Wildland Supply Co. Was Not Built in a Day

Certainly not.

For creative people, it's important to have a person in your life to reign you in. Cory is that person for me. My ideas always start huge and grand and expensive. I know no boundaries. I only know how amazing whatever thing I'm thinking is in my head and could be in real life. And after patiently listening, Cory tells me (nicely) that I am an insane person and suggests ways to make said idea more plausible, possible and affordable. Such has been the case with most things in the house.

So when I told Cory that I wanted to open a store and I wanted to do it right that second, I half expected that he would immediately put a stop to my insanity. And, in the tone of a person talking someone off a ledge, tell me that we were pretty busy already with the house and perhaps this wasn't an ideal time to quit my job and start my own business. This would be perfectly reasonable of him. That's why we keep him around--to be supremely rational and control the chaos.   

Imagine my surprise when he told me I should definitely do it. Go for it, he said.

What? Did you hear me correctly, sir? Are you aware that you just green-lit an idea that will have a huge impact on our lives and is admittedly a little crazy? There was no reigning in of my gigantic dream whatsoever. Maybe I had been slowly wearing down this man's good sense during the course of our marriage. Or maybe he just super believes in me as a designer/merchandiser/buyer. He says it's the last thing, but I suppose we'll never really know.

Whatever the reason, he tirelessly helped me search for the perfect location for my store. We came upon a storefront on a deserted block of Austin Avenue. The exterior was approximately eight shades of brown and nothing to write home about. I entered the building to find that the inside was just as homely. Gold walls. An etched brown floor. A sad, grey drop ceiling. But I could see its potential. I was going to need a sledgehammer and a lot of white paint.

Before.

Before.

After.

After.

It took a full four months to renovate the building and transform it from that ugly little brown storefront to a space that reflected my design aesthetic--clean, minimal, and, well, not ugly. I worked all day each and every day at the store and then came home to my construction site without the strength to do anything but pass out. My tired mind sometimes wondered if I had made a giant mistake by jumping into something this huge. But as soon as I opened the store, all of that doubt fell away. I thought that the best part of owning a store would be being my own boss and getting to carry out my creative vision in this business I was cultivating. And don't get me wrong, being the boss is totally boss. But the best part was when I opened the doors and the people showed up. Amazing, creative, kind people that were strangers to me before that I am now able to get to know (and love). My community has really embraced this little dream of mine and me too.

Before.

Before.

During.

During.

After.

After.

Not only has my city supported me in my business, they've also begun to support us in our house adventure. The actualization of my store has brought more traffic to my blog and more attention to our renovation project. First, a piece in the local paper detailing the opening of the shop mentioned that I had been inspired to name my store Wildland after my blog. That led a local magazine to interview Cory and I about the house for their home issue. Since then, there has been a flood of interest from the people in our community, some of whom have been able to share additional history about the place we call home. We've learned so much more, and it really helps to have a new set of cheerleaders spurring us on. 

Read the article here.

Read the article here.

Read the article here.

Read the article here.

It has been several month since my last update, but we've continued working tirelessly on the house through it all. My interested customers regularly ask me how everything is going at the house. I'm often asked if we're "done." The answer: Absolutely not. This is a big house, and we in no way expected to be done at this point. Up to now, we've concentrated on what Cory refers to as "stopping the bleeding." There were many things that we had to fix immediately and none of it was too glamorous or visually exciting. Inside, there has been a lot of demolition and some building back. It's been a long and arduous process just to make each room whole, with every wall, floor and ceiling intact and prepared for finishing--all of which we have been documenting to share with you. Finished or not, we're still having the time of our lives in this old mansion. We're not in a gigantic rush to be done. Our plan to complete renovations involves several phases. "Phase One" is the completion of the kitchen and master suite, and it's happening right now.

The view upon entering the house.

The view upon entering the house.

Mention of the master suite brings to mind the other question I'm often asked--are we still living in that one small room? The answer: Yup. We used to refer to our living situation as "kind of like camping," but we have actually become accustomed to this weird new way of life. It feels normal even. Leaving the room will be quite an adjustment for us. What do you regular, fully-finished house people even do with all that space? We can't remember. What will we do when we no longer have to artfully hop around all of our worldly possessions to make our way around this tiny room? When the kitchen is no longer three feet from the bed? When we have 5,000 square feet of living space to occupy instead of 150? As uncomfortable as it might sound, our little living space has been a cozy oasis amidst the construction. It's home. We might miss it.

