The Last House

By Kevin Tankersley

French luxury abounds in Robinsons’ custom home

Pictured: Photos by Taylor Nicole Photography
Styled by Melissa Hoekstra

When Valerie and Gordon Robinson decided to build a house and move back into town from Hidden Valley, Gordon had just three things he wanted in the new place. He got those, but every other decision he left up to Valerie. They combined three lots on Ridgewood Drive — directly across the street from where they lived years ago — and began a four-year process of designing and building on sloped land made up of expansive clay, which required pier-and-beam foundation work under the house and the pool. They’ve been there nearly a year now and wouldn’t change a thing about their new home.

They had some help on the home from Melissa Hoekstra, owner of James & Reid Home Antiquities of Waco. Hoekstra initially helped the Robinsons choose outdoor furniture.

“They wanted their outdoor experience to flow with the interior space seamlessly with a clean, minimal and modern approach,” she said. “Since then, we have built a rapport with them and have provided art and accessories for the home.”

When the children and grandchildren visit, there’s plenty of room for everyone. Valerie and Gordon have four kids and four grandkids with another one due any day now.

One son, Cole, is a lawyer with Gray Reed in Dallas. He’s married to Meg, and they are parents to Billy, Jack and Molly.

Chad lives in Waco and works in the family business, Specialty Property, Ltd. He and his wife, Michelle, a nurse practitioner, have a daughter, June, and are expecting another, Juliette, around the middle of this month.

Their son Barret works in digital marketing in Austin; and their daughter Francesca is studying interior design at the University of Arkansas.

WACOAN: How long have you been here?

Valerie: We moved in last April. We moved in on a Sunday, and then we had a dinner party here that Thursday.
WACOAN: So there was no pressure in getting everything ready.

Valerie: Yeah, lots of pressure. But it really was kind of a good thing to do because it helped them realize we’re tired of waiting. We’re gonna do this. We’ve got to be in.

WACOAN: Where were y’all previously?

Gordon: We lived in Hidden Valley since 2005. Prior to moving to Hidden Valley, we actually lived across the street on Ridgewood.

WACOAN: What brought you back into town from Hidden Valley?

Gordon: It just seemed to be too far of a drive.

Valerie: We lived out there for 14 years, and we built that house together. We subcontracted it and built it ourselves.

WACOAN: Did you build this one?

Gordon: Yes.

Valerie: Brad and Nathan Alford [of The Alford Company in Waco] were our builders on this house.

WACOAN: How long of a process was building?

Valerie: Four years, from start to finish. Not all that was Brad and Nathan. It was us. It was a lot. There’s a retaining wall out there. Getting the landscape where it needed to be to build a house on here.

Gordon: We actually bought this lot approximately eight years ago and then spent about two years in the planning stages and negotiation stages as to the size of the house. It was originally three lots, and we took advantage of all three.

WACOAN: What do you like about this area?

Gordon: Well, for me, I actually grew up on Ridgewood Drive. My parents built a house right up the street here, in 1976, and I lived there most of my teenage years and graduation from high school and attending college and everything. And then we again lived across the street here and then moved to Hidden Valley. So just getting back into the neighborhood and being close to Ridgewood Country Club and the lake.

Valerie: And his dad and stepmom, Clifton and Betsy [Robinson], live right up the street. And his mother, Boo [Robinson], lives on Richards [Drive], which is just right here. And then our son Chad and his wife, they live on Stoneleigh [Road]. We’re all kind of right here together.

WACOAN: How long have y’all been married?

Valerie: Twenty-five years, last May.

WACOAN: OK. Back to your house. Did you design it, or did you bring somebody in?

Valerie: We did bring somebody in, but I had a book about that thick that I had been collecting [ideas in]. We kind of went back and forth between Mediterranean and French styles. He was leaning more toward Mediterranean. But then when we looked around Waco, there’s quite a few Mediterranean homes. And so I started leaning more toward French and finally got him to come on board with me.

My vision for this house, and I think it happened, was it’s more formal French in the front. We call it petite chateau décor. And so it’s kind of more formal in the front, but then the back of the house and the upstairs and everything is like a contemporary Parisian apartment. That’s kind of what we were going for.

