Midcentury Modern Eclectic

By Kevin Tankersley

Buck home prioritizes family living

Kelly and Rusty Buck have their own style and, initially, it didn’t really jibe with their new house. They bought a 1990s traditional home in Hidden Valley and worked with Palmer Davis Design in a major remodeling job that included the biggest island Davis has ever put in a home. And now the Bucks’ midcentury modern furnishings, family heirlooms, hand-me-downs and things they’ve found on Craigslist and at Goodwill look right at home.

In July the Bucks moved back to Waco from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Rusty was in his medical school residency. They met during Welcome Week as freshmen at Baylor University and got married between their junior and senior years. They’ve now been married for 13 years. They have five children: Charlie, 10; Ellie, 9; Malachi, 7; Ezra, 5; and Thatcher, 4 months.

The family also includes Peter, the rabbit; Cheddar and Pretzel, the rats who are sisters; Story, the not-so-golden goldendoodle dog; and Chaco, the cat Kelly saved 14 years ago.

Rusty, 35, just began his job with Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center as an ear, nose and throat physician. Kelly, 34, will homeschool the older children two days a week, and they’ll attend school the other three days.

Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley got a tour from the Bucks of their new home and also visited with Jill Davis and Renae Palmer of Palmer Davis Design.

WACOAN: Why did you decide to return to Waco?

Rusty: We’ve always loved Waco. When I finished my residency, we looked at [either] staying in Tulsa or moving back here. Those were our two options. We just had great community here, and that’s really important to us with our kids.

WACOAN: What do you like about Waco? What drew you back?

Rusty: Kelly’s grandmother grew up in Waco. [Kelly] grew up coming to Waco on the weekends. Waco has a long history with Kelly.

Then we met here freshman year at Baylor. After college we were really involved with Antioch Community Church, so we did their church planting school and moved with a bunch of people we met at college to Portland, Oregon, to help plant a church. Then I moved back to Tulsa for medical school. Kelly’s mom lived in Austin, and every time we would drive through Waco, we would see people, drink a cup at Common Grounds, eat at Bangkok Royal. I think we loved Waco enough that we cultivated keeping Waco in our hearts. We have three or four of our really close college friends that got stuck in Waco and never made it out.

Kelly: They chose to stay.

Rusty: I think Waco is very sticky, in a good way.

Kelly: Especially as we’ve started a family and are thinking about a community to put roots down, Waco was a natural choice for us. After college there was an eagerness to visit other cities and explore the world, but after that kind of lost its splendor, it was time to settle down.


WACOAN: What was your grandmother’s name?

Kelly: Mary Elizabeth Power. She passed away 10 years ago. She was 100 percent Italian, 100 percent feisty and 100 percent lovely. She did her master’s at Baylor and wrote a thesis that you can still see at the library. She wrote it on the Branch Davidian community, when it was a peaceful, loving community.

WACOAN: Kelly, where are you from?

Kelly: I grew up in Austin. Baylor was a natural choice for me because it was an hour-and-a-half away, but it was also an hour-and-a-half away.

WACOAN: Far enough where parents couldn’t drop in on you.

Kelly: Right, but I could drop in on them for the weekend. I studied education [at Baylor].

WACOAN: Where have you taught?

Kelly: I did my student teaching at Viking Hills [Elementary] here in Waco and then got certified in Texas to teach. Then we moved to Portland, Oregon, with friends to start a church, and I had our first baby.

WACOAN: Rusty, what did you study?

Rusty: I was actually a religion [major]. I knew that either I wanted to go to medical school or do some form of ministry. The counselors, when you meet with them at the very beginning, said, ‘Well, why don’t you do religion and just do your premed coursework?’ Of course, the entirety of premed coursework doesn’t fit with the electives of a [bachelor’s] in religion. I had to do a little bit extra to do it that way. But I’m glad that I did.

WACOAN: And where are you from?

Rusty: I grew up in Tulsa.

WACOAN: Why did y’all choose Hidden Valley when you moved back to Waco?

Rusty: Great question. We looked all over. Currently, we’re doing a semi homeschool [and] private school. But by the time our kids are high school age, I really want them to likely move into a public school. So the draw of the Midway school district was a big part of staying in this area of town.

Kelly: We have a lot of friends in the Woodway area, and this [neighborhood] is on the edge a little bit. In Tulsa we lived near a high school, and the high-schoolers would drive up and down our street. So being out here [in Hidden Valley] where it’s quiet is a nice change.

Rusty: And specifically, we love this neighborhood because the home we moved from in Tulsa was a heavily wooded lot.

Kelly: Trees are important to us. I’ve missed the live oaks, being out of Texas.

WACOAN: Where do your kids go to school?

Kelly: Valor Preparatory [Academy]. It’s meeting at Victorious Life Church.

