Love Your Neighbor

By Gretchen Eichenberg

The Cruz family finds community in their dream home

Pictured: photos by Breanne Johnson,

When Jay and Julie Cruz moved their family from California to Robinson, Texas a little over a year ago, they had two things in mind when designing their custom-built modern farmhouse style home: creating a dream home they would never want to leave and cultivating a sense of community with their neighbors.

“Every other city we’ve lived in, we never knew our neighbors,” Jay Cruz, a fitness/wellness trainer and lifestyle YouTuber and podcaster, said. “Even right next door, maybe 10 steps. I mean, we knew them, but we never hung out with them. Since we moved here, we know tons of the neighbors on all the streets.”

Jay said that before the move, he thought a lot about the scripture “Love your neighbor” and hoped for that kind of environment where he and Julie were planning to raise their four children: Tristan, 17, Rylie, 16, twins Corban and Kinsley, 13, and two dogs.

“I thought ‘Let me actually do that, practically,” he said. “So, the first thing we did when we moved here was invite the entire neighborhood over. We said ‘Hey, just come over. We would love to meet you guys.’”

The five-bedroom home in Robinson’s Hunton Estates was built very purposefully to share with family and friends — people of all ages, especially from their church. With its largely open floorplan, clean lines and bright walls, the home feels effortlessly welcoming and has room for everyone to gather around.

The entire house is designed around a crisp black and white color palette with accents of brass and white oak, giving it a modern feel but in a farmhouse sort of way.

“I wouldn’t say it’s ultramodern,” Julie Cruz, who is involved in direct sales and affiliate marketing under the name Threefold Chic, said. “It’s very livable.”

“It’s 100 percent a dream house. We built it exactly how we wanted it. It still feels like a dream every day, honestly.”

BAM Builders constructed the home, but Jay and Julie headed up the house plan and design on their own by working with their builder and researching home design trends online and through their favorite social media influencers — tweaking and customizing things every step of the way.

“We wanted it all to flow together,” Julie said.

The entryway has several points of focus, each as integral to the home as the other. A stunning view of the backyard and countryside beyond is framed like a painting through the large windows on the back side of the house. A very unique brass-railed catwalk sits right overhead, offering more views from the second floor. And to the right of the front door is an elegant “storefront” complete with glass doors.

Jay had the idea to turn what might in another home have been a traditional dining room into an elegant office for Julie, who among other things, sells Color Street nails. Behind a set of sliding barn doors that continue the farmhouse look, she conveniently stores her products and other supplies.

“Julie worked really hard to help us even afford all this,” Jay said. “And I told her, ‘You need to do something special with your office because you deserve it.’ I said, ‘You need someplace private and quiet.’ And it’s actually very quiet with this type of door.”

The office also features built-in cabinets for plenty of storage.

“I think people have a misconception that furniture costs less than built-ins,” Julie said. “And it’s most of the time not true. Having something custom built usually does end up costing less.”

The great room with 22-foot vaulted ceilings opens up from the entryway, giving even more of that Robinson backyard pastoral view. A black Roman clay linear electric fireplace is the focal point of the room.

“People don’t really know what Roman clay is,” Julie said. “It’s smooth, but it looks textured. It’s honestly an inexpensive design feature but makes a big impact.”

Julie also wanted to incorporate elements of wood and found an old rail tie which was made into a mantle. White oak beams form a hashtag design on the vaulted ceiling and a massive wagon wheel chandelier hangs from the center of the room.

Continuing the open floorplan concept, the kitchen is an extension of the great room.

“We wanted to be able to have all our family here all at the same time for Christmas,” Jay said. “We’ve never done that and we’re hoping because we have a space where we can do that, they would come.”

Julie said the open kitchen has more than they could have imagined.

“The plan was for us to open it up to our neighbors, people that go to our church, a place for people to meet each other and hang out and do ministry,” Julie said. “Practically speaking, it’s really great to be able to cook in the kitchen and then have the kids out here watching TV or something and we’re all part of the same thing.”

A large island that seats six and has a colossal slab of Viscount white — or Silver Cloud — granite is the star of the show in this kitchen.

“Another design feature that we wanted, but is not very common, is seats on this side of the island. We have four kids and us, and so we wanted to be able to all sit at the island when we are having family nights. We also didn’t want to have any kind of formal dining.”

In addition, they have a stylish but practical round wood veneer table that seats eight in a breakfast area just off the kitchen. High-end appliances abound in the spacious kitchen, including a 48-inch range and two wall ovens, one with French doors, all by Café Appliances.

