To Be Good Neighbors

By Kevin Tankersley

The Henry's design a house and a neighborhood near Cameron Park

Pictured: Photography by Rachel Whyte,
Styling by Lesley Myrick

Doug and Michele Henry are finally home. They’ve been married for 25 years and have had 15 different addresses in seven states, from states as diverse as Minnesota and Arizona. They lived on the Baylor University campus for nearly 10 years, the first six in Brooks Residential College, where they served as faculty-in-residence and Doug was faculty master. They then spent a little more than three years in Kensington Place, a Baylor-owned apartment complex.

When the time came to move off campus, they did so in a major fashion. They could have moved back into the Castle Heights area, where they had lived previously, or they could have opted to build a house in suburbia with a wide street in the front and a privacy fence around the back. What they did instead, however, was develop a new neighborhood.

The Henrys found a wooded, 15-acre parcel of land adjacent to Cameron Park, enlisted the help of developer and builder Steve Sorrells and ended up with 11 home sites on eight of the acres, all of which have sold. (They sold the other 7 acres, which have since been divided into a couple of other home sites).

Doug and Michele — along with their 11-year-old son, Zachary, who is a fifth grader at Live Oak Classical School — moved into their new home on December 28. Theirs is one of two homes currently in the neighborhood, which they dubbed The Cloister at Cameron Park. A few other homes are under construction, and none of them will look alike.

Dr. Michele Henry is director of the music education division of the School of Music at Baylor and associate professor of choral music education. Dr. Doug Henry is associate professor of philosophy at Baylor.

WACOAN: So y’all did a little more than just build a new house.

Doug: We developed the neighborhood. Our question after six years of living in Brooks College alongside all the students was, ‘In what ways are our lives to look different as a result of this experience?’ For us, that question was answered not by buying another house like we had before on Austin Avenue in the Castle Heights area or building out in suburbia, but developing a small pocket neighborhood.

Fairly early on, we connected with Steve Sorrells and enlisted him for good counsel and advice. We worked with Mike Meadows, a real estate broker with Kelly Realtors, and looked around for places. There was a 15-acre parcel here that we had known about for some time. We approached the owner at a good time. He was willing to sell. We purchased the 15 acres then had to figure out what to do with it.

We did a feasibility study, a project proposal, six public hearings, [met with the] planning commission and city council to rezone. All of that leading up to construction. We built streets. We put in water, sewer connections, all that stuff. That’s how it took on a life of its own.

WACOAN: How was it zoned previously?

Doug: R-1A [single family residence district], kind of like the adjacent neighborhood.

What we were interested in was a Planned Unit Development, which gave us the flexibility, for one thing, to preserve a lot of common area. The home sites occupy 3 acres. We preserved 5 acres for common space. The ideas are that the homes are oriented around these common areas. We’ve got a little common area, which is what our house looks out on to. There’s another common area on the backside of the houses on the other side of the street. The PUD zoning gave us the flexibility to do that.

But also some things that the Cameron Park location inspired us to do — but also our own commitments to being good stewards of resources — we have a rainwater harvesting requirement for each home site, with a minimum 1,000-gallon storage capacity.

We wanted to make use of the city’s Low Impact Development [Guidance Manual]. This was a manual which had been commissioned and completed probably four or five or six years ago but not really utilized. In particular, for stormwater runoff mitigation. There are all sorts of things we wanted to do. The Planned Unit Development zoning gave us the flexibility to narrow the street section a little bit to have the laydown curbs instead of the stand-up curbs, which just create artificial concrete streams that channel all the water to the river and on down to the Gulf of Mexico. It gave us an opportunity to deploy a vision here of caring for the environs.

WACOAN: How many homes are here now?

Michele: There are two that are occupied right now.

Doug: One up on the hill over here, with the Spanish colonial look, will probably be finished in April. They just poured the foundation right across the street from us.

WACOAN: You’ve both been in academia for a long time, teaching music and philosophy. Neither of those disciplines really lend themselves to something like developing a neighborhood.

Michele: Right.

WACOAN: So what led you to do something like this?

Michele: I’ve always said in my other life, I would have been an architect. I love, especially, residential architecture. This is something I’ve looked at as a hobby, looking at homes and floor plans and sketching out ideas for years.