Rusty: They were meeting out here in Woodway.

Kelly: They outgrew the church where they were meeting. [Our four older children] will all start there this fall. We have some friends who started it, and we have some friends who go there.

I’ve been homeschooling up until this point. We’ve been doing a co-op in Tulsa, but with having a new baby it felt like a really nice time to move to where they’re going three days a week. Valor provides all the curriculum and assignments for their home days, and I help them tutor and monitor. It took a little bit off the load off me during the season of having a newborn.

Rusty: They call it a University-Model School because they go Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and it’s a classical education style.

WACOAN: When did y’all get married?

Kelly: We got married between our junior and senior year at Baylor, so we got to finish our senior year together in our first year of marriage. We lived behind the [unofficial] Fiji house in this little garage apartment that has been torn down and turned into a parking lot. It was really a sweet time.

Rusty: Close enough to smell the crawfish boils.

WACOAN: Was that the house that had the sand volleyball court?

Kelly: Yes.

Rusty: In fact, the guy who started Valor lived in that house.

WACOAN: Have y’all gone back to Antioch since you moved back?

Kelly: That’s the plan.

WACOAN: Let’s talk about your house.

Kelly: It was built in the ‘90s, and what appealed to us initially was the
size of the yard and the trees. It took us a little bit to have a vision for the inside because we walked in and it didn’t feel like us.

Rusty: The wood floors were a shiny, piano-finish cherry color. And there was some wood floor, where we now have tile, but those floors were added later, and there was a real big height difference. You almost had to step up from one wood floor to the next. And it wasn’t color-matched. That was one of the big projects we had to do was actually build this floor up to where it was all level.

Kelly: For us, we really wanted an open floor plan. We love hosting things. We love having people over. We wanted a house that accommodated that well. We wanted a nice backyard.

The kitchen is the heart of the home, and it seems like when you have people over, the majority of the time is spent in the kitchen. I wanted a large island and an open kitchen and an open feel. The home wasn’t set up that way. When we first started, we were trying to redo the kitchen and save what was here. By the time we had worked through financially what it would cost us to save everything and still make it how we wanted it, it was easier to scrap the entire kitchen. We opened it up and took walls down.


Rusty: There was a wall with a small cutout, so you had to go around to get to the pantry. You couldn’t see the front door [from the kitchen]. It felt much smaller. Once we took that wall out, you could see all the way through [the house].

Jill [Davis] helped us with that. Our Realtor had worked with her before, and said, ‘Why don’t you just talk to Jill about what you guys could do here?’ When we started having those conversations, we said, ‘Hey, I think we can open the kitchen to this big family room.’

Kelly: It was really fun doing a remodel. In the past in our homes we had done cosmetic things here and there, but we had never done a full remodel. It was interesting, though, because we were picking everything out from Tulsa. We would send Jill pictures of things we liked and things we had picked out. I actually did not see it for the first time until it was done. We picked out everything we liked and hoped it all looked good together. When I walked in, it looked like us. It feels like us.

Rusty: We bought three homes without seeing them, just by seeing pictures. This one we actually walked through, but we remodeled it without seeing it, by pictures.

Kelly: We’ve done three times what most people never do once — buy a house without even stepping foot in it.

WACOAN: So how big is the island?

Kelly: We would have to measure it, but it’s four children long and three children wide.

WACOAN: Who does the cooking?

Rusty: She does, I’d say, 80 percent. I like outdoor cooking. And I cook breakfast a lot.

Kelly: I can’t eat eggs that I cook.

WACOAN: Can you cook eggs?

Kelly: I can cook eggs, but I can’t eat them.

Rusty: The process of them going from slimy to edible, she can’t do that.


WACOAN: What do you cook that you eat?

Rusty: She’s a from-scratch cooker. She cooks lasagna from scratch, meatloaf from scratch. She does bread from scratch.

Kelly: His favorite is chicken pot pie. My favorite is soups.

Rusty: Malachi and I fry chicken.

WACOAN: What’s your secret to good fried chicken?

Rusty: Kelly’s cousin taught us the trick of dipping the chicken in egg and then having a giant plastic bag full of breading. We do half corn flour and half corn flakes. We pulverize the corn flakes, and that makes it really crispy. You can use corn flour or regular flour.

Kelly: It’s like shake-and-fry rather than shake-and-bake.

Rusty: And we make a dipping sauce that’s really good. It’s a spicy mango-curry dipping sauce.

Kelly: I like baking. I like making scones and muffins.

Rusty: She makes a candied ginger scone that is really awesome. And she makes a lot of really good pastas.

Kelly: But my favorites are soups and stews. Baked potato soup is a staple.

Rusty: Since we moved to Oklahoma and got introduced to The Pioneer Woman [Ree Drummond], Kelly uses a lot more butter. That makes it good.

