trees. We’ve learned a lot about how terrible and invasive mesquite trees are. They’re really difficult to kill. You just have to uproot them, and make sure you get the tap root or it’ll grow back. They suck up all the water in the ground.

The property is covered in them because it hasn’t been maintained in over 10 years. That’s the big project we’ve been taking on. We’ve chopped up a lot of the wood for fires inside since the weather’s been so cold.

WACOAN: Are you a fan of eating duck?

Jones: I have not converted. Kevin really likes it. He has a special way of cooking it. He wraps it in bacon and puts a jalapeno slice in it and really likes it. I did taste it one time. It’s OK. I should probably step into that and explore ways to cook it. Maybe I would enjoy it. Maybe I’ll get there, but I haven’t yet.

WACOAN: Who does most of the cooking?

Jones: Me. That’s another good thing of being at home, you cook more.

WACOAN: McDonald’s isn’t right up the street.

Jones: Yeah, and there’s no place that will deliver food. So we like to cook really clean. It’s your basic meat, veggies. We make our own pizzas a lot. Kevin’s favorite is chicken pot pie, so I try to do some organic versions of chicken pot pie that aren’t as terrible for you. I’m not a big baker.

Since we’ve gotten married, I’ve jumped into the cooking role. I’m not a food snob, but I like things that taste good. It’s not fun for me to just throw something really quick together and eat it. If I’m going to expend the effort to cook something, then I want to enjoy it.

WACOAN: You said you liked Waco and want to stay here. What do you like about Waco?

Jones: We love the size. You still have all of your basic needs and beyond.

My parents live in The Woodlands, and it’s just so busy. It’s fun to go for a weekend getaway because you can literally do anything. You can eat anywhere. You can buy anything. Which is fun for the weekend or a little trip, but it’s just too busy for us. There’s just too much. Kevin can’t stand the traffic.

We’ve gotten involved in our church here, Antioch Community Church. We got involved when we were in college. We love the family and the community it provides. We love the diversity of Waco.

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