When we got around to thinking this was the kind of thing we were going to do, the division of labor was Doug did the development and I did the house. I got the drawing program on the iPad and drew with my finger, then we gave it to Steve and his folks turned it into something that wouldn’t fall down.

WACOAN: Doug, what led you to think you could develop a neighborhood? And that question sounds a lot meaner that it was meant to be.

Doug: On one level, we felt something that lots of people in our culture feel. You think of authors like Robert Putnam and [his book] ‘Bowling Alone.’ The story of alienation, estrangement and isolation that lots of people feel who live in homes and neighborhoods where they don’t know anyone else and yet have a longing for friendship and neighborliness and hospitality. We’ve always had those desires, to be good neighbors and friends. So I think it’s something that’s pervasive. Lots and lots of people want that sort of thing.

I think also, the years we spent alongside 360 students in Brooks College, in an architecturally designed space that facilitated community, rather than stood in the way or impeded it, was for us an eye-opener. We realized that architecturally designed outdoor spaces and well-designed site planning can enable people to be [conversational] and friendly and neighborly and hospitable.

As we thought about next steps beyond that experience, which we loved — being alongside students, sharing lives and exchanging stories and supporting each other in times of difficulty and rejoicing and laughing and having good times together — we thought about the ways that might look beyond [campus]. It occurred to us that most neighborhood site plans aren’t designed to facilitate those [experiences].

So you have two models. Urban grid — House. House. House. House. House. Right next door to each other. It’s what we had in our little house on Austin Avenue. We had good conversations with neighbors across fence lines doing yard work or occasionally meet people up and down the sidewalks. But those sorts of urban grid neighborhoods are designed that way principally because it’s an economically efficient way to distribute public utilities, distribute traffic down the streets. That’s the most efficient way to do those things. But it’s not the most desirable way to live your lives.

One of the ways I’ve thought about it and talked about it is, if you were to ask anybody building a new house, the top five, top 10 things, maybe the top 50, that they want, no one would say, ‘Please build me a 35-foot expanse of concrete or asphalt outside my front door that I can look upon and behold for all its beauty.’ We build our urban neighborhoods that way because it’s cheaper.

The other alternative, suburban sprawl, is bigger lots, more beautiful, commodious places to play, but they spread houses so far apart that, again, the site plan stands in the way of the neighborliness and friendship and hospitality that people might wish. Our experience at Brooks got us thinking that there’s got to be another way.

We started looking around. We started reading. We found lots of pocket neighborhoods where innovative uses of the land, the preservation of common spaces with homes situated around those common spaces, could fulfill these aspirations to be good friends and neighbors. It was a series of things: something that lots of people long for, our positive experience at Brooks College and our desire to put to good use some of the lessons we learned.

Of course, that didn’t enable us to do any of this, and that’s where people like Steve Sorrells came in, people who know how to develop residential neighborhoods. We had the great fortune of incredible partners and resources. And, too, city staff, planning commission members, city council members. We gained a whole level of appreciation and gratitude for incredible community that was receptive and responsive and visionary. I think part of the experience for us was the growing admiration for the ways in which Waco has so much to offer. And not just in terms of obvious amenities but people resources that are really special and wonderful.

WACOAN: Your attitudes toward community, did that lead y’all to Brooks in the first place?

Michele: I don’t think we were as knowledgeable or intentional about it on the front-end as we were on the back-end coming out of it. I think we learned a lot and gained appreciation for things we didn’t know existed or took for granted.

Some of those things on the larger scale also influenced the design of this house, because [the great room] is designed for community. There’s no walls. There’s no barriers. It’s a great room, and it’s designed for people to come over and watch the Baylor Bears football games or Lady Bears basketball games. Or to have dinner and when everyone stands in the kitchen, they’re in the living space as well. Everything else was kind of designed to fit around this room.

I feel like it’s an extension of the common space [we created in the neighborhood] in the sense that sometimes the common space can come in here and we can extend hospitality.

WACOAN: There are five doors leading outside in this room.