We first hired an architect out of Dallas, Doug Caperton, and he really did the basic layout of the house, but it was bigger than what we needed for it to be and we had to scale down. And so, Lolly Lupton, who’s an interior designer — she’s from Waco, but she works and lives in Dallas now — she had a fellow who works for her and does all her design work digitally, David Kreager, and he kind of revised it to swap sides of the house and then made it smaller scale, more to what we need for this size of lot.

WACOAN: What drew you to the French style?

Valerie: I grew up in Europe. My dad was in the military, and my first husband was in the military. So I spent a lot of time overseas, and I went to school in Paris for a year and just was drawn to that type of architecture.

WACOAN: What are your favorite features of the house?

Valerie: I love the kitchen backsplash. It’s kind of three-dimensional, and there’s something similar to that tile work upstairs in my daughter’s bathroom. It’s kind of like a puzzle they laid out on the floor to piece it all together.

And I like the fact that [the house] is white and bright and light. Obviously that view right there is special all the way around. It’s just very calming and peaceful. We were out of town this weekend, and we came back and I said, ‘I just love walking into my home.’ It’s just peaceful and wonderful.

Gordon: I like the fact that it’s secluded. [It’s] off of the street, not very visible. We don’t really have any backdoor neighbors. In the wintertime, you can see some folks up there because the leaves have fallen off the trees, but just the fact that we’re sort of sitting up here in what we feel like is paradise, all by ourselves.

WACOAN: Why lots of white and not very much color in the house?

Valerie: First of all, it’s very French to have a lot of white in the house and then use accessories to add color and to build off of that. And the fact that it is light and airy, I feel like that goes with the lake view. When we were building it and we were picking the colors, painters working on it said, ‘Wow. This is really white.’ And I [said], ‘Trust me. It’s gonna be OK.’

WACOAN: And it is white. It’s not like off-white or eggshell or anything.

Valerie: No, it’s white. And then afterward they were all like, ‘This is awesome. We like it.’ There are a couple of other colors in the house, like in the dining room. It’s called Marilyn’s Dress [by Benjamin Moore]. I used that color in several rooms, and we either took it down a half or took it up a half. So the same color in different variation is throughout the house with the white. It can be bluish or purplish, just depending. Like in the dining room, there’s amethyst crystals on the chandelier, so it tends to have more of a purple tint.

WACOAN: Can you show me around?

Valerie: Absolutely.

Gordon: I didn’t pick out anything. I had three things over here that I was in charge of. I said I wanted a French country porcelain sink [in the kitchen].

Valerie: And he got it.

WACOAN: It’s a big sink.

Gordon: Yeah. And then one little stool in my closet so I can sit down and put my shoes on. And the media room. The rest of it I saw as it was being installed.

WACOAN: Were you happy with everything once it was installed?

Gordon: Thrilled! Yeah.

WACOAN: Tell me about your kitchen.

Valerie: In the kitchen, I wanted marble [countertops]. Everybody told me on the marble, ‘It stains. No red wine. You have to be so careful with everything.’ But I wanted to do it on my [previous] house, and everybody talked me out of it. So I decided, this is my last house. I’m gonna do it. This is what I want to do. So we did it, and it’s OK for the most part.

I wanted this [tile] on the backsplash also and the cabinetry had already gone in and the vent-a-hood had already gone in, so they were like, ‘It’s too thick. You can’t do that. You’re going to have to pick something else out,’ and I was mortified. I did not want to do that. But went up there and ended up finding that tile, which in the framework, you’ll see it’s three dimensional. But I have these pieces, these little accessories from a designer called Michael Aram; he does things out of metal based on nature, different flowers, bugs. I was looking at these tiles, and I can’t find anything; I’m struggling. Then I come across that, and I think that will look nice with this chandelier that’s over that table. And it turns out that is by Michael Aram also, and I didn’t even know he made tile. So that’s the story on that.

WACOAN: That’s quite the vent hood.

Valerie: Isn’t it? It was made in Waco [by Premier Metalworks]. We showed them pictures of what we wanted — again, from my big book that I had been collecting pictures of — and they did a remarkable job.

WACOAN: And this is the —

Valerie: This is the family room. We have four grandchildren and are fixing to have five, so we wanted this to be comfortable. They can get up there [at the round table with banquette seating] and color and have their little snacks and do whatever and look at the lake.

WACOAN: I would be so worried about them coloring on white leather.

