The Master Plan

By Kevin Tankersley

Baylor students design professor's home

Pictured: Photo by Grace-Marie Brunken

Nancy Grayson is intentional about the small homes — she calls them cottages — she’s building and selling in the neighborhood around Lula Jane’s, her bakery and restaurant at 406 Elm Avenue. It’s a historic area, she said, and she wants the cottages to reflect that. When she showed a photo to Ann Theriot of what she had in mind for Cottage No. 3, Theriot said, “That’s my dream house.” It’s a two-story, 1,260-square-foot house in the Greek Revival style. It has two porches and no garage, design elements that Grayson says reflect the work of Ross Chapin, one of the architects who spearheaded the movement toward small houses and the sense of community that has been lost over the years.

Theriot teaches interior design in the Family and Consumer Sciences division of the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor, where she earned her undergraduate degree. She also received a master’s from the University of Buckingham in London.

Theriot and Mr. Knightley — her 106-pound golden retriever — have been in the house for about two months now. They hosted Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley on a recent Wednesday morning, and the subject of Theriot’s students having the opportunity to help on a real-world project was the main topic of conversation.

WACOAN: Some of your students did some work on the house?

Theriot: Yes. I teach a freshman Space Planning class. They don’t know how to do AutoCAD. They’re really just beginning. The whole project sort of came about in my mind, and I thought, ‘What a great opportunity. I could build a house, and the students could do all of the design work and figure out all the space-planning hiccups ahead of time.’ I proposed it to Nancy Grayson, who sold me this lot, and she said, ‘Oh, that sounds great.’ The next month the class started, and we just did it over the course of the semester.

It was two sections. I gave them a square that was the shape of the house, a 25-by-25-[foot] square. I had done six different stair studies and had put the stairs in six different locations. I broke [the students] into teams and told them, ‘Your job is to space plan this house. Here’s what I want. Make it happen.’

They all had to come out and measure every single piece of furniture that I had. They all had to interview me extensively. ‘How do you live? Do you watch TV when you’re eating dinner? Do you eat dinner on the sofa? Do you like to eat at your table? Where do you relax? How often do you entertain? How many people come over when you entertain? What’s the most important spaces to you in your house? What do you not like about your current place?’ Really great questions. They interviewed me a lot.

And then from that, each team was assigned a different stair location. They would do all the space planning, then we’d pin it up and we’d start critiquing it. The whole class would critique each location. We figured out all of the stair locations that just don’t work. And from that the class narrowed it down to a single location. And then we started space planning again based off of the decided stair location.

And one of the things that we learned was 25-by-25 is just too small. I said, ‘All right, let’s just start doing the math. This house, is it going to cost about $107 per square foot? So if we’re adding on 2 feet in length, which is what they proposed, here’s what the financial hit for me is on that. Do you think that that’s worth it?’ And they said, I just don’t think that you can do it otherwise.

And I literally had not done any space planning. I didn’t have time at all. They thought I was joking about that, and I was like, ‘Listen here. I do not have time for this. You guys are designing this house and I’m for real going to live in it, so it better be good.’ It was just a great real-life application to what they’ve been studying. And they really got into it, and once construction started the following semester, they came out every week.

I had integrated this project into five different courses. So the following semester they were in a construction methods class so they would come out and follow the construction, talk to my builder, take pictures all along. Then we would come out and have critiques here at the house and go over what wasn’t working or mistakes I had made.

And they did renderings of the house, watercolor renderings of it, digital renderings of it. And within that, that was part of how they figured out things that weren’t working. They were modeling it three dimensionally in SketchUp, which is a digital drafting program, modeling program. And they said our location for the washing machine won’t work. The pitch of the roof totally intersects. We’re going to have to redesign the second floor. And I was like, wow, I’m so glad we did this. They really figured stuff out.

WACOAN: What mistakes did you make?

Theriot: The windows upstairs were just absolutely my fault. It had nothing to do with the students. I thought that I had followed the code in the back bedroom for clear opening size for egress, and I was like 2 inches too short. So, didn’t discover that until one of the preliminary inspections and construction stopped for a month while the custom window was ordered and replaced. And that was a big one. That was a huge one because that really delayed everything throughout the whole rest of construction.

A big one is the guest room closet. I measured the depth of the closet from the outside face of the adjoining shower wall rather than the inside face of the closet. So my closet is too shallow, which was totally fixable. We caught it at the very beginning, but the layout of the furniture in that room, it would have just felt too tight. So I said we can’t make the closet bigger, we’re going to have to figure something else out. So I came up with another solution for how to hang clothes in a shallow closet. But that one was a frustrating one that I was just willing to sacrifice because having the usable space in the bedroom was more important.