But we still want out.

-Kate

Dreams Born of Dreams

Something changed in us this summer. After making the house our home for half a year and after the dream of rehabilitating this beautiful place was beginning to be realized, we got really inspired. This aspect of our lives was shaping up to be pretty marvelous, which got us thinking about what we could be doing to make the rest of our lives just as grand. It was almost as if the house was pushing us to be better, to aim higher.

And then we got really busy.

Cory got busy first. He is incredibly passionate about real estate and has been probably since birth. He has been acquiring properties throughout the city for a while now, but this summer he was on an entirely different level. Over the last few months, he has bought eight properties and already sold four of them. He is working harder and having more fun than ever before because he loves what he does so much. It was contagious. I wanted to love something that much.

This guy inspires me to be more ambitious than I ever thought possible.

This guy inspires me to be more ambitious than I ever thought possible.

Almost three years ago, I left Austin and my job on the visual team at Anthropologie. I thought I would stay there forever, working my way up in the company and living in that incredible city. But Cory had a dream to move back to his hometown and his dream became my dream, so we packed up and headed north. I never really imagined myself moving to a town like Waco, but Cory was adamant that it was the perfect place for us to build a life together. Waco is not exactly known for its creative opportunity. I had a hard time imagining that I would find the right place for myself here, and that doubt grew as I tried out different occupations over the next couple of years.

Then the house came. I started feeling that creative rush that had been missing. It lit a spark within me. It made me restless in a good way. It made me strive for more. The place that I wished to spend my days in, that I wanted to put my hard work into, that I could truly love simply didn't exist here. So I made it up. For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to own my own store. I had been telling myself for a while that I was too young or too busy or too something else to open my own business. Then one day it occurred to me that none of the excuses I was making was a very good reason not to realize my dreams, to start living the best life possible. That day I went to work. I started planning and imagining and creating and searching for the perfect spot for my shop.

My building in its current state. I affectionately refer to it as "The Ugly Little Brown One."

My building in its current state. I affectionately refer to it as "The Ugly Little Brown One."

The block where my building sits is just on the edge of downtown development and currently deserted--a new wildland for me to conquer. But wildland has come to mean more to me than just an uninhabited piece of land. It is an uninhabited thought or idea. It means there's room to be creative, to build something that has never existed where you build it. So I named my store after it.

T-shirt courtesy of my dad, who expresses his enthusiasm with promotional goods.

T-shirt courtesy of my dad, who expresses his enthusiasm with promotional goods.

Wildland Supply Co. will open at 804 Austin Avenue in downtown Waco in November 2014. I could not be more excited to share my vision with you and to bring a curated collection of unique, quality apparel and home goods to my new city. More than ever, I know that I'm exactly where I belong.

Thanks for the inspiration, house.

-Kate

The Way We Live

I live in a mansion and have breakfast in bed almost every morning. Doesn't it sound like the most glamorous life?

Don't be fooled. For now, there is only one livable room in my mansion, and the only reason I always have breakfast in bed is because it's the only place to sit. Welcome to my efficiency apartment. I walk in the french doors from the backyard and up the weathered spiral staircase past open walls and ceilings and find myself at home here.

This room was an obvious choice for our living quarters while the master bedroom is under construction. It has complete walls and a functional bathroom attached. None of the other rooms can boast the same. It is certainly not a finished room. There is peeling paint on most every wall, exposing the raw concrete construction. The floors are rough and in need of refinishing. But it is cozy and clean, and we've made ourselves a nice little dwelling here while all of the construction rages on outside.

I must also mention the matter of this massive panel of framed wallpaper against the far wall. It doesn't just hang there; it is built in, baseboards coming out a few inches from the wall to frame the bottom. There is an inexplicable doorbell button mounted on one side. I can't wait to see this strange beast gone and what might be lurking behind it. Cory has requested numerous times that I take advantage of this enormous blank canvas and paint a mural here. Of him. It's nice to have a husband who encourages my creativity, but I'm going to decline. This huge piece is covering a window. And it's hideous. It will be leaving this room as soon as we do. 

Just turn to your right, and you're in the living room. We survived one of the coldest winters Texas has seen in years in a house without central heat. The concrete walls made the room damp and chilly like a cellar. We could feel the frigid air blowing through the tiny gaps in the decrepit windows, the panes of glass so thin that Cory put his hand through one fairly easily. We handily replaced it with duct tape. Cory lived, minor injury sustained.