Valerie: No, it washes right off. That’s vinyl. It looks like it could be leather, but it’s vinyl.

Now in [the family room, flanking the fireplace], I saw something similar to this in Paris at the Ritz Hotel. They had just remodeled the Ritz and had a library area that had cabinetry like this, but it has chicken wire in it. I had a picture, and Lolly helped with it also and Michael Sheedy, who is no longer with us, with Trautschold [Millwork Company]. He passed away just recently after he had finished everything in my house. And so those are really, really special pieces to us.

WACOAN: Why did you go with cabinets instead of built-ins?

Valerie: I don’t like built-ins. I think they look a little fabricated. I like for things to look more like a piece of furniture than actual built-ins.

The fireplace came from a place in Dallas called Sabella Carved Stone. And Matt Rzechula gets [the material] from Europe and comes in and measures and figures out how everything’s supposed to fit.

Now, the chandelier right there. I also saw something similar in Provence, France, and I had a picture of it. And Crow Chandeliers in Dallas designed all of our light fixtures. You can really see the reflection at night, and it looks like a waterfall coming down. I do like that piece.

We did modern-looking fixtures. I tried to mix old with new.

Gordon: The butler pantry’s here so if we have parties or catered events, they can pull in the garage, set their food up in here.

And this is the most important part right here — the bar.

WACOAN: I like how the wine closet is stocked with Topo Chico.

Valerie: We do have wine, too; we just don’t have our cellar filled yet.

The family room is really very French. I love the herringbone patterns [on the floor]. I wanted very light in here because of the white, so this literally has no stain on it. It’s oak.

These marble columns [in the entryway] were done by the same fellow who did the fireplace mantels.

Gordon: They’re fluted marble columns, Corinthian.

WACOAN: Do either of you play the piano?

Valerie: No, but our son Barret does.

Gordon: That’s an interesting story on the piano. We own the Triangle Tower building where the Brazos Club was. The Brazos Club obviously went out of business, and in doing so, the piano was left behind. It was actually an inlaid wood, dark piano. And we had it refinished and painted. We’ve actually had it refinished and painted twice. But that’s the actual piano that came out of the Brazos Club at Triangle Tower.

Valerie: In the dining room, we went with a round table because I like the intimacy that you get from a round table. People can see each other directly and talk and all that.

Gordon: This [formal living] room gets a lot of use.

Valerie: We had Christmas in here. We had a white flocked tree. All our grandkids were in here, and it was lovely.

This is the blue room, as we call it, the library. And if you look at the ceiling, we had [Ignacio Ruiz, Jr. with JR Contracting] do all the stenciling [on eight ceiling panels]. He’s fabulous.

WACOAN: How high are these ceilings?

Valerie: I have no idea. Twenty-two (feet)?

Gordon: Eighteen feet? Twenty?

Valerie: So we have some memorabilia. That globe came from my parents. They lived in Europe. We lived all over, and this table came from Sorrento, Italy. It’s a game table.

They do this inlaid wood there.

There’s a formal bath. And I wanted it to be very formal. This picture [framed and hanging on the wall] is one of the first things our son Barret did. You can see he’s written his name backwards. I’ve had people who think it’s really wonderful.

WACOAN: How old was Barret when he did that?

Valerie: He was young. I would say 6 or 7. And [in the bath] is gold foil wallpaper because I wanted it to be different and more formal, so when people are getting away, they’re in a nice, formal space.

And this is the master [suite]. I’ll show you my side, then he’ll show you his. We had the same set-up at our house in Hidden Valley.

Gordon: And in our Ridgewood house, when we lived [across the street]. We had a similar set-up where she had her side, I had my side, so when you roll out of bed, one goes right and one goes left. I just kind of like it that way. She’s not in my way, and I’m not in her way.

Valerie: This is my little bath area and a vanity. The [soaking] tub and this floor also came from the Sabella Carved Stone, all the marble. And then we have a shower in the middle. And then here’s my closet

WACOAN: I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a closet with the clothes behind glass doors.

Valerie: At the other house I wanted cabinetry, and we ended up not doing it. I just liked the fact that first of all, it protects your clothes being inside there. Then they’re visible. And I have a couple of areas that have a mirror on them so I can use those for storage and then the rest of them can be open.

