When Menard and Trish Doswell married 18 years ago, she had a few conditions. She insisted he accept her two Pomeranian dogs and agree to travel to Africa. He acquiesced, and to this day, there is still a Pomeranian in the family and they continue to travel to Africa.
Their Westover Hills home is filled with mementos of their travels. Beaded collars from Kenya hang on the wall; drums and beaded tables hold bowls of exotic trinkets. The house was designed specifically to display these multicultural objects.
For all her worldly travels, Trish Doswell has stayed very close to home. This house, one she and her husband built, is across the street from her childhood home.
The Doswells were living in Monticello and looking for ways to enlarge their house. They spoke to several architects, but it never proved possible. After hearing the architects’ desires to add turrets to their traditional home, they thought another direction was needed. They made up their minds to buy, “but everything that we wanted needed so much work, we decided to build,” she says.
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Eventually they approached Fort Worth architect Roger Dobbins, partner in Dobbins+Crow Architects.
“We’d seen his work,” Doswell says. “We told him we wanted to build the house around the stuff we had found from around the world. We wanted Spanish, not Tuscan, and we wanted it to look like it belonged here.”
She took Dobbins her files and books about the work of early-20th-century architect George Washington Smith, who popularized the Spanish colonial revival style with houses he designed in Montecito and Santa Barbara, Calif.
“They are exactly the kind of clients I like,” Dobbins says. “They wanted to do a piece of architecture. They didn’t have a lot of restrictions. They like the Spanish mission style, and it works with all the primitive and eclectic art they have. We talked about a lot of things — their travels, and about their experience. They talked about how they wanted to display these things to enrich their children’s lives. So for a Fort Worth client, that kind of worldly view is unique.”
In 2006, the couple found a teardown in Westover Hills across the street from the home in which Trish Doswell grew up, and they began the design process. Three years later, the family moved in.
They kept as many of the old trees as possible. She remembered climbing them when she was young; one still has the climbing boards nailed to the trunk. An enormous multi-trunked live oak anchors the front, and more mature trees encircle the back yard.
There is little indication from the exterior that this mission-style house, with white stucco walls and clay tile roof, has not always been in this old neighborhood. It was the Doswells’ intent that it blend into the surroundings. Their home had to be “understated and unpretentious,” Dobbins says.
Only the interior tips its hand to the contemporary construction, as there is no formal living room. There is a large dining room and an enormous living area that flows into a spacious kitchen. It’s a comfortable house with five bedrooms, three full baths and two half baths for the Doswells and their two teenage daughters.
What is striking is the abundance of artworks from Africa and the Americas. Trish Doswell is always on the lookout for something she can bring home that will remind her of where she has been. Her artifacts don’t always come directly from her vacations. Two large carvings — a buffalo head and a standing figure — were found in the United States, but they reminded her of things she had seen overseas and had them shipped home.
In recent years, the couple have traveled to many African countries, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Argentina and Peru. They’ve climbed the pyramids of Machu Picchu and Chichen Itza and fished for piranha in the Amazon. And each time they’ve returned, they’ve brought something to remember their trip.
Menard Doswell always takes one commemorative photo of his wife in the exotic locale, and she brings home two dolls for the girls.
Those dolls are stuffed on the top shelf of a bookcase in her office, a veritable United Nations of dolls. She laments she never labeled them and now doesn’t remember where many of them were purchased.
She buys her travel treasures at flea markets, and from roadside stands or the occasional gift shop at a lodge. She says she never spends much, and more often she trades with the locals. She packs her suitcases with T-shirts, tennis shoes, pencils, markers, school supplies and sunglasses to trade for dolls, zebra tails and beaded necklaces.
She’d rather bring home a trinket than a snapshot.
“The camera separates you from the experience,” she says. “The more I go, the fewer photographs I take. You miss the moment if you are photographing. I have been enough times that I don’t need to take photographs now.”
There is one photograph, though, that Trish Doswell proudly shows visitors. It is one of the few things on her desk. At first it is difficult to ascertain what it is, poorly cropped because it was taken under duress.
“It’s hard to see, but that is a gorilla’s hand on my leg,” she says. “They don’t come up to people and they don’t touch. But we were standing there, and this one, a female, came over and grabbed my leg. This is the only photo we have; I was whispering, ‘Menard, take the picture, take the picture.’ ”
That trek in Uganda was one of her favorites. Recently, out of the blue, her husband mentioned that trip and said he wants their girls to have the experience.
“So that’s my main priority now,” she says.