WACOAN: You started by giving them a 25-by-25 square. Did you end up extending it?

Theriot: Yes, yes. To 25-by-27. The extra square footage is definitely worth it. There’s no pinch points in the house, no area where I feel like it’s just too tight to maneuver or my furniture needs to be changed out or anything like that.

WACOAN: How long have you been here now?

Theriot: Almost two months since I moved in.

WACOAN: And where were you previously?

Theriot: I lived in a great historic apartment on Austin Avenue, at 30th [Street] and Austin, that I loved. It was super charming. It was plenty big. Great neighbors. Loved the neighborhood, but the opportunity to design something for myself and to have a house was awfully tempting. And the opportunity to move into the East Waco side and be a part of that redevelopment was really attractive for me.

WACOAN: How long were you in your apartment?

Theriot: Four years.

WACOAN: And how long have you been at Baylor?

Theriot: Teaching, four years. I also went to Baylor for undergraduate many moons ago, in interior design. Then I moved to London to get my master’s degree in decorative arts and historic interiors at the University of Buckingham. And for the majority of my professional career before I came back into academia, I was in Washington, D.C. I worked for a hospitality architectural firm. We designed hotels internationally and nationally.

WACOAN: What brought you from the corporate world back into academia?

Theriot: I think I just saw the sunset for it, of that part of my professional life. I had already designed a ton of hotels, probably one of every kind, and it just had lost some of its allure.

And so at the same time, I was just really praying like, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do after this?’ I was doing some professional coaching and just trying to narrow in on what it was that I was passionate about and good at, and someone said, ‘You know, you’re happiest when you’re talking about Baylor, you’re at Baylor or you’re with Baylor people. Why don’t you go to Baylor?’ And I came back and talked with my old professor Dr. Adair Bowen and said, ‘Do you think I’d have anything to contribute?’ And she said, ‘Go get a master’s degree. I want to retire.’ And if I’m going to do that, I’d get into something like 18th century English furniture, but nobody is going to have a degree like that. But as it turns out, the English do. I thought, well, there’s nothing shabby about moving to London. So I quit my job and moved to London, and it was fantastic. It was like going to the ice cream parlor for a furniture historian every day.

WACOAN: What other career fields are there for a furniture historian?

Theriot: Museums. Working for Christie’s and Sotheby’s. That would be a big one. Any kind of antiques dealer. Most of my peers that I graduated with work for super high-end antiques dealers.

WACOAN: How would you describe this house?

Theriot: A Greek Revival.

WACOAN: And what drew you to that style?

Theriot: I’m kind of a displaced neoclassicist. I love classical design. I love order and structure, and I love the symmetry of it. I’ve spent a lot of time on the east coast, so I love East Coast architecture, and this reminded me of an East Coast house. I’m sure I’m going to be paying out the nose to have this house repainted more often than I’d like, but it’s very me.

I love columns. I love dormers. I spent a lot of time getting the column size right, getting the dormers right. We actually rebuilt the dormers. My builder built them, and I was like, the pitch of them is just not right in the placement on the roof lines, just not right. And so I said we’re just gonna have to rebuild them. And so we did and I love ’em. So it was worth it. And my colleague said, ‘Ann, you are going to stare at the front of that house every day. It is worth whatever it costs to just get it right.’ And it’s so true.

When I first started talking to Nancy Grayson about this project, I said, ‘Did you have any thoughts about house style or what you envisioned for this lot?’ And she said, ‘Not really. My other two houses are shotguns.’ That’s not really my personal architectural preference, which is sad because I am actually from New Orleans. But she said there’s this house that’s up in Michigan, and it’s kind of like the Williamsburg of the Midwest and it’s the house of Henry Ford’s first grade teacher. And she had dug out an old black-and-white picture of it from a book and said, ‘Something like this.’ And it was my dream house. So that was sort of the kernel, in my mind, of what it might look like, and then I modified from there. That house definitely did not have the little English swoop on the dormers, but it’s not too dissimilar.

WACOAN: As the students were designing it, did you give them free rein or did you have some things in mind that you wanted?

Theriot: I told them that every piece of furniture that is in my current apartment, which they had come to see and measure, every single piece had to find a new home in this house and every piece of art had to find a new home in this house.