Michele: I think we have 13 exterior doors. We had a Super Bowl party here the other day, so we had some people watching it in the outdoor space and some in here. The kids were up [in the loft] playing Xbox. And we were all together, in a way.

WACOAN: So what can you tell me about the house?

Michele: The back of the house is the master suite. And the idea of it is that this door closes off and then the back half of the house is all connected. The library is back here. I jokingly call it Doug’s idea of a man cave.

Doug: The bookshelves [with additional sliding shelves in front] doubled my capacity. I saw this at a bookshop and thought, ‘You know, that looks like a good idea.’ It’s just a rail and a couple of sliders.

Michele: [Another exterior door] leads out, so somebody could come into the library without going through the bedroom. We’ve got access to outdoors from all over the place.

WACOAN: The desk, with stacks of books as legs, is cool.

Michele: I dreamed this up. In a room full of books, that should be the furniture as well. I took it on and did some research about how to put it all together. Then I started buying old, pretty-looking books on eBay, and I gave them all to my parents. They did the logistics of it. They got a drill press and drilled down through all of the books and attached them. And Larry Dunlap, who did the cabinetry in our house, did the desktop for it.

WACOAN: While I hate seeing books damaged, it looks like most of them are Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, which can be had pretty cheap.

Michele: And some of them, like the history books here, they’re also in his collection. So we’ve got duplicates. You can still read them.

WACOAN: And the rest of the master suite?

Michele: Doug is an early bird and I’m a night owl, so he can get up and pull the pocket door [between the bedroom and master bath], get ready and exit [through the closet] without having to come back through the bedroom. Then if I come in late, I can get ready or whatever and not disturb him.

WACOAN: And what prompted the infinity tub? It’s beautiful. It looks fun.

Michele: It is fun. And it has bubbles.

I’ve always loved a nice bath. But so many tubs have the overflow drain, so even if it’s a tall tub, the water still just comes up so high. I wanted a tub I could get in up to my neck. That’s the one I found that we liked.

Doug: And with these windows [throughout the house], it feels like you’re walking in the park. Calming. Peaceful. There’s a trail up there on the ridge, and sometimes we’re walking along the fence, and we see people on the trail. It’s as close as you can get to the park without being in it.

And that’s a split-rail fence. I put 900 feet in. This is sort of the perimeter fence in around the whole development. That’s been a fun project.

WACOAN: Has it been fun or ‘fun’?

Doug: I’ve quit exercising.

Michele: One of the construction guys came up to him one day and said, ‘I see you’re a P.H.D.’

Doug: How did you know?

Michele: He said, ‘Post-hole digger.’

WACOAN: So how long did the fence take to build?

Doug: And I’m not finished. I’ve got about 1,500 or 1,600 feet mapped out. I can do 20 or 30 feet in a morning. I go very slowly. There’s a lot of rock. If I have soft dirt, I can sink a hole faster. But that happens about once out of every 15 holes.

WACOAN: You’re a better man than I am.

Michele: There’s a loft area that Zachary uses. This [area] is where he works, and [that area] is where he plays. Homework station and computer desk and piano. Then Legos and Xbox.

Doug: He’s got the best views from his room.

Michele: His room is like a treehouse.

WACOAN: What’s Zachary reading?

Michele: He really likes Rick Riordan [author of the ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians’ series]. He reads a lot of history. A lot of mythology, whether it’s Greek or Roman or Norse. I think that has to do with our study abroad in Greece and Turkey. He’s seen a lot of those sites and that makes it more interesting.

WACOAN: What else is upstairs?

Michele: This is a modified Jack-and-Jill [bathroom] and a guest room. He can have direct access from his room, and across the hall is the guest room.

Doug: We’ve only been here five weeks —

Michele: And we’ve probably had a week and a half of company.

And this soffit up here [at the front of the loft], we call it the catwalk because the cat loves to go out and lay on it and hang over the edge.

WACOAN: And what’s the cat’s name?

Michele: Aphrodite.

Doug: We got her after one of our trips in Greece and Turkey with students in the summer. And one of the sites we visited in Turkey was Aphrodesius.

Michele: The city of the goddess of beauty.

WACOAN: The railing at the front of the loft just gives the great room a really open feel.