Gordon: It really just prevents dust from getting on your clothes.

WACOAN: How do you get things down from the high shelves?

Valerie: Actually, right now, I just use a ladder. The initial goal, and hopefully I can do it at some point, was to have a rolling ladder.

Gordon: Mine is a whole lot less.

Valerie: He doesn’t care about a messy closet. But it’s bigger than what he had before, for sure.

Gordon: I get the bar. And we don’t really use it as a bar. We just put bottled water in here, so at night, you’ve got bottled water by your bed or in the morning when you get up to take medicine or whatever. And this is the second of my three requests in the whole house. I wanted a bench where I could sit down here and put my socks on. And I’ve got that.

Valerie: And I love being in here [in the master bedroom] and being able to see the pool. It’s a beautiful view.

All of these floors came from Dallas, and the staircase was done by the same people who did the vent hood.

Gordon: These guys were amazing. All of this [metal for the staircase railing] came in, and they built it right here on site with crescent wrenches that were like 3 and 4 feet long. And like this piece right here [the handrail] would have been a straight piece when they brought it in here, a big, long, straight piece, and they get in here and hit it and beat it and heat it and they bend it around and they just do a phenomenal job. All of this was actually built right here on site, every bit of it.

Valerie: I wanted it to be more silver tones. I had a lot of gold in my other house, so I had to be able to mix it. We added the goldish accents, but I wanted the silver staircase. They did an incredible job. And the stone on the staircase is from MTTS [Granite & Marble] here in Waco. They did a phenomenal job with this as well. I had to have black and white, because that is also very French, so we have black-and-white [floors] that go all the way around the rotunda here. The light fixtures came from Crow in Dallas.

WACOAN: So you’ve got kind of a landing —

Valerie: And there are rooms off of this on both sides. The guest room has a lovely balcony with a great view of the golf course and the lake.

Gordon: That’s the driving range. On the other side of the little practice house right there, that’s the 10th hole. But this is really the best view [from the balcony]. [Neighbors] don’t see us, and we don’t see them. And of course when there’s leaves on the trees, you can hardly even tell they’re up there.

Valerie: And this is our daughter Francesca’s room. She’s actually studying interior design so she had some input on what she wanted. She wanted the kind of washed floors. She wanted a Juliet balcony. So she got that. And then she has access to a bigger bathroom that you’ll see.

Gordon: She got a bigger bedroom than we have downstairs.

WACOAN: And she has two balconies.

Valerie: Yes, two balconies. And this is the other piece I was telling you about with the tile. They literally had to put that down on the floor and put it together like a puzzle. It’s pretty awesome.

And this is the media room. This is a fun room for our grandkids. They like to come up here and watch [movies]. And [Gordon] comes up here with his friends.

Then there’s an upstairs laundry room. We don’t have a stacked washer and dryer yet, but there will be eventually. And then here’s the big balcony.

Last year when it was still under construction, our daughter and her boyfriend wanted to come down here and see if they could see the Fourth of July fireworks. We were [at a friend’s house] up the hill. And she said, ‘You’re not gonna believe it. It’s amazing because it’s right there.’ So this year we [hosted] at our house, and it was great.

Gordon: They actually [set off the fireworks] on that asphalt you can see over the roof of the little pro shop downstairs. That’s where Ridgewood shoots the fireworks off.

Valerie: So it was a nice show. It was a bonus.

Gordon: This is actually the prettiest view of the whole house right here [from the rotunda, looking toward the back of the house].

Valerie: You can see all the metal and the black-and-white and the chandeliers.

So you’ve seen everything.

WACOAN: It’s lovely.

Valerie: It was definitely a labor of love. Blood, sweat and tears, literally. It was a long, long process, but Brad and Nathan did a really good job. It took a long time, but it was a difficult building site.

WACOAN: Is there anything in here that you would do differently, now that you’ve been in here for almost a year?

Gordon: Absolutely not. We have a little more landscaping to go.

Valerie: And then it will be complete. And that’s a vision, too, the terracing out there. It will totally complete the whole appeal of the French and all that.

WACOAN: You mentioned this earlier. So this is your last house?

Valerie: Absolutely.

Gordon: Oh, 100%.

Valerie: I said this is our to-die-in house, and somebody corrected me and said, ‘No, it is your last house to live in.’

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