Home to Canadian geese

You know you’ve got a great pond on your property when neighbors and Canada geese show up to fish.

I found myself staring at the computer screen. The blinking cursor on the Farm and Ranch Contract drummed a little beat to the tune of “What exactly am I doing here?” There were so many things wrong with this property, it was hard to know where to even begin. In fact, the problems began off the property: The road is, to put it mildly, a mine field. It is paved…. in places. However, in the 80 percent of places that it is not paved, it is mud. The potholes could swallow a Smart Car and no one would even notice.

Unfortunately, this is a fairly common issue with rural property. Lightly populated agricultural areas just do not produce a lot of tax dollars. I surmised that the road would hopefully be re-paved sometime this decade, and proceeded forward. The next and oh-so-important question: What to offer?

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This amazing home in Westlake, Texas started as a ranch when Westlake was nothing more than a farm town. I drove out to see this spread one crisp, fall day and am still in a trance – maybe why it’s taken me 1500 words to post it. Not only is it a ranch house originally designed by one of Dallas’ most famous architects, it was commissioned by a prominent Dallas family. Even more: the home was lovingly restored in 1977 after it was wrapped and moved in six pieces to its present land location – that’s right! This house was wrapped up like a delicate holiday ornament in Tyvek and moved on steel beams where it was put back together, melded, enhanced, and perfected in a beautiful, country like setting on 18 acres. You have no idea you are near civilization. As one writer described the setting: it’s an “ahhh experience”.

I’ll go further: it’s orgasmic. Who moves homes to preserve them? 

PaigeBrooke is minutes from D/FW Airport and a brief jog from Westlake Academy. The rambling, half-timbered structure was designed by Charles Dilbeck in 1938, and is chock full of artisian handiwork and delightful surprises in almost every room — VERY Dilbeck,  who said each room in a home should have a surprise element. There are surprises, and Dallas history everywhere. The home was built originally for Ted Dealey, a publisher of the Dallas Morning News and member of a Dallas publishing family dynasty.

Dilbeck, of course, is the architect known for romantic Tudors and French country homes sprinkled in the Park Cities and a few in North Dallas: Harry Potter style before Harry was a Potter. His homes have a signature English farmhouse feel to them, and are built rambling, as if they have been added onto. Dilbeck, for example, always said that in authentic cottages you could always find the original log cabin that the home started from. (PaigeBrooke has one.) He also designed homes without hallways, so you have to go into one room to get to another, as if the house had been added on to randomly. It creates a very organic feel.

PaigeBrooke is classic Dilbeck, built with rustic brick, stone, tile and wood. There are those signature Dilbeck features such as rounded chimneys, overhanging balconies, cupolas and turrets — even a bell tower. Dilbeck was an eco-friendly architect before green was vogue. He favored salvaged and recycled materials. Hence, the pinkish stone throughout this house came from an old slaughterhouse in Fort Worth, and the handhewn beams were made from original Union Terminal timbers in Fort Worth.

Dilbeck designed several country estates. PaigeBrooke’s owners, Scott and Kelly Bradley, remain close friends with his widow, Pat Dilbeck. She and her daughter Elaine Dilbeck MacIntire say Paigebrook is their favorite of Dilbeck’s houses, and it was his favorite, too:

“I believe this was my husband’s favorite home,” Pat Dilbeck told The Dallas Morning News (subscription recquired). “He created so many pretty homes, but this one was so beautiful, being out in the country in such a lovely setting.”

A Dilbeck grandson even asked if he could propose to his fiancee on the property, to get in a little family history.

And oh yes: I also fell in love with the Bradleys – could not meet more solid, great people who have raised a beautiful family and contributed to their community ten fold, all from the PaigeBrooke Farm home base. Scott was mayor of Westlake and re-elected 17 consecutive times. When he took on his first term, there was $35,000 in the town’s bank account. When he left, there was $6.5 million. They are people who preserve, save, conserve, and generally make the world better — not many like them out there. The property is named after their daughters Paige and Brooke. The story is a long one, so you might want to grab a glass of wine or spiked eggnog and pull up a chair. If you can’t get to it, fear not: you’ll be hearing much more on this site about PaigeBrooke.

