The Little House in the Woods

By Kevin Tankersley

Retired couple fills historical home with color and style

Pictured: Photos by Cecy Ayala

Linda Dulin and Dave McCarroll weren’t really looking to move. They had a beautiful home in Sugar Creek, a space that was architecturally different from most houses in that neighborhood, and, as McCarroll said, “We had done everything. We had everything pretty much the way we wanted it.”

But on a drive back from Ruidoso, New Mexico, on a Wednesday in July 2020, Dulin was scrolling through Facebook and saw some photos posted by her friend Shannon Gamble, a Realtor with Edwards & Associates.

“I saw one I thought, ‘Well that’s cute,’” Dulin said. “But I kept on looking through. And I came across this one. And I said, ‘Now this is really different.’ So I stuck it in David’s face while he was driving, and I said, ‘Look at this.’”

When they got back to Waco that evening, Dulin insisted they drive by the house instead of going straight home to Sugar Creek.

“I had just driven nine hours,” McCarroll said. “We drove up here and parked in the street and I thought, ‘OK. It’s a possibility.’”

The next day, Dulin and McCarroll toured the house with Gamble and signed a contract to buy it that evening. They then put their Sugar Creek home on the market, and it sold in six days.

“It went so fast,” Dulin said. “I think it was COVID. We couldn’t go anywhere. We were at home. So we thought, ‘We’ll just chain ourselves to a new home.’”

The house, a midcentury modern in the Parkdale Viking Hills neighborhood, was built in 1965 by Waco architect Douglas Hearn for his family. He and his wife, Betty Rae, lived there with their five children: Doug Jr., Tom, Cathy, John and Jim.

Before Hearn built the house, a pond occupied the half-acre site. A ranch was across the street.

“Kids used to come here and catch frogs,” McCarroll said. “It was a community kind of hang-out place.”

When the Hearn family lived there, the home “was filled with love and laughter, family and friends, and a menagerie of animals, domestic and wild, lovingly brought home by her children. What a special treat it was to be in the Hearn home,” according to Betty Rae’s obituary in the Waco Tribune-Herald on February 16, 2020. (Doug Sr. died in August 2003.)

“This house was a big deal in 1965 when he built it,” Dulin said. “They were in the newspaper, having events over here.”

“It was well known,” McCarroll said.

“And then it wasn’t,” Dulin added. The Hearn family eventually moved out, and the house slowly fell into disrepair. At one point, there was talk that the house might even be condemned, McCarroll said.

“It was that horrible,” he said. “We liked the architecture, especially the interior. And we knew that we were going to have to do some work.”

The home underwent a renovation in 2017, but Dulin and McCarroll still had their work cut out for them when they bought the house in September 2020. One of the first projects was the front yard.

“On this lot, we took out about 20 trees that were covering the house,” McCarroll said. “Now when we talk about a tree, most of them were bushes that had turned into trees.”

Dulin, who is retired after a 30-year teaching career at McLennan Community College, said that neighbors, and even the mail carrier, called the home “the little house in the woods.”

“The ground has not been taken care of in so long that it’s really tough to grow [grass], but it’s getting there,” she said. In fact, McCarroll has recently joined a master gardening association to learn about growing turf in a difficult location.

The couple added a carport to the side of the house, opting to forgo a garage.

“It went more with the history of the time,” Dulin said. “We did a lot of research on midcentury modern. And you just didn’t see garages then, not in 1965, in this style. In fact, it was built with a carport” that was removed during the 2017 renovation.

The “stuff” that is typically kept in a garage is now in a shed to the side of the house that is also true to the midcentury style.

The interior of the home, at 2,568 square feet, once contained six bedrooms. Each of the five children had their own room, with accordion doors between the rooms that could be opened to create temporary larger spaces.

Hearn “did some really unique stuff,” Dulin said.

The house now has three bedrooms, with some of the former bedroom space used as living area and some for a dining room.

“We sure don’t spend much time in the spare bedrooms, hardly any at all,” Dulin said. “And we wanted a place where most of the space was in living. We love having company and entertaining. And this has just been a great space for everyone to sit in little groups and talk.”

The 2017 work even opened up overhead space.

“When they did the renovation, they decided to expose the ducts, and I just fell in love with that,” Dulin said. “I thought of it as kind of a cool loft idea.”

An open kitchen is one of McCarroll’s favorite features of the home.

“It’s easy to work in. It’s very easy to get things done and keep things orderly,” said McCarroll, who is retired from a career in information technology, including a four-year stint as a systems officer aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, “the best IT job in the world.”

Dulin’s preferred spot inside the house is on a small sofa just inside the front door, by a picture window through which they can watch the comings and goings of the neighborhood. The sofa is a Romanian piece, covered in blue fabric with bright accent buttons that repeat the colors found in a piece of art hanging on the wall behind the couch.

“I bought it for the buttons. I bought it because I liked the colors,” she said.

The home has plenty of color throughout, but it comes from art and other objects from the couple’s collection, including McCarroll’s collection of signed prints by Hawaiian-based photographer Randy Braun. Unlike the Sugar Creek house, the walls are neutral.

“We had to really think about this,” Dulin said. “My other home, the colors were just very rich colors. And I love rich colors. And this is a light gray. Again, we wanted to keep the spirit of midcentury modern, so we decided not to paint the walls, they were a gorgeous color, and to add the color through all of our stuff.”

McCarroll and Dulin, who have been married for a little more than three years, have also put about as much work into the backyard as they did into the front. There’s a new deck leading into the yard, with patios on either side.

“The deck was designed so that we don’t have railing,” McCarroll said. “We didn’t want anything that encumbered the openness.”

A new fence encloses the backyard, though the actual property line is about another 15 feet out. That part of the lot is covered with numerous trees that are in need of care, Dulin said, “and over time, we’re going to get it trimmed.”

The fence “is a crossover with industrial and midcentury modern,” McCarroll said. “Instead of doing vertical boards, we did horizontal.” And the horizontal slats are interspersed with corrugate tin panels, a look that’s echoed under each step leading off of the patio, along with safety lighting.

“We’re going to be adding a lot of lights,” Dulin said. “That’s still part of our plan. We’ve only been here less than a year.”

“We sit on the patio at least every evening, and it’s our time just to talk,” Dulin said. “It’s a place where we dream. We had all these plans to travel and everything was cut [due to COVID], so now we’re planning again.”