We had only a space heater, a dog, and an electric blanket that stopped working halfway through the season to keep us warm. We received countless invitations from concerned family and friends to stay in their homes, especially on those below freezing nights. Everyone seemed quite worried that we would freeze to death in our little dream house. But we declined and opted to face the bitter cold together, another badge of honor to add to this adventure. 

Walk a few steps to the left and you'll find yourself in our kitchen. The situation is a bit dismal with a lot more microwaving and disposable dinnerware than my ideal kitchen would have. Only very small amounts of food will fit in this mini fridge so grocery shopping includes a lot of tough choices in the refrigerated sections. My freezer is too small to house ice cream. It's no way to live. I keep hope alive by staring longingly at the brand new, full-size fridge that currently sits in my dining room, still wrapped in cardboard. Someday I will fill it with abandon.

Behold the most emasculating bathroom of all time. Pink walls. Pink floor. Pink sink. Pink toilet. If the tile work wasn't so beautifully done, Cory would certainly have it redone at the first opportunity. But as it is, it's probably the most pristine room in the house, and we're certainly in no position to mess with that. I personally think there's a lot of charm in this teeny tiny bathroom, though it is miniature and really doesn't feel like it fits a fully grown adult most of the time. I love opening the window in the shower and being surrounded by bright shining pink tile and sunshine. It's a happy place.

When we're not working on the house, tiling, drywalling, painting, you can probably find us here. You will not find Chuck here. He hopped in bed of his own accord this one and only time, not wanting to be left out of the family portrait.

How could we deny him?

-Kate

The Mountaintop

The leaky roof let in every storm and the only thing decorating the inside of the house was countless buckets of raindrops. We had to get a new roof to keep the outside out. When the house was built the roof was slate. Our attic houses a series of now unnecessary support beams that used to carry the heavy weight of the slate tiles. Slate roofs are beautiful and dimensional and last virtually forever. So where is our slate roof now? Unfortunately, a previous owner along the way was convinced to switch to shingles for whatever reason. It saddens us to no end that the original roof was cast away. We would have loved to have the roof redone in slate, to restore our house back to its original appearance. But as we found out, slate roofs cost at least four times as much as shingle roofs. It just wasn't in the cards for us.

The roof was falling apart to begin with, shingles sliding down its slope. Things could only go up from there. Literally up. Way up. Our roof is quite tall with its highest peak about 40 feet above ground level, and it is abnormally steep. It seemed like more of a climbing expedition than a construction job. I don't have to tell you that this was not a DIY moment. We're not totally insane, although Cory has since said that he would probably be awesome at roofing. The man's confidence knows no bounds.

So we not only had to find roofers, we had to find daredevils. "Oh, hello. Would you like to dangle from great heights while the Texas sun beats down upon you to put my roof back together again?" Some contractors came to our house, took one look at the roof, and wouldn't even bid the job. Too steep. Too dangerous. No death wish. But lo and behold, we finally found someone brave enough to take the risk. And then this madness happened:

There were a great deal of components required to scale this mountain of a roof. An extension ladder took the roofers up over 20 feet to the base of the roof. Then they nailed 2x6 boards into the decking to make narrow walkways up to the peak. They placed ladders atop the walkways to climb from one to the next. Safety ropes were tied around their waists and secured on the other side of the roof to keep them from plummeting to the earth. Oh, and they did all this climbing with one arm because they were carrying bundles of shingles in the other. Like it was no big deal.

I watched in awe and waited for disaster.

But disaster never came, and a few days later our house was transformed.

I should say, it was one step closer to transforming. There are still improvements to be made to the outside--new windows, new shutters, new landscaping. But since we moved in we've been concentrating on the inside, trying to make a home amongst the dust and peeling paint.

Ready to see inside?

-Kate

Doing It Ourselves

We come home from our jobs and then the real work begins. Putting our own labor into the house is important to us, and it was kind of part of the deal when we decided to buy such a tremendous project. Our combined skill set is sizable and growing by the day. Anything that we have the knowledge and ability to do, we do ourselves. When this house is finished, it will be filled with our blood, our sweat, and probably more of my tears than I would care to admit. And it will be undeniably ours.

The first big task was painting the house, which falls into the category of things we can do.