Kelly: Our kids love cooking. Blueberry muffins the other day, our daughter made them. I was a supervisor. They love to get in here and get their hands messy. That’s why our 7-year-old likes making fried chicken. They call it their famous fried chicken. It’s a really sweet time to include them in the process and then watch them take ownership of it. They feel very proud of what they make. I would love to get the kids to where they are responsible for meals and where they ask for our help, but we’re pretty hands-off.

WACOAN: What else do you like about your house?

Kelly: I really love the floors. I love the tile. I love the color of the wood. The stain we put on the wood floors, Rusty came up with. It’s a mixture of brown and gray because we wanted to implement a lot of gray in our home. I love the color gray and the matte finish on them.

Rusty: There was a wet bar, but it was outside of the kitchen. So when we knocked down a wall, Jill had it redrawn, but it wasn’t bar height. It was regular counter height. It just looked like more kitchen, and it lost that bar feel. I said, ‘OK, Jill. I want you to raise it to bar height and move the microwave down so the kids can use it.’

We wanted open shelving. We lived for a summer in Kentucky, and you can’t live in Kentucky with a bunch of dudes and not get into bourbon. We use these shelves for bar glasses. And I put in a beer tap and a kombucha tap.

WACOAN: I’m not familiar with that.

Rusty: Kombucha is fermented tea, not alcoholic. It’s kind of a hippie thing. You brew tea, and then you have this thing called a SCOBY [Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast].

Kelly: It’s a living thing.

Rusty: It looks like this slime thing. And you can use someone else’s exact recipe, and you can never get their flavor because they own the organisms.

WACOAN: It sounds like a sourdough starter for bread.

Rusty: Yeah.

Kelly: It grows on you. The first time I had it, I was like, ‘Oh.’ Then you have a few of them, and you find yourself one day saying, ‘I could really use a kombucha right now.’ But it’s an acquired taste.

Rusty: Another thing I love about our house is we have accumulated lots of furniture over time. We have a lot of furniture that we’ve had forever and tells our story. For example, this yellow [leather] couch, we got for a hundred bucks off Craigslist in Tulsa right when we first moved there.

We like midcentury stuff. The coffee table was my grandfather’s, and my sister had it for years. [She] gave it to us with drink rings all over it. Looked horrible. We refinished it. The little captain’s chair Kelly got for $25 at Goodwill years ago. I feel like we really love reclaiming things. Our coffee table was the dining room table at our last house, and we knew we needed a bigger table, so I built the bottom and took the top off the old table and took the varnish off.

Kelly: [Rusty’s] a carpenter and is really great with working with his hands in the operating room when he’s doing surgery and when he’s at home.

Rusty: We don’t have a TV. We watch movies and project them on [a living room] wall. And it’s a big tradition with our family. We have outdoor movie night in the fall and have a bunch of people over.

WACOAN: With your love of midcentury, did you look for an older house when you moved back to Waco?

Rusty: We did. What we moved out of was a midcentury home in Tulsa. And we really love Craftsman style. This was not the style we would have originally searched for, but it met all our other criteria. And that’s the hard part about buying a house. You really can’t say, ‘This is my laundry list. I want every one of these things.’ There’s a give and take.

In [the living room] the bookcases were a little more ‘90s. There were some ornate trim pieces on them. Jill has this carpenter, and there was nothing that he couldn’t do. He was so good. He redid some of the carpentry [on the shelves].


Kelly: The two pieces of art are both from a good friend of ours named Clayton Thompson. He personally made them, and I think that makes things very special.

Rusty: This chair was my great-grandmother’s chair, and Kelly recovered it in a gray herringbone. Love it. It expresses our ‘50s mod style.

People ask us, ‘What is your style?’ I don’t know. We’re intentionally noncommittal. We like what we like.

WACOAN: It’s a little of everything.

Kelly: The dining room is really fun. It’s completely different than what it looked like. It was very ornate. The ceiling was scalloped, and they cut the scallops into a square. I saw a picture of a ceiling online with this tongue-and-groove cedar plank ceiling. There was a huge drapery, and we took it down to open it up and have a lot of natural light.

Rusty: [The front door] was traditional ‘90s with leaded glass. We didn’t have it in our budget to buy a new $3,000 entry. There was wood trim around an oval window. The carpenter cut it out, and they added new glass.

Kelly: It looks like an entirely new door. That’s another thing I like about Jill is that she was able to come up with creative ways to do some of the things we wanted within our budget and conserve what we had.

Rusty: Without scrapping.

Kelly: We replaced all the lighting, and that was really fun to pick out light fixtures for every room.

WACOAN: And this is the boy’s room, I assume.

Kelly: It is the boy’s room. And it was completely Rusty’s creation.