Scott and Kelly Bradley fell in love with the Westlake property at first sight, even though it was run-down and had become a haven for raccoons and other wildlife over years of neglect. It had been vacant for about a decade. Scott was a successful securities attorney in Dallas and Kelly, a full time mom. Racoons and bobcats had the run of the place, a reminder that all homes, like humans, need regular tender loving care. Kelly recalls removing electrical sockets from the wall and racoon dung fell out!

In the early years, the Dealey home was the centerpiece of the 220 Ranch, so named for its 220 acres of land. The family hosted many prominent Dallas business and civic leaders, who came to hunt and savor country life –  country life where a major Fidelity headquarters now stands and the fourth largest U.S. airlines, American, sends off hundreds of jets a day, bankrupt or not.

When the Kellys bought it, the property was no longer 220 acres: land had been bought and sold off, and the ranch had changed hands several times resulting in about 130 acres. The last owner bought it for his wife, who was in the real estate business, but she died before they ever moved in. And so the home remained vacant and kind of heartless.

But the Bradleys brought their energy and love, and refurbished every inch with tender loving care. During refurbishment, they lived in an 800 square foot foreman’s house on the property. When Kelly turned on the water one morning,  it was red, and she started crying.

“You could stay in bed and fix breakfast in that house,” she says, it was so small.

Southlake and Westlake were also small communities at that time — about 200 residents in Westlake. 114 was a two lane road, and Kelly said she slept with a shotgun next to the bed, not so much for burglars as critters. Nelson Bunker Hunt was a neighbor on his Circle T Ranch, which would later become part of Vaquero. He was a good neighbor, say the Kellys: if their cows got out, Bunker’s cowboys brought them home.

But then, Scott Bradley become embroiled in a business battle over Westlake’s existence. To benefit the community, the Bradleys decided to sell some of their acreage in 1998 to Fidelity Investments for a regional headquarters complex. The Fidelity sale put the house directly in the path of a wrecking ball.

The Bradleys couldn’t let it go. The Fidelity move was great financially for Westlake. But the property they wanted was splat where PaigeBrooke, their home, sat. Which meant the house would have to go. Another family might have taken the money and run after bidding the home an emotional farewell. Not the Kelleys: Scott added a clause that Fidelity either preserve the house in perpetuity or allow THEM to move it.

Sometimes being a lawyer comes in very handy!

And this is where the home’s already dramatic story becomes downright fascinating. The Bradley’s beloved PaigeBrooke was chopped into six pieces, wrapped in Tyvek, and moved.

It was a 10-year process. First the Bradleys lived in a trailer on the property for five years, then moved into an adjacent guest house designed by Dallas preservation architect Nancy McCoy, who was hired to blend the home and any additions with the Dilbeck style.

She has decribed the process as an  “architectural marvel.” Who takes apart a house like a jigsaw puzzle and puts it back together? It was also outrageously expensive — how much I’m trying to squeeze out of them. Get this: the living room alone weighed 98,000 pounds!

The original house was only one room wide, ostensibly to maximize cross-breezes (before A/C) in typical Dilbeck fashion. It was 4,500 square feet. The Bradleys decided as long as they were moving the house, they might as well  add a hallway,  more bathrooms and larger closets. (Dilbeck, like Frank Lloyd Wright, must have thought people did not need many clothes — their closets are tiny.) They also got fancy and created a luxurious master bathroom with three wonderful ships windows, an upscale kitchen with the most amazing red Aga stove I have ever seen, and I have seen a LOT, a wine cellar and a media room.

Charles Dilbeck would have marveled!

Plans for the original house, which Dilbecks’ widow found on three pieces of paper in her attic, included a basement, which was never built. So the Bradleys added that, too. The home rambles on, now, on two floors. Scott Bradley wanted geothermal and a radiant heating system so the home was also upgraded to the high eco standards. All walls are thick plaster. The home is built as soundly as the nuclear bunker at The Greenbrier. The entire home, including the basement, floats on 276 piers.