First came the power washing, which was immediately halted by the discovery of hundreds of very angry wasps who had made homes in various corners of the outer structure. For several hours one terrible day Cory sprayed down a great many wasp nests wearing a bright yellow rain suit turned "wasp-proof" by duct-taping closed all possible openings. Passing neighbors were frightened that we had uncovered something truly terrible in the house since he resembled a member of a hazmat crew. His panicked sprints across the yard to avoid being stung likely did not calm their fears. It saddens me to tell you that I have no pictures of Cory in all of this glory.

Once the area was safe to inhabit again sans wasp suit, we washed the outside of the house, cleaning away the dirt and knocking down the vines that had begun to crawl up the walls. Peeling layers of paint revealed that the stucco was originally colored red and then painted a sad shade of yellow before the house realized its true identity as a white house.

The house was unquestionably meant to be white. White brings it to life between the trees. White is like a light shining on top of the hill. White is perhaps the most difficult paint color to choose, especially when you are choosing it to cover several hundred square feet. When we bought the house it was clad in a chalky, grey white that felt cold and drab. I poured over the Sherwin-Williams fan deck, what seemed like hundreds of slightly varied shades of white before me, searching for the perfect one. Bauhaus Buff, Steamed Milk, Patience--how appropriate. I tried to imagine each tiny square of color multiplied by about a million. A handful of samples painted on the house and a lot of staring at them later, I picked Pure White, a beautiful true white that would add the warmth that our home was lacking. Armed with a fancy paint sprayer, Cory both primed and painted the entire exterior of our house himself. As the detail man on the job, I then took on the painting of the trim.

Those beautiful columns at the entry had been going through a serious identity crisis over the years, carrying the weight of dozens of layers of paint, a variety of colors piled on top of one another. In order to smooth their surface and prepare them for a new paint job, a heavy duty paint stripper was required. A really scary one with warning labels plastered all over it. Cory painted the thick gel on the columns, and I awkwardly slapped plastic sheeting overtop it whilst trying to protect my skin from being eaten by chemicals. We let the compound work its magic overnight and prepared to be amazed the next morning. We were not disappointed.

The architecture screams for a contrasting trim color. The columns at the entry, the little pointed roof of the turret shown below, and all of the decorative crossbars that cover the house are all cast out of cement. The molds they used to create all of this detail had to be incredible. I decided on the color Peppercorn--a dark true grey--to make these elements pop against the bright white stucco. Our home was beginning to look a bit more polished and a bit less forgotten.

One job down. About 1,000 more to go.

-Kate

The Statuary

Though we had taken on the love and care of the house, it still looked abandoned. A new roof was most important since it was falling apart before our eyes. But before we could get a new roof, we needed to paint the house, and before we could paint the house, we had to tame the plant life that surrounded it.

Who knew a what a little landscaping would uncover?

Statues. So many statues we didn't even know were there, hiding in the overgrown shrubbery. I have never been particularly fond of statues in general. The moment they were discovered, I immediately started planning their demise. But the longer I live with them, the more I am growing to like them. I would not have chosen them myself, but they feel like a part of the house and the property that shouldn't be removed. And Cory loves them enough for the both of us. Especially the lions. 

There are lions everywhere.

This is a fountain, once completely shrouded in hedges. She appears to have lost an arm over the years, but some kind soul (perhaps without the greatest grasp of human arm proportions) crafted her a new one of cement at some point in time. As of now, she is not functional as a fountain, but she watches over this little patio outside of our living room pretty well and hopefully she'll have water in her urn once again someday soon.

Carved into the outside of a chimney is a little arch that contains a little saint. I used to find this little place a bit creepy, mostly due to the adjacent cat grave. The headstone was removed before we moved in, but there is no evidence to suggest that the actual cat has gone anywhere so I still consider this hallowed ground. It's a quiet sanctuary, a good thinking place. I like that this tiny man is here guarding it.

If anyone knows which saint he is, I would really like to know.

There is still more wrapped up in vines, still more to uncover. Still more lions. I am actually in no hurry to clear it all away and give up all the mystery of what might be.

Chuck keeps watch over all of it.

-Kate 

A History Repeating

My obsession with finding out more about the original owners of our house began because I was convinced that our house was haunted. It absolutely looks like a house that would be haunted, and the fact that the previous owners moved out of this perfectly amazing house seemingly abruptly immediately signified to me that they were chased out by spirits, try as they might to convince me that it was more about the lack of central air. "Unsuspecting couple move into too good to be true old mansion only to be accosted by ghosts" is basically the plot of every horror movie I've ever seen. I just needed a little bit of history to ease my mind. Cory was already dead set on buying this house, so I knew he was going to make me live here no matter what.