Through their interviewing of me, we really narrowed in very tightly on how I live. And we had talked about basic things like, I’d like to have a powder room, if possible, on the first floor, I’d like to do something underneath the stairs that maximizes that space, but what it is, I’m totally open to. So start thinking big about what could be underneath the stairs. What’s the most efficient use of that space?

They didn’t need to do anything decorative in this house. That was pretty much already set by my furniture collection. They did do the architectural finish schedule, so they selected all of the finishes for the house based off of me telling them I want to have a paint that I don’t have to constantly scrub or those kinds of things.

We talked about the flooring extensively because I’m sort of a snob when it comes to real wood floors. These are three-quarter-inch dimensional old wood floors. It’s white oak. I’m raising up a whole group of people who now don’t like engineered hardwood floors. But I just like the old stuff, definitely.

When I went to look at this wood, the salesperson said, sort of thinking I had no idea what I was talking about, ‘Now is there a reason that you want the three-quarter-inch solid stock? Because you know, it’s not consistent. It ages inconsistently. It warps. There are dings in it.’ He went through like this litany of all the negative points, like, ‘What’s the reason that that’s what you want?’ And I said, ‘Well, pretty much because it’s inconsistent and it warps and there’s a lot of dings in it.’

WACOAN: If you were to have done this house by yourself without student input, what would be different?

Theriot: It would have taken a lot longer. I think honestly I wouldn’t have caught as many mistakes. They worked through so many different scenarios. There were 36 students, so they worked through so much. And when I was grading their work, I was able to say, ‘OK, that’s a good idea. It’s just that it won’t quite work in that configuration. But I wonder if they were to flip this or move that, if that would work.’ This would not have been nearly as successful, I would say.

And not to mention my colleagues. It was an all-in project. We worked on it over the course of two semesters, and not just classes that I taught. My colleagues also integrated it. They did the lighting design, lighting drawings, electrical drawings. And I handed those to the electrician. They were hugely instrumental.

WACOAN: Who built the house?

Theriot: Jerry Barrett [of Barrett Building Company]. His dad was a home builder in town. He and his brother are both builders, so they just come from a long history of building.

And the thing I loved about Jerry is that he loves old stuff too. I had told him I want everything to be as old as possible. So my kitchen is somebody else’s kitchen that I bought and Jerry manipulated to work in the kitchen. The counter part of the countertops is old. People used to come through the house while it was under construction. We even had some nuns that walked through in their full habits. One guy at the end said, ‘Man, you’re just doing such a good job on this renovation.’ And Jerry said, ‘This ain’t no renovation. It’s new construction.’ And the guy said, ‘How come you got so much old stuff in the house?’ That’s the point.

WACOAN: Why did you choose this location?

Theriot: I have some friends that live on Dallas Street, and they have lived here for the last four years and they’re kind of a big entertaining house. I was over here a good bit just hanging out with them and heard about the redevelopment that was happening, obviously Lula Jane’s, and thought what a great potential, a rebirth of an old neighborhood.

Other neighborhoods have done this, but this one seemed like it had great potential. It was a good time to get in on it. I am pretty early into it. I just liked the idea of being a part of a neighborhood that could have a new history. I love history.

WACOAN: I grew up in Waco, and when I was a kid, East Waco had a reputation of not being the safest area in town. And years ago, for a Wacoan story, I did a ride-along with a Waco police officer. Part of his overnight beat was this area of town. When we drove through, it was quiet and nothing was going on. So how has your experience been here?

Theriot: When I was a student here — I graduated in 2000 — I never even came on the east side. It was like, that was just not done. So I have a bit of bold naivete in that I was like, well, we’ve got these other couple of cottages going and everybody goes to Lula Jane’s. I’m pretty sure I heard there’s a ton of development going on Elm [Avenue]. It’s probably going to be totally fine. That was the extent of my cautionary mental note.

I have this very large, very active dog, Mr. Knightley, [named after] the hero in Jane Austen’s novel ‘Emma.’ He’s a golden retriever. He’s 17 months old, and he weighs 106 pounds. He’s the largest golden retriever that anybody has ever seen. He requires a lot of exercising. We go on two walks a day, and obviously we stand out in the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person I’ve ever seen walking a dog in the neighborhood even though everybody else has dogs. And he’s obviously gorgeous.

So I’ve just gotten to know tons of neighbors. I think I know more neighbors in this neighborhood than I did in Castle Heights, and every single one of them, they’re just so friendly, and they all want to talk. He has some of his favorites in the neighborhood, and whenever he sees them, he goes galloping off to get petted by them. They’re all super curious as to why a single, young female just moved into the neighborhood. But I’ve never had even the hint of a problem. I walk the neighborhood every day, and so I’m super visible, which I think is probably a good thing.