Rusty: We like steampunk. We love fishing. [Kelly’s] dad is really into boats, so we have this nautical theme going. Without going overly dark Willy Wonka-ish, we’ve got a lot of nautical elements, like this map I made on some rawhide.
Jill’s grandmother came and painted this [mural of an octopus] and the mural in Ellie’s room. We just gave her a picture of something we saw online. I wanted the tentacles to extend into the bed. And I like the old ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ [movie poster].

Kelly: The carpenter built the beds for us. We wanted to compact four boys into one room. They loved that. We could have spread them out into two rooms. We wanted them to have a little space and room to read on their beds, so they each have reading lights. They have their own shelves for their stuff. The closet had shelves to the full height of the [11-foot] ceilings. Who can reach those? I said, ‘I want to build a floor up here, and I just want a cave.’ It was their idea to put a sliding door. [The carpenter] did this whole thing, [including] the [pipe] ladder going up there.

[The boys] watch movies up there. They’ve slept there. They’ve gone up there to pout. [Laughs.]

Rusty: They read up there. They play up there.

WACOAN: Whose room is this?

Ellie: My room.


WACOAN: What do you like about your room?

Ellie: The bed and the spinny chair.

WACOAN: Do you spin in your chair a lot?

Ellie: Yeah. And this is my sewing machine.

WACOAN: Why do you have a sewing machine?

Ellie: Because I like to sew.

WACOAN: What can you sew?

Ellie: [Points.] I sewed this, and I sewed that.

WACOAN: You sewed some pillows!

Rusty: Ellie originally really wanted rabbit wallpaper. We picked one out and were about to place an order, and it was about $3,000.

WACOAN: For one wall?

Rusty: For this wall.

Jill’s grandmother designed and painted this. The [mural] has Ellie’s rabbit. And she has some foxes and some birds in it. And her name is carved in the tree.

For us, having personal space and fun space in rooms is important. That’s why we wanted to get Ellie the teepee, and why we have the lofts in the boys’ room. Even within their room, they have their spot.

Kelly: And with the teepee, all [Ellie’s] stuffed animals are in there.

WACOAN: And where is your space?

Kelly: Oh, it’s a mess.

WACOAN: Have you done any work on it?

Kelly: We painted. We were able to do the kids’ rooms, and we were able to do the heart of the home, and that’s about it. We weren’t able to do any of the bathrooms or our room. We painted in there, and that’s about it.

WACOAN: What would you like to do with your room?

Kelly: I have very, very big visions.

WACOAN: And what are those visions?

Kelly: Our bathroom is massive. And the closet is massive, just really huge. I’m not a big bathroom person, and I’m not a big closet person, so I would really like to convert our closet into an efficiency apartment and have an outside entrance, just for guests to have their own space. And our bathroom is big enough to completely remodel and still have a full walk-in closet.

Rusty: We prioritized family living and kid living.

WACOAN: Are you reading anything good right now?

Rusty: I’m reading ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ by Henri Nouwen. It’s his contemplations on Rembrandt’s painting of [‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’]. It’s really good.

Kelly: The most recent book I finished was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ [by Harper Lee], for the first time. I don’t think I even read it in high school.

WACOAN: Were you supposed to?

Kelly: I skimmed it. But it was really fun to read as an adult. It was beautiful. Reading it as a wife and mom and adult was very different. I loved it. We almost named [Thatcher] Atticus.

We listen to audiobooks as a family, and right now we’re listening to ‘Charlotte’s Web’ [by E.B. White].

One of the favorite things about our house is something that a friend in Tulsa made for us. It’s kind of a family portrait [including our animals] with our family mission statement. In Tulsa we had chickens, but we still have the dog, the cat, two pet rats and a pet rabbit.

Rusty: We didn’t have the rabbit or Thatcher when [the portrait was drawn], but they were added when we got them.

WACOAN: Will you be getting chickens?

Rusty: We would like to.

Kelly: We would like to get some Silkie chickens because they’re smaller. In our last house we let our chickens free range. They would come up and look in the window and look for us.

Rusty: When it was really cold, we would be kind and open the door, and they would come in and sit on the heaters.

Kelly: I never thought we would have pet rats.

WACOAN: What prompted the pet rats?

Kelly: I grew up with gerbils, and we didn’t want to get gerbils. They didn’t seem friendly, and I didn’t find much entertainment in watching them. We have some friends with rats, and they would sit and watch TV and hold the rats. They knew their [own] names. They were really smart. Everybody knows rats are smart. That’s why they’re used for all those experiments. So if we’re going to do small, rodent animals —

Rusty: They clean themselves, like a cat.

Kelly: So we got one, and we had her for about two-and-a-half years before she passed away. That’s how long they usually live, two to three years. So then we got these two sisters.