Michele: I wanted lots of different spaces that folks could occupy. If you have a large enough group, they’re going to break into smaller talking groups and visiting groups.

You’ve got the large island [in the kitchen], where you have folks preparing and serving themselves and hanging out. We love to watch Baylor sports, so we wanted a nice, open seating area for as many people as was possible to do that. And we also love to entertain, so we thought all those things needed to happen together.

And there’s room in the middle for a grand piano. We don’t have one yet. But that’s where the Christmas tree will go. I’m a big Christmas tree snob. It has to be real, and it has to be big. Right in the middle of the room. And we have floor [electrical] outlets under the corners of the rug to plug in the lights.

WACOAN: How high is the ceiling in the great room?

Michele: Twenty-one feet.

WACOAN: Has Zachary bounced a ball off of the loft into the great room yet? Because I know for sure that my kids would have.

Doug: I don’t know about balls, but he’s shot Nerf guns.

Michele: Zachary is a tennis player, so most of that [temptation] he gets out on the court.

Doug: Tennis balls are pretty soft when they bounce, so as long as he’s not swinging the racket, we’re probably OK inside the house.

WACOAN: How long have y’all been at Baylor?

Michele: Sixteen years. We were at the service awards luncheon today celebrating 15 years last year.

WACOAN: Where were you previous to this?

Michele: So this is my 30th permanent address, and this is our 15th permanent address.

WACOAN: How long have you been married?

Michele: Twenty-five years.

WACOAN: And this is your 15th address?

Michele: Yes.

WACOAN: How did that come to be?

Michele: We met in college at Oklahoma Baptist University. I graduated first and went to work on my masters. We got married and then moved so Doug could work on his graduate degrees, and I taught school. That was in Nashville.

We went from Oklahoma to Denton because I was at North Texas, then went to Nashville. He finished his coursework, then I started my Ph.D. coursework in Minnesota. He wrote his dissertation, and we moved to Phoenix and he got a job. And I wrote my dissertation. Then we moved to Ohio where we both got positions at a university there. Then we came to Baylor from there.

WACOAN: What was it like moving from Minnesota to Phoenix?

Michele: It was wonderful.

Doug: The year we were in Minnesota, the state broke its all-time low-temperature record. It was 69 below. That was air temperature, no wind chill. Although in the Twin Cities, it was only 37 below. It was bitterly cold.

When I went to interview for the position I took at the college in Arizona, it was in the midst of that winter, and there was a 100-degree temperature difference. It was 20- or 30-something below, and I got off the plane [in Arizona], and it was 70-something. It was a good change.

WACOAN: Michele, how have you had 30 addresses?

Michele: My dad was a chemical engineer. When I was born, they lived in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and he worked for Conoco. He got into experimental fuel sources during the oil crisis in the ’70s. We moved to different locations and facilities where his company was contracted by the government to look for alternatives in case oil ran out. That included West Virginia, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California. I went to high school in Pennsylvania, Colorado and California. My sister, who is three years younger than me, went to high school in California, Texas and Alabama.

WACOAN: How many states have you lived in?

Michele: Thirteen.

WACOAN: Doug, how many states have you lived in?

Doug: Not as many.

Michele: He had lived in one until we got married.

Doug: My life was in Oklahoma, and Michele dragged me around the country. Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Arizona, Ohio.

WACOAN: So when y’all got to Brooks and were there for six years, was that the longest you had lived anywhere together?

Michele: Yes. I lived in Pennsylvania from first grade to ninth grade. That was my world record. And when we were living on Austin Avenue, it got to the point where we had as many years of marriage as addresses. But we had to get to 12 [years] to make them match.

WACOAN: So 15 addresses in 25 years. Is this the last one?

Michele and Doug [simultaneously]: I hope so.

Doug: It’s hard to imagine being anywhere else.

WACOAN: With everything y’all have put into this, it’s your baby.

Doug: It’s not just the house. It’s the whole vision. Part of it is the home, but a lot of it’s the neighborhood too. Once we found this property, we were thinking about how to name it, what to call it. It was her colleague, Michael Alexander, who said, ‘What about The Cloister?’