It’s good to be the minority in my life at some point, and I’m definitely the minority in this neighborhood. It’s been nice to feel what that’s like, and I’d like to be someone who changes preconceived ideas. If I can do that and be a part of developing a really sweet neighborhood, I’d like to do that.

WACOAN: How did you and Nancy Grayson meet?

Theriot: Cottage One, that’s on Dallas [Street], I was at a party next door, and I said, ‘What’s this cottage that just came out of nowhere next door?’ And they said, ‘Oh my gosh. You’ve got to buy this house. In fact, tomorrow there’s an open house for it.’ I read the flyer and it was a one bedroom, one bath, and I had twice as much of that already where I lived, so I thought it’s probably not a wise decision to buy a one-bedroom, one-bathroom house. But from their house back to my house at the end of that party, literally God just gave me a vision for this whole project. I thought I’m going to go to the open house and propose this plan and then I thought better not to bring it up.

I met her, we had a good chat, and I really liked Jerry’s construction methods. I could tell he was a good builder. He built this one, the one next door and the one on Dallas, and he’s kind of her only builder. So I spent the next month sort of crafting a proposal letter to Nancy and said, ‘This is my vision. I’d love to make this an academic process for my students. I want to live on the east side. I want to have a house that I designed or that my students and I designed.’ And she thought that was great too and she agreed readily, which was amazing. I was not expecting that at all. At all. I couldn’t believe it, in fact,

WACOAN: Will you show me around?

Theriot: [A bookcase] actually just got put in on Friday. The idea here was that when you come in, rather than seeing the kitchen cabinets, you should see something that looks nicer, so it’s going to be lit. I’ll put nicer books, some artwork in it. I have a watercolor that one of the students did of the house before it got built as part of the assignment, so I’m going to put that in there.

WACOAN: And the kitchen?

Theriot: It was given to me. Some friends of mine bought an old large house in Cameron Park and are doing a total gut job on it. They had this huge kitchen, and I said, ‘What are you doing with all your cabinets?’ And she said they were going to the dump. I said I would take them. They’re super dinged up. You can see holes from other hardware, and I’m OK with that. It looks like it has a story.

[A wood countertop] is from the same family. It was in another house that they own. It was their island, I think, and I love that it’s got cut marks on it. Then Jerry built this [shelving] for me because I wanted to have open shelving so that when people were here I could just look through rather than feeling closed up. And I thought it might aid in keeping people out of the kitchen. I like to cook. I’m having people over for dinner tonight.

This [wallpaper in the powder room] was sort of an homage to my time in London. I really wanted something just like this. I was super excited that I found an architectural drawing kind of wall covering. We’ve got The Gherkin here. St Paul’s Cathedral. The Royal Albert Concert Hall. The Marble Arch. Buckingham Palace. Tower Bridge.

[In the dining room] the built-in bench opens up for storage. I eat in here. And this was an interesting development that happened during construction. I told the students I like to eat dinner on the weekdays from my sofa while I’m watching the news. Well, that was all before I got this dog. That instruction and that sort of life pattern was before the dog. Then after I got the dog, that no longer works because he’d be like, ‘Thanks so much for the dinner.’

So then I had to start eating from the table, but the design had already been fairly set at that point. I could have just made this a semi-wall and made this all very open, but this wall on either side is really my primary art wall. And so that was a sacrifice I made. It would’ve definitely opened up the space even more if that wall wasn’t there, but then I would have lost a good wall for art. And so that was a sacrifice I made. So all of that to say I mostly eat dinner at the table.

WACOAN: Isn’t Mr. Knightley tall enough to just eat off the table as well?

Theriot: I’m just thankful that his brain is not quite big enough to realize that he could. He has also not discovered the same fact about the counters as well.

My doors are old, so I got this [front] door from an architectural salvage place in Jackson, Mississippi, where my parents live, and then all the other doors came from a salvage place in San Antonio, Old is Better Than New.

And here [under the stairs], we ended up just making this a deep storage closet so it goes all the way back. It needs to be organized, but nobody sees it so it doesn’t matter. Then Jerry built little drawers under the [stair landing] for dog leash and mittens and those kinds of things.

The paneling came out of the Dr Pepper Museum because Jerry was working on that project with his brother during construction. I had told them I wanted to have some beadboard, and he found this and said, ‘Would you be OK with that?’ And it’s perfect. That’s all the paneling on the side of the stairs and in the kitchen.