Rusty: And our cat was born in Waco. Kelly got her on the way to church one Sunday, our sophomore year, and asked me to keep her because she couldn’t keep her in her apartment. This is Chaco’s return to Texas.

Kelly: We’re excited to rediscover Waco. We were college students when we lived here over a decade ago. And Waco has just gotten better and better. And to rediscover it with children, as a family, in an area that we didn’t know existed when we were college students, is exciting.

We’re excited to go to the farmers market on Saturday. We’re excited to explore Cameron Park. We have our favorite places from college that are still here, and we get to show our kids those.

WACOAN: And those are?

Kelly: No restaurant in the world compares to Bangkok Royal. We went there as friends before we were married. We’ve been going there since it was in that little location over by campus. We love it. Then of course, Common Grounds.

And it’s so fun to see downtown coming to life and new places going in down there. We’re really excited to support downtown life. And a new one we discovered is Hey Sugar [Candy Store and More]. We started going every Friday. [The kids] earn tickets throughout the week. We call them ‘kindness tickets,’ so when we catch them being kind or making good choices, they get a ticket. Each ticket is [worth] 10 cents. On Friday they count up their money, and they can spend that at Hey Sugar.

Jill Davis of Palmer Davis Design was the go-to person for the remodel of the Bucks’ home in Hidden Valley, with co-owner Renae Palmer adding support as needed. With the Bucks in Tulsa, most of the design and remodel decisions were made via text, email and FaceTime, which the design firm is using more and more as folks move to Waco from all over the country.

WACOAN: How did Palmer Davis Design get involved with the Bucks?

Davis: We did [Ashton and Brynn] Gustafsons’ [house], who were in the Home issue [of the Wacoan in March]. They did a really cool house. It’s like a Brazos beach house. Brynn’s mother [Tanya Murphy] works for AG Real Estate [& Associates], which Ashton owns. When the Bucks bought the house, Tanya sold it to them.

She sold it to them under, ‘I know this isn’t your style, but you could remodel it, and here’s what it could look like it.’ She took them over to Brynn’s house to show it to them. They fell in love with their style, the look of it. They said, ‘OK, we’re going to do it. We don’t like anything about this house now, but we’re going to buy it and we’re going to remodel it.’ They never lived in it until after it was remodeled.

WACOAN: And y’all did the Gustafon house?

Davis: Yes, a little over a year ago.

WACOAN: The Bucks were in Tulsa, and once the remodeling got underway, it was pretty much sight unseen, right? They would send you pictures and things?

Palmer: And FaceTime.

Davis: I think Kelly had seen it once. They looked at it, then Rusty came back down and looked at some other properties, and they came back to the [Hidden Valley] house. They loved the location, the street, the neighbors, everything about it. They finally decided to pull the trigger.

Before they even closed on it, he had already contacted us, and we were lined up. Once they closed, we were going in to gut it. We knew they were going to do a new kitchen, and we knew they were going to touch on a few other areas, but once it started, it started to snowball, and we ended up branching out. It was about a 12-week construction period, and he came down once in the beginning to look at a few things. Everything else we did through pictures, FaceTime, email.

WACOAN: Have you done other jobs in that manner?

Davis: We have started to because there’s such an influx of people moving in from other states that are wanting to come to Waco.

WACOAN: Have the people coming in from other states said why they’re moving to Waco?

Palmer: Sometimes it’s family. Sometimes they’re Baylor alumni who are retiring. There are all sorts of different reasons.

Davis: Obviously, Waco’s had some really good light shed on it because of ‘Fixer Upper.’ You have the ‘Fixer Upper’ effect, where everybody’s seeing it for what we see: a beautiful city. You’ve got great colleges. You’re halfway between Austin and Dallas, but it’s not a big city. You don’t have traffic and things like that. The cost of living is fairly reasonable. People are seeing it and want to come here. We have several people who have bought houses here and are planning on retiring, or they’re considering it for a place they want to raise their family. That’s why real estate right now is haywire. It’s hard to find anything because people are moving in, and we’re growing so fast.

WACOAN: Have you done other projects where your clients have had their own style, but it’s completely different from the style of the house?

Davis: We’re starting to see a lot more of that. Waco is booming. There aren’t a whole lot of properties out there. These newer houses, which are usually spec houses, [the builders] are not doing anything that unique in them. So the people coming into town are buying these older homes, and when they update them, they’re going in and doing some cool modern or transitional flip to it. In the past couple of years we’ve done quite a few of those. We’re doing one right now where it’s completely gutted, and we’ve opened it and are doing a real transitional look with it. It’s a 1967 or ’68 house.

WACOAN: What was the biggest issue at the Buck house?