We love the cloister colonnaded areas of the old colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. That sense of contemplative, prayerful reverie and quietude, but also community and cloister colleges are places where people live alongside each other. That vision quickly took root with us. It’s the home, but also the place.

We’ve got a cloister walk. You have to use your imagination a little bit right now. That partially washed-out walking trail begins through a series of Montezuma cypress trees. Those, like most cypress trees, have very straight, erect columnar trunks. We have an arboreal cloister. As those grow up, you’ll have a sense of walking through this colonnaded, lovely space canopied by the trees. And we have a beautiful fire pit out here. We joke that it’s a Greek, not a Roman, style. Greeks always built their theaters cut into the hills. The Romans constructed theirs in open space.

Michele: That’s important to us because of the study abroad we’ve done in Greece and Turkey. We’ve seen lots of theaters in their original locations. We brought the idea back and created it here for us.

Doug: On a very small scale.

Michele: But for community gatherings, there’s a fire pit in the amphitheater. And we can have house concerts, those kinds of things.

Doug: So it’s the home. It’s the larger vision of the cloister, but it’s also the neighbors. There’s no one who has bought a lot that we haven’t had some interaction with along the way. We never marketed. We never advertised. It was all word of mouth.

WACOAN: Y’all both teach at Baylor. I teach at Baylor. So I have some kind of idea of how much faculty members are paid.

Michele: There are no investors.

WACOAN: I don’t think it’s a secret that one of the benefits to being faculty-in-residence is that you don’t have a rent or mortgage payment. Did living on campus for those six years enable you to do this?

Doug: That undoubtedly helped a little bit, but we borrowed money. We had a development loan from Incommons Bank, a great community bank. Mexia is where they started. Regina Martinez was very positive about the possibilities and business plan we had.

And we borrowed money from our retirement. It was a big risk. If we weren’t in music education and philosophy, if we were in the school of business, it probably would have made no sense. Why would you undertake something that costs so much and has so much risk?

Michele: [Laughing.] It goes back to us not knowing what we’re doing.

WACOAN: Now I didn’t say you didn’t know what you were doing. I just said that this seems out of your areas of expertise.

Doug: It was, for us, responsiveness to a calling. We didn’t really lose any sleep over financial risk. But it was a huge relief, I’ll say also, when we sold one or two lots. My joke was, ‘It could be that we just built the most expensive driveway anywhere in Waco.’

WACOAN: So there’s one other house occupied and two under construction?

Doug: Yes. And all we’ve done is sort of set the table here. We designed the neighborhood. We’ve sold lots, but those who have bought lots are responsible for building houses. All the homes are custom built.

WACOAN: Are there still lots available?

Doug: No.

WACOAN: Without marketing?

Michele: Right.

WACOAN: Now the business school people are going to want to know, ‘How did you do that?’

Michele: Because people want this.

Doug: Steve [Sorrells], who has been such a wise source of counsel for us every step along the way, he has said to us multiple times, ‘You know, this is not how these things happen.’ Steve knows what he’s doing. He’s developed and built all his life.

There is, I think, incredible demand, on the one hand, for homes in the heart of Waco. There’s great, positive energy about the city. There’s great affection for Cameron Park these days. It’s not the Cameron Park of the 1980s that people talked about as a place to be careful. There’s a lot of civic life and activity. Those were all factors.

And there’s a lot of longing for community life, hospitable, know-who-your-neighbors-are kind of life that’s possible. There’s a desire for this sort of neighborliness, generally, but I think we also hit —

Michele: Waco’s got really good momentum right now. That helped.

Doug: Yes, it does.

Michele: Some of the folks who will be our neighbors were here [in Waco] and said, ‘That’s where I want to be.’ But we have other folks who are coming to Waco to be a part of this.

Doug: A couple from Santa Fe, [New Mexico], they’re retiring here to Waco. Another couple from Atlanta is moving to Waco, wanting to retire here. They’re the two farthest flung. We have another home site, someone who has lived in the Cameron Park area and is parting with a house but building a house here. But I think everyone else has been around the perimeter of Waco but very excited to be right here in the middle of things. It’s a mix.

WACOAN: Are you going to push your luck and try to duplicate this somewhere else?

Doug: One and done. Definitely one and done.