Then I bought all of the balusters and the newel from ReStore. I got a ton of stuff from ReStore. They are great. They got to know me quite well.

I wanted the master bedroom to have kind of an attic feel, so I wanted to have the exposed ceiling angle from the roof line and have little hatches, storage cabinets and things. So I’ve got this closet that goes all the way back. I keep Christmas stuff back in there. And the window seat has storage. And then even in the closet, Jerry built this hatch door here, so behind there is where I keep all my luggage, which is great. For a 1,260-square-foot house, I have outrageous amounts of storage.

Then in my bathroom, an interesting thing here is that the pitch of the ceiling also makes it difficult for a shower curtain. I was really, really busy during the spring with our program. We went through reaccreditation. I was interviewing for a permanent position at Baylor because I was on like this long-term adjunct position. Tons going on. I was getting ready to take the students to Europe for study abroad, so my pastor, God bless him, stepped in as like my agent, and he finished everything.

He just took control of the whole process for the last, like, seven weeks even while I was gone. I said one of the things I need is to figure out how to do a shower curtain with this, the angle of the ceiling. And he figured this out, and then my mom and I sewed the custom shower curtain.

So it’s two bedroom, two-and-a-half bath. The laundry facilities are upstairs. One of the questions that students asked me was, ‘What do you like to do when you’re folding laundry?’ I like to fold laundry while I’m watching TV. And then in the end I said I want the laundry out of the way. I don’t want to hear the laundry while I have people over or whatever. So the laundry went upstairs, which then eliminated the TV watching. So that’s kind of been a pattern shift, which isn’t a big deal, but it’s something that when you’re building a house, and you have the opportunity to dictate, then there’s a change. You’re like, oh, I just changed to a life pattern. That was it.

WACOAN: Tell me about your book collection on this shelf.

Theriot: Well, a lot of these books are going to move down to the new shelf, but these are a lot of my design books, hardback books that I love. I have a lot more that are still in the box waiting to be put on the new shelf.

WACOAN: What paint colors did you use? There’s nothing too bright?

Theriot: [The master bedroom] room is the only room in the house that’s not the same color, which is called Oyster Bar by Sherwin Williams. For this room, I just wanted something light and refreshing and distinct from the rest of the house. It was a custom blend of two colors. I don’t remember what they were.

WACOAN: How would you describe the color?

Theriot: It’s a light celery

WACOAN: You said your pastor kind of saved you. Who is your pastor?

Theriot: Father Lee Nelson at Christ Church Waco, an Anglican congregation. We just bought an amazing property, a 100-year-old property downtown at 10th [Street] and Jefferson [Avenue]. It’s a Milton Scott building. The original Lutheran congregation just sort of died out and so they put it on the market last June. We bought it immediately, then spent the last year [renovating], and I was largely involved with the restoration of the church. We just moved in around Easter.

WACOAN: What else do I need to know about your place?

Theriot: I’m working on the landscaping. I need a massive education in all things landscaping. I’m sort of the person that’s, ‘I’d like a plant about this big that has leaves that go like this.’ I know nothing.

WACOAN: That’s a cool piece of art in your living room. Who did it?

Theriot: That’s by Jonathan Green. He’s an artist out of Charleston, South Carolina, and he only paints the Gullah people, which he kind of grew up around on a small island off the coast of South Carolina. All of his paintings are these really rich, vivid colors, and I just love them. They just caught my eye. I love color. And so he spoke to me with that one.

There’s also a watercolor downstairs that is of a snowy scene in London. I got it as a leaving card when I was moving home from London. I loved the card and the painting so much, but then I couldn’t find it anywhere to buy, so I just talked the artist into printing one for me. That’s a prized possession. It brings back good memories.

WACOAN: You mentioned the dormers that had to be rebuilt. Can we look at those?

Theriot: I wanted to have this real gentle swoop on those dormers, and it’s actually on the main roof as well. Jerry just did a great job with it.

WACOAN: The ones that were there previously, what were they?

Theriot: So the ones that were there previously followed my drawings. It was my fault, but they were inset, which is a very Dutch interpretation of a dormer. And I wanted a much more English version of the dormer that sat proud and a sort of intersected directly with the roof as it does now at the bottom. In order to do that he had to dismantle and just extrude them forward. The design of the roof line was always part of the design vision, so he just hadn’t gotten to that part when we started over.

WACOAN: It’s a lovely house.

Theriot: Navy blue and raspberry are my signature colors. You know, you can only get away with painting your door raspberry when there’s no man to say no. So I said, ‘Why not?’