Davis: The kitchen was one. Because they have such a large family, they needed a large kitchen. They needed a kitchen that they could feel comfortable cooking in and also have their kids sitting at the bar. They wanted a big island where everybody could sit.

The other issue with that house that kept them from getting it initially was the people who had it originally had done some strange things with the flooring. When the house was built, there was sanded-finish hardwood everywhere, in all the main walk areas. And then in the bedrooms and formal dining, there was carpet. When the [previous owners] took the carpet out and were going to go back with wood everywhere, there was an elevation change with the two woods. I guess they didn’t care about that. They installed this really thick walnut-stained hardwood everywhere, so every room that did have carpet and now had wood was going to be taller than the old wood. You had an up-step, down-step at every transition [between rooms]. That was one of the biggies why that house didn’t sell right away. And it hadn’t been remodeled at all since it was built.

WACOAN: The uneven floors wouldn’t be a good thing with kids, especially with a baby who will be learning to walk.

Davis: It looks awkward, and that house is [almost] 4,000 square feet, and the options were to take up all the flooring, 4,000 [square] feet of it, and then pay for all new flooring and installation. They were looking at $30,000 in flooring, so they had to weigh that. That was why it was on the market for so long. Usually, houses in Hidden Valley aren’t up for sale for very long.

Palmer: They were really concerned about that flooring.

Davis: What we ended up doing was keeping part of it and ripping out the newer wood, the higher wood. We put tile in those areas — the entry, the hallway, the kitchen. The wood that was there was this really shiny, honey-orange-colored oak. We stripped it and stained it and did a gray walnut kind of Restoration Hardware-looking stain on it. It made them look great.

The biggest obstacle was the floors. After that the rest came easy because they were pretty specific about what they wanted and their style.

WACOAN: When you’re working with clients, would you rather have somebody who is specific about what they want or —

Davis: Not specific but know what they want. You get some people and you ask them, ‘Do you like this?’ They say, ‘Well, I don’t really know.’ If you don’t really know what you like at all, we’re kind of starting from scratch, and Renae and I don’t know what you like either. We’re just having to show them everything. They have to find themselves in the process, and it just takes longer.

WACOAN: How would you describe the Bucks’ style?

Davis: Midcentury modern eclectic. Very eclectic. [Rusty] had sent me some pictures, but I didn’t realize until they had moved in that they had pieces that were their parents’ and grandparents’. So they had these pieces that were 50 or 60 years old, and then they had this brand-new Restoration Hardware library leather sofa. They really complemented each other well. And it’s always fun to do projects for people that have this really funky, cool style and aren’t afraid to do something out there. They have some very cool pieces.


WACOAN: How would you describe the style of the house?

Palmer: Traditional, very traditional. They got rid of all the round columns and the three-finger molding, all the stuff that delineated it as being a very traditional house. They changed it and made everything square and clean. They added shiplap and the linear look. They made it very transitional.

Davis: There was tons of molding in that house, so now we’ve cleaned it up where it’s just smooth. It’s big and chunky, but it’s smooth. Before, all around the windows and the fireplace, there was all that three-finger molding and medallions. We took all that off and made it clean.

You’re picking things all along the way, so the first few stages begin with going over and measuring the entire house, every nook and cranny, and put it on CAD [computer-aided design]. We go in and figure out how it’s going to look now and what we’re going to keep. They ended up having to take walls out that were in the kitchen, and we had to do a structural beam that went 42 feet across the kitchen and dining room because they wanted to open all that up. But it made for that big open area that we call the hearth room, right next to the kitchen. It opened all that up. Once we did that, we could lay out the kitchen. I knew that Kelly wanted a huge island, so we drew in the biggest island we’ve ever done. It’s 9 [feet] by 9 [feet].

WACOAN: They said it measures four kids this way by three kids this way.

Davis: It took two slabs of granite to do that big island.
We knew what the kitchen was going to look like, and we pretty much knew what we were going to do with the floors. We knew where we were going to rip it up, where we were taking out wood and where tile was going to go. Then after we started, we got into hard finishes.

I would talk to them every week and say, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do in the next couple of weeks, and this is what we need to have selected.’ The first few things were flooring and cabinet elevations. At first [that area] was going to be shelving for books and things like that. It was a wet bar originally, but they weren’t sure if they wanted to keep that. Then [Rusty] came to me and said, ‘I really want to keep it as a bar, and I want to put beer on tap there.’ I said, ‘I’ve never put beer on tap anywhere, but we’re going to figure it out.’ We had to figure out how to route it through the wall and figure out how he could change out the cylinders. It was a learning curve, but we figured it out.

It seemed like every time we were picking out finishes, I was thinking, ‘They’re really
funky. They’re letting me do some crazy, cool stuff.’ I would show them options, and one would be a little out there, and he would say, ‘Yeah, I like that.’