White appliances and cabinetry keep the look clean and tie in the white oak features of the home, as well.

Hidden in the one black wall of the breakfast area is a secret door that leads to the primary bedroom suite with more vaulted ceilings. It’s light and bright, yet serene — a place of peace.

“We just kept it really clean and airy in here,” Julie said. “We’ve never had a kind of sanctuary room. In our previous house, we didn’t have very much space at all. And Jay had a desk in our room, so we never had any place to escape.”

Gigantic is the only way to describe the primary bathroom — with its separate vanities, huge soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower with dual brass-finish rain shower heads. Covered in black hexagon tiles, the space feels like a luxury hotel.

“This tub is actually too big,” Julie said. “It’s so big I feel like I’m floating away.”

The back door of the bathroom leads to the family’s laundry and mudroom. The laundry room has tons of storage cabinets and houses two washers and two dryers to accommodate the family of six and their kids’ many activities.

“It sounds like overkill but for a family our size, it’s not,” Julie said. “If you decide to do bedding on the same day, you can get it all done very quickly.”

Another the thing that was important to the Cruzes is plenty of room for guests.

“We’ve never lived in a house that had room for guests to stay,” Julie said. “And that was something we wanted. So, we actually have two guest rooms now.”

Two almost mirror-image guest rooms are connected by a Jack and Jill style bathroom with separate vanities — and both have spacious closets and similar black, white and gold murals on the wall.

Julie said her kids always wanted to have a two-story house so they could have rooms upstairs — and now they do. The aforementioned catwalk connects the boys’ room and the girls’ room, both which have their own bathrooms and unique style.

“We have four kids, but they share rooms,” Julie said. “And they wanted to share rooms.”

The guys have a space with a clean, simple masculine design. The girls, on the other hand, express a lot of their creativity — one loves coral pink and the other prefers soothing blues. They have their own built-in dressing tables but share a cozy window seat with a neighborhood view.

“All the elements of the decor, they designed,” Julie said. “I think it all goes so well together.”

Next door to the home, yet on the same property, is another structure that one might think to be a detached garage for an RV. However, it’s a full-scale gym, complete with a basketball court that triples as a volleyball court and pickleball court.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to just have a basketball hoop at my house,” Jay said. “When we were talking with our builder, he asked, ‘What is your dream?’ So, we did it.”

The workout studio was designed by Jay and is furnished with top-of-the-line equipment by PRIME Fitness. A coffee and snack bar stocks everything a hungry or thirsty athlete could want — and a spacious bathroom is the perfect place to shower after hitting the gym.

Upstairs is Jay’s office and podcast studio where he and his brother record the “Blueprints Brocast” which focuses on fitness and life.

Jay said the endgame was to have a home to host and do ministry and give the family something they could enjoy so much, they wouldn’t have to go on vacation.

“That’s what we did,” Jay said. “The last piece that we need is the pool. Then, I’ll never feel like I have to leave. Some people will spend the money on vacation. I’d rather spend it on a place that I never have to leave and feel like I have to go on vacation. We work from home, so maybe it’s an odd pairing where you would think that if someone works from home, they would want to leave. But we have no reason to want leave.”

The Cruzes have some suggestions for others taking on a huge home building project like theirs.

“I think the most important thing, if you’re going try and take on a custom build, is you have to interview builders,” Julie said. “And then keep a specific vision in mind of how you want everything. So, I kept the theme to black, white, white oak and brass, simply so that when I was looking at flooring and fixtures and things, I knew, ‘OK, I have to be in this family.’ Or when I was looking at tile, I knew it would be black or white. I kept it very simple.”

She also recommended following a lot of people on Instagram to get inspiration, building 20 percent below your budget (because you will go over, Julie said) and one other piece of advice:

“If you are married and trying to build, don’t do it unless you have a strong marriage,” Julie laughed. “If your marriage is on the rocks at all, don’t even start. You won’t finish it. The whole process and decision making and having deadlines as a couple, it’s hard. It’ll come right up to a point where you need to make a decision, and if somebody’s indecisive like me, and they keep switching back and forth, it becomes frustrating.”

Now that they’ve had a chance to settle in, the Cruzes said they know they made the right decision by coming to Waco and building their dream home.

“We’re really glad that we’re here,” Jay said. “And the more people we get to know, I feel like the smaller everything feels. We’ve only been here for a year, and I see people that I know on a daily basis. I can’t go out to movie theater or anything without knowing at least one person. It feels smaller because we’ve been connected to so many people so quickly.”