The brick house is almost unassuming — a white confection on a narrow, sloping lot in Mira Vista, one of Fort Worth’s premier gated communities, a builder’s paradise of luxurious, sprawling homes.
Completed less than a year ago, this house, with its decidedly French influence, is smaller than most in the area, but it is a supremely livable, sometimes whimsical treasure trove of one family’s best memories, a sheltering roof for the future.
“We built this house for us, not for resale,” says homeowner Elizabeth McCurdy. She and her husband, Mark McCurdy, a physician, worked with home designer Dale Grandmaison of Grand Home Designs and custom home builder John Askew to create what she says is their dream house.
Constructed of white brick with white mortar, this house isn’t like any other on the street. A 700-pound iron and glass awning custom crafted by Durango Doors cantilevers over the narrow stoop and calls to mind a small continental hotel or apartment building.
“We chose this French style because it reminds us of the apartment we rent in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower,” she explains. “Some of our happiest times were there, so when we were trying to pick a style for this house, it was easy to go back to where we felt the happiest and use a French style.”
Grandmaison says the couple knew what they wanted from the start, “but they were flexible, too.”
They wanted a French house, a hidden study and lofts with Juliet balconies in the children’s rooms.
They got all that but compromised on other things, such as a dumb waiter to transport groceries and packages from the basement-level garages to the kitchen.
“When we found out what that would cost, Mark said he’d be my dumb waiter,” says Elizabeth McCurdy.
The couple met with Grandmaison and Askew each week for six months as they created and refined the plans. Construction took an additional 10 months.
For some couples, building a house is an emotion-charged obstacle course, but not for this family.
“We had fun. I hated for it to end,” says McCurdy, who had a clear and sometimes playful vision of the finished product.
Downstairs floors are inspired by French hotels, she says. Gray slate covers the ground-level floors and extends beyond the family room’s French doors to the outdoor terrace above the three-bay garage. A chess board is fashioned into the stone there, and enormous gaming pieces stand ready for a match.
In the family room, a bookcase is really a door that swings open on a piano hinge to reveal Mark McCurdy’s study, which has golf course views. It’s hidden, but hardly a safe room.
“We thought this would be fun. He’s a real James Bond fan and this makes him feel like 007,” Elizabeth McCurdy says.
She had her own list of “must-haves” for this house, including plenty of shine. Every bath is outfitted with crystal sconces.
“I wanted some sparkle,” she says.
She carried that love of glitter into her massive closet, where “gems” are glued to the walls.
But she took a more practical tack with the much-used stairs and covered them with a whimsical leopard print that hides dirty tracks. “Well, my choices were floral, plaid or this,” she says.
McCurdy had some help with finish choices from Askew’s wife, Linda.
“She was wonderful, and she kept me focused. She didn’t just send me someplace to look at flooring or whatever; she went with me,” says McCurdy.
But the vision for the house and the dedication to the budget belonged to the homeowner. McCurdy, who enjoys cooking and prepares a meal every night, skipped the premium appliance lines.
“We went with a KitchenAid package,” she says. “It wasn’t as expensive as some of the others. Almost anyone who builds a house is on a budget. I know we were.”
She found she had a knack for getting what she wanted without breaking the bank. She saved money in the master bath when she found the century-old claw-foot tub that was stamped “December 1914” on the bottom. Re-enameled and outfitted with new fixtures, it is the gleaming centerpiece of the room.
“You should have seen this when we found it. It was rusted and dirty. It was awful. A mess,” says McCurdy, who knew it could be beautiful again.
Once the construction was complete and the debris cleared away, McCurdy tackled decorating the interior of this 4,000-square-foot sanctuary on her own with things they already had.
“We didn’t buy anything new for this house except four bar stools in the kitchen,” she says. “My father always said, ‘Your house is where your life unfolds. When you open the door it should tell your story.’ ” She didn’t think she needed a professional to do that for her.
Standing in the foyer between the music room and the formal dining room, dressed casually in a turquoise wrap T-shirt and gray skirt, she is surrounded by a lifetime of keepsakes. She takes a few steps forward and runs her French-manicured fingers over a corner of the grand piano that once belonged to her father. Dozens of small family photos in silver frames are displayed on the top, each one a happy reminder of someone she loves.
The room is small, a cozy nest of memories. The 1930s vintage settee at the end of the room belonged to her grandparents. The tiny writing desk near the window was an antique-store find from earlier years. The bookshelves in this room and in the dining room are filled with a series of once-popular Reader’s Digest condensed books.
“My parents had these Reader’s Digest books when I was little,” she says, and laments that she got rid of most of them before she realized that even these books are a part of her treasured memories.
“I scoured every antique store. A friend helped me, and I bought up these collections. They’re not valuable at all, but I wanted these shelves filled with things that mean something to me, not just beautiful books,” she says.
In fact, almost everything in the house has meaning to her or to her husband. The dining table is the one they bought early in their 20-year marriage. The chairs have been recovered in a rich gold-colored fabric, the backs in toile for contrast.
The master bedroom is furnished with a matching suite of Thomasville furniture they’ve had for years. She put her grandparents’ Depression-era double bed in one of her daughters’ rooms and dressed it up with a little canopy.
The twin beds that had been her own went to the other daughter, who also wanted a canopy treatment, so McCurdy installed “bed crowns” with ready-made drapes above each bed.
“My daughter picked these curtains from Bed Bath & Beyond,” she says. “They’re not expensive, but they’re cute, don’t you think?”
A long 1970s dresser that the McCurdys bought in the early years of their marriage fills one wall of the room.
“I know it’s not fashionable, but I can’t bear to part with things, and this is still good, still solid still serviceable,” she says.
Library ladders lead to the lofts in each room, a favorite feature of the McCurdy girls, ages 10 and 12.
“They love the lofts,” their mother says. “They put all their stuff up there, toys, games. Catherine reads up there. There’s a beanbag chair. Since all the stuff is in the loft, their rooms stay picked-up and neat.”
Downstairs, the guest room is filled with cast-off pieces the McCurdys have had for years. “Some of these things are Henredon not antiques for sure, but still good no reason to throw them out,” McCurdy says.
Sofas and chairs in the family room have been updated with new fabric, and the room is at once gracious enough for company and comfortable enough for the family to eat popcorn in front of the TV.
“We wanted a house we could live in,” she says. “It’s supposed to be for your family to enjoy, isn’t it?”