We were doing really cool things with woodwork, like you can see on the ceiling. They were very open to doing things like that. And in there we added all that wainscot. And we squared off the columns, and we put more of the beadboard in there. In the formal living we added it there. In the kitchen he wanted to add more of that rich wood look. It was old ‘80s style with a big TV cabinet that nobody uses anymore. We cut it off and used the bottom for storage, and he wanted to do that really cool chevron bookshelf that will match the dining room. Every time we were picking stuff, he was doing things that were a little bit more out there. It was very fun because we got to do some different things.

WACOAN: In Ellie’s room they told me they had planned to do wallpaper, but it was crazy expensive.

Davis: It was like $3,000. I would send [Kelly] pictures of wallpaper for Ellie’s room because they wanted to do some sort of a bunny paper. When I looked up one of the vendors that we have, there was this really cool bunny paper that almost looked like an artist had sketched it. It was all these different bunny faces. They wanted to use it as an accent wall in Ellie’s room. I placed the order and got an email back that said the order had been placed, and it’s $3,000, and it’s shipping from Europe, and you’ll have it in two weeks. I said, ‘Whaaat?’ I never dreamed it would be that expensive. I called them and said, ‘I just got an email from the wallpaper company, and it’s going to be $3,000 for just the paper.’ They didn’t want to do that. I said, ‘Let me see what I can come up with, and I’ll call you back.’

We looked for something that was kind of similar, and there really wasn’t anything. I didn’t want to say anything to Rusty at the time, so I called my grandmother and said, ‘Granny, do you think you could paint a mural on the wall for the Bucks’ kids?’ She’s only done that for my kids. She said, ‘Yeah, I can do it.’ I had sent [Rusty] pictures of the mural she had done for my kids in their two rooms, and Kelly said, ‘I love those trees and the bears, and I wouldn’t be opposed to just replicating that in our house.’ We put a little twist on it and added the bunnies.

WACOAN: What’s your grandmother’s name?

Davis: Peggy Dwyer. She lives here in Waco. My aunt helped her too. My grandmother is in her 70s. My aunt [Trish Loyd], who lives right next to her, came over and did all the stuff high on the walls.

WACOAN: They did the bunny wall and the octopus?

Davis: Yes.

WACOAN: Whose idea was the octopus?

Davis: That was Rusty. He wanted to do a whole ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ submarine-theme room. We had just started the [demolition], and he had to come [to Waco] for a meeting, and he stopped by for 30 minutes to talk to us and see what was going on. We walked into the boys’ bunk room, and he said, ‘You know, Kelly really would just love to do this secret space for the boys, a little reading nook. I was thinking that we have enough room over the closet to have a really cool reading area. Do you think we could keep it as a surprise for Kelly?’

We had the carpenter go in and demo all the walls and just make the ceiling in the closet short, like 7 feet, because the ceilings were high anyway. We had about 4 feet to play with. We ended up wrapping it all in cedar and putting in a wooden floor up there. And they have a really cool pipe ladder.

WACOAN: Who figured out how to put four bunk beds in the boys’ room? That’s a pretty good use of space.

Davis: Rusty said, ‘OK, we’re going to put four kids in here.’

Palmer: We just put tape on the ground and tried to figure it all out.

Davis: It took several meetings with the carpenter who was building it. We used every bit of space. We took the door off the closet and put in that sliding door because the door was going to hit the bunk beds.

WACOAN: It looks like each boy has his own space, and there’s some privacy.

Davis: How they abut, how they have this space behind. So we used that for shelving with a reading light and space where they can put their own things up there. They had another bedroom, but they’re very lucky that Kelly’s mother, who lives in Austin, can come and stay with them, and they wanted a room for her to be comfortable in. The extra room they gave to her. So the four boys are in one room, and they’re fine with that. They only sleep in there.

WACOAN: When they showed me the house, the Bucks said they hadn’t done anything with the master bedroom and bath yet but said they were planning on turning their huge closet into a guest room.

Davis: You know, I did not know that, but they have lots of good ideas.
They do want to tackle their bathroom. It’s not their style. It’s traditional. We were going over the budget they gave me when we started. It didn’t make it to the bathroom.

WACOAN: Right. That’s what they told me.

Davis: I told them that [the bathroom] might not be their style, but it’s still really nice.

Palmer: It’s large.

Davis: If he gets transferred, or if they have to move in a couple of years, this bathroom isn’t going to keep them from selling this house.

WACOAN: What was your favorite part of this project?

Davis: There are so many things. I loved the way the kitchen laid out with the big island. I love the cool things they let us do with the woodwork. We don’t get to do much of that because most people are on a pretty tight budget when it comes to remodeling.
Remodeling is very expensive. Things like that get left out a lot, and you’re just trying to get the basics, so you don’t get a whole lot of cool woodwork. So I love the extra expense they put into that.