Interior touches were done with great care and oversight to replicate Dilbeck’s style. The Bradleys hired a woodworker named Steven Guest, who spent 10 years working to re-create and extend the rustic touches and style that Dilbeck envisioned. Guest, who is deaf and an expert lip-reader, created an ingenious kitchen pantry with double folding hinged doors that swing out to reveal hidden shelving. He made vent screens throughout the house that look like they came from the 18th century, as well as the incredible 480 pound front door that is rounded to fit the surrounding curved wall.

The renovation increased the house to 11,500 square feet, with a 2200 square foot guest house. It is filled with the Bradleys eclectic and unexpected treasures, from stuffed animal heads, antler chandeliers, and colorful tapestries to Scott’s collection of notary seal presses he found while searching for a file in a storeroom at the Dallas law firm of Jenkens & Gilchrist.

Every room is my favorite, and I honestly have to go back to write more. I think, perhaps, my favorite off the top is Scott’s study, or the library. A painting of Ted Dealey hangs in the gun case in the library, which is original to the home. (A bookcase from this original room, the only item Dealey moved from his Dallas home, is displayed in the new basement.) There is a leaded glass door with a spider-web design on the case, making it the only museum-quality gun case in the world quite possibly.There is a cozy corner window where Ted Dealey apparently used to bunk out — it now holds Scott’s desk. And there’s the bar – everything a blogger would need in one room!

The home is listed with Maribeth Peters of Allie Beth Allman. Maribeth met the Bradleys through preservation groups, and first listed the house this fall. Asking: $7,900,000.

PaigeBrooke, really, has more Dallas history and heritage than many Dallas homes have in their little powder rooms.  I almost feel it needs to be a museum, maybe an architectural dedication to Dilbeck and the warm, beautiful designs he gave us to enjoy every day. Even in the country.

Life was sure sweet this weekend out at Tejas Ranch, in Anna. This amazing property has “Texas” written all over it, so much it was under consideration as a shooting locaton for the now defunct Fox TV series Lone Star (starring Jon Voight), when the series was shooting last summer. Voight played a modern-day JR Ewing type oil tycoon. I recall the scouts were looking long and hard for a ranch. Small wonder they picked Tejas. Perched on 90 + acres, Tejas Ranch has multiple luxurious living facilities, a 10 acre lake, stocked tanks and, even in these bone-dry times, year-round live water. Talk about ease of access, it’s an hour north of Dallas and you can even jet right in to the ranch on your own 2500 foot private runway.

The main home, built in 2000, underwent about $300,000 of renovations last year. It is about 4000 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, and features three custom- decorated children’s rooms. There are so many extras– granite counters even in the closets, and wide-plank hardwood floors recycled from a barn in Maine. Rugged fireplace mantles were also made from that Maine barn wood. Talk about a party up here 24/7: recreational activities available include swimming, fishing, water-skiing, volleyball, shuffleboard, trap shooting, hunting, and more!  There is a new horse barn, stable and upscale living quarters for a caretaker. The guest house has 1 bedroom, 1 bath but rooms for more in the downstairs cardio room or gym; the barn also has a full bedroom, bath and kitchen efficiency apartment also recently redone. Some might consider this a second home ranch getaway, but most might want to make this a primary home considering the excellent Anna school district. Price for the whole enchilada — the homes, the land — is $4,450,000. The owner, a young couple whose made big bucks in construction, actually wants to move further north in the boonies. They will consider selling off the house and guest home with smaller slices of dirt:

House/Guest House on 10 Acres: $1,900,000
House/Guest House on 20 Acres: $2,300,000

Oh, and this you will love. Taxes on this spread run about $8,000 a year because most of the acreage is ag exempt. What a perfect home for a fiscally shrewd celeb, athlete or gadzillionaire… someone ought to show this to Glenn Beck and Warren Buffet!

recycled wood floors from Maine