Michele: We did this because this is how we wanted to live and where we wanted to live. We didn’t do it as a business venture or anything like that. I think the motivation to replicate it wouldn’t be the same.

WACOAN: You mentioned that one requirement for each home is a rainwater harvesting system. Is there a homeowners association? Are there other requirements?

Michele: There has to be an entrance to the home from the common space, so you can’t have a big perimeter privacy fence.

WACOAN: That would seem to defeat the purpose of being here in the first place.

Michele: Right. The common space is everyone’s big backyard. There will be a trail — we call it our ‘Little Bear Trail’ — that will go all the way around the common space. I’ll be able to walk out my door to the common space, up the trail and knock on somebody else’s door if I wanted to, rather than accessing from the street side. I’d say [that] is the other most significant feature.

Doug: We don’t even, in the restrictive covenant, use the language of ‘front of the house’ and ‘back of the house.’ There’s not really a back. There’s a street side façade and a park side façade.

There are some standard quality-of-construction restrictions: percentage of exterior that’s masonry, minimum and maximum of pitch of roof, square footage, that sort of stuff. But in terms of ordering or regulating life — aside from stuff like the rainwater harvesting, yard signage in so far as the law permits us to say no — we’re not at all heavy-handed about it.

We had our first official homeowners’ association annual meeting last month. Everybody was here, and mostly we enjoyed each other’s company and had a very brief financial report. Very minimal HOA dues. We pay the water bill and that’s about it. We’ll have some landscaping maintenance stuff. We’re pretty low-key, easy-going about that.

WACOAN: When you were in Brooks, how big was your space there?

Michele: About 2,800 square feet.

WACOAN: And then you were in Kensington for three years after Brooks. What is Kensington?

Doug: Kensington Place are apartments across from the new business school, right next to the parking garage.

WACOAN: How much space did you have there?

Doug: It was about 1,200 or 1,300 square feet.

Michele: It was a two-bedroom apartment.

WACOAN: And how much space do you have now?

Michele: It’s about 3,200 square feet. It’s actually bigger than I intended it to be. But [the great room] had to be a certain size to fill the multiple functions. The size of the house was determined by the size of the great room.

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

Michele: There is outdoor living space, which was super important to me. [We lived] three and a half years at Kensington Place with no outdoor space. Brooks had no place to put a grill or anything like that.

Our answer to not having a perimeter privacy fence was to have a side yard. It’s got an outdoor fireplace and TV area, so we can sit out there and watch the game or make s’mores and have an outdoor living space because we’re in a place where the weather allows it quite a bit during the year.

And the general craftsman style of it, we felt like it fit with the park. We have a nice, wide porch with Adirondack chairs so we can sit out and look at the park.

Doug: It’s a dry stacked stone exterior. Straight lines. It’s not ornate. It’s simple, clean.

Michele: But each house in the neighborhood so far has its own very distinct style. This is not a cookie-cutter neighborhood in the least. One is Southern plantation. One is going to be farmhouse. We’ve got another one that I would describe as Pacific Northwest. Another one I would call straight-up contemporary. Another one that may be kind of a brick-style Charleston house.

WACOAN: And the varying styles weren’t planned and just kind of happened?

Michele: Yes.

Doug: The surrounding neighborhood is very architecturally eclectic and very different. It’s not like some suburban development where everything has the same look. That was the one thing, as we met with our new neighbors-to-be here, that they were concerned that it was going to be a new neighborhood where every house was alike. That would have been discouraging for them. We knew that wasn’t going to happen because nothing is being centrally planned in terms of home design, but we’re really delighted that there’s such architectural variation.

WACOAN: Finally, what are you reading right now?

Doug: What I’m reading right now is ‘44 Scotland Street,’ a book by Alexander McCall Smith, set in Edinburgh.

Michele: I’m reading the ‘Jane Austen Mysteries’ series. I like the Regency era, Jane Austen period things. This is a modern series that is written by an ex-CIA agent under a pseudonym, [Stephanie Barron]. It’s based on the research that she has done on letters from Jane Austen to her sister, back and forth. She recreates these stories where something nefarious happens and Jane Austen ends up figuring it all out.

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