WACOAN: How big of a difference is the kitchen now as opposed to what it was?

Davis: Enormous difference. But that’s typical for when the house was built. We do that all the time. We do several, several remodels every year like that. That’s just how houses were built in that period. Rooms were closed off and not open like they are now. It’s not uncommon for us to go in and put big beams up in an attic to support open spaces like that.

Renae’s getting ready to start [a house] where it’s kind of the same floor plan, where they’re doing the same thing. The house they looked at before they bought this one, Brynn’s house, they had to go in and put a huge beam through it to open it up. So we’re used to that.

WACOAN: How did you do the ceiling in the dining room?

Davis: It’s a tongue-and-groove cedar plank. Kelly had found a picture of a hardwood ceiling that she liked, and it was a square. There were 45-[degree angles] on the corners. They were actually mitered together — each band got smaller and smaller. They were a little hesitant on the cedar because they didn’t want to bring any red tones in, but I told them that if we left it more in its natural state and did a clear [stain] on it, that it wouldn’t bring out the red as much, and they were open to that. And when they do a ceiling like that, it’s called a tray ceiling. It’s just the very top of the tiered ceiling.

Palmer: There was extra crown molding up there. It was very traditional. They cleaned it up too.

WACOAN: What kind of lighting was in the house previously?

Palmer: Very traditional.

Davis: Shiny brass everywhere.

WACOAN: Was there a lot of wallpaper?

Davis: They had a burgundy and emerald green wallpaper in the dining room and a huge brass chandelier. And they had really heavy drapery treatments in there. Actually, they had really heavy drapery treatments everywhere. They opted to keep some of the blinds. All the ones in the back they took off. The only wood blinds they kept are the ones that face the street. They wanted it open.

WACOAN: Is there anything else you wish you could have done with this project?

Davis: There were two bathrooms I could have gone in and done some damage to, but they were reining me in. One had green tile and wallpaper. At one point, when we were getting to the game room, we weren’t going to do that room. When we started, we were only going to do the kitchen, and we were going to paint the kitchen. The rest of the house Kelly was going to paint when she got here. That was it. As it started evolving, they said, ‘OK, now we want to do the dining room. Now we want you to paint the whole house. Now we’re going to do the kids’ rooms.’

WACOAN: Rusty said you reused some things from the kitchen in the remodel?

Palmer: We reused the kitchen cabinets in the garage.

Davis: And the granite on top of them.

Palmer: We reconfigured them to give [Rusty] a workspace.

Davis: He’s a really good carpenter. When we were doing the boys’ room, he would call me several times a day: ‘What kind of joints are they doing? What kind of wood is it?’ He was all into that because he’s a woodworker himself, and he can build.
Palmer: The weekend he came to set everything up, he brought one son with him. He did a massive amount of work that weekend, unloading and unpacking things. We went back over that next week, and he had the trampoline and slackline up. He had all this stuff outside for the kids to do.

Davis: He came up the weekend before to meet the movers, unpack everything and get it all set up, so when his wife — you know they have a newborn — and the rest of the kids came, it would feel like they were at home and not just walking into a room with boxes. He and Malachi came and spent a week in Waco and set up the house, and then the following weekend, it was the Fourth of July weekend, he brought the whole family down.

Palmer: He did a massive amount of work.

Davis: He made it perfect, especially for the kids.

WACOAN: They said that a lot of what they did in the house was for the kids and the family spaces.

Davis: It’s all about family. And Malachi loved spending that week with his dad by himself. We went over there, and he was eating candy and hanging out. They were going to meet friends to go swimming one day and go to Baylor and go check out the sites. It was cool.

WACOAN: What else do I need to know about this project?

Davis: It was a unique project for us in that we don’t typically do projects for people who are quite as young as [the Bucks] are. When you do [a project] for, say, these young doctors or young lawyers or young professionals, they’re usually more open to doing a little bit of a different twist on a cool style. So you’re not really doing traditional, and that’s always fun. But the Bucks were even more so because they were so out there, really, in how they think about things and how they look at life. They don’t really care about what’s in style right now or what goes together. They just kind of knew —

Palmer: What they liked.

Davis: And they just went with it. I really let them talk a lot to me about what they’d seen and what they liked, and I just helped them pull it together and made sure we weren’t doing anything just crazy off the wall that wouldn’t look good later. But they had a lot of input on the way the house turned out. I give them a ton of credit because if it was probably left up to me and they didn’t have any input, it would have been more traditional than that. People come and want you to do things, and they don’t want you to do some outlandish design. It’s more formal or traditional. [The Bucks] get a lot of credit for coming up with some really cool ideas that were unique.