Thankfully, I have seen nary a ghost and the dog seems to be perfectly content. Dogs can sense these things--something else I learned from horror movies. Our research has turned up nothing too shocking in the history of our house. What is surprising is the connections we seem to have to the first people who lived here.

We should go back to the beginning, to the man who started it all. 

A.R. Wilson at his desk in the ALICO building. Image Source.

A.R. Wilson at his desk in the ALICO building. Image Source.

A. R. Wilson moved from Richmond, Virginia, to Waco in 1910--just a week after marrying his wife, Gertrude--to work at Amicable Life Insurance Co. (ALICO). That same year, the ALICO building was erected to become the tallest building on this side of the Mississippi River for a brief period of time, and it still stands today as a local landmark. Mr. Wilson became president of the company in 1920. He built our house in 1926.

This is where things get really interesting. A few months ago, Cory went to a bank auction on the local courthouse steps and purchased 1919 Columbus, a foreclosure property, as an investment. He does these things. After making vast improvements to the house, he just sold it last week. Imagine my surprise when I came across this article from 1914 about A. R. Wilson, wherein it states that his home was located at 1919 Columbus Street. Of course, the actual house that he lived in was long gone, a new one in its place, but what are the odds that we would come to own two of Mr. Wilson's homesteads? It's kind of poetic how the money from the sale of one of his homes will spur on the renovation of another.

The coincidences don't end there. My mother was describing our house to her friend Nancy, who grew up in Waco in the 1940s. Nancy said she knew exactly the house that my mother was describing. Her cousin Carol lived there with her grandparents. As it turns out, Nancy's cousin Carol is the granddaughter of A. R. Wilson. She still lives in Waco, and we have invited her over. We can't wait to get a firsthand account of what it was like to live here 70 years ago, what is the same, and what has changed.

With a near century-old house, we know there are thousands of stories about it and the people who lived here. What we didn't expect to find was all of the physical evidence and in the strangest places. Our first few discoveries date all the way back to when the Wilson family first lived here.

While doing demo work in our master bathroom, we found our first artifact--a can of paint inside the wall. Based on the design of the can itself and the prominence of the Devoe brand in the 1920s, we're fairly certain that this is the house paint from the days of original construction. Devoe Paints was the first American paint brand, originating in 1754, and the company still exists today. The twenties saw the advent of the ever-popular lead-based house paint, but this particular paint is actually zinc-based. While I take some comfort in this, I will continue to harbor a healthy fear of lead poisoning until everything in this house has been freshly painted over.

We inherited a full attic, a few things from the previous owners and the owners before them and perhaps the owners before them. Cory found this little envelope tucked inside a dusty magazine amongst it all. He opened it to find a fragile train ticket from December of 1925, the remnant of a trip from Tennessee to Texas. There's really no way for us to know the identity of the passenger, but when I look at it, I picture Mr. Wilson on a business trip, briefcase in one hand and this ticket in the other.

And inside the laundry room wall was found this crumpled piece of paper--a baggage ticket from a ship. Apparently, Mrs. A.R. Wilson was quite a traveler, sailing from New York to France in June of 1921. I imagine this tag was once attached to some really fabulous piece of luggage. It's kind of wonderful to think about this little piece of paper traveling with her to Europe and all the way back again. It obviously meant something to her, being kept for five years and brought to her new home in 1926. Who knows what chain of events put it inside the wall.

Finding these treasures so by accident has made us both vigilant and careful as we deconstruct parts of the house and build anew. Every floorboard we move, every wall we come crashing through could be filled with little pieces of wonderment from the past.

We will be archiving it all.

-Kate

The House

We came upon an iron fence beyond which was a sprawling lawn beyond which was the house. The first story was barely visible for the forest of shrubs and trees overgrown around it. The shingles around the weathered chimneys were sliding away. It was perfect.

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It was also not for sale, but my husband could not be stopped by that technicality. He tracked down the owner and mailed him a letter filled with all the reasons why we needed this house. This to me seemed pretty bold. You can't just ask someone if you can buy their house right out from under them, I thought. And even if they could get past the audacity of this request, certainly they wouldn't want to sell this magical house. I was not hopeful. While we waited to hear something, we took daily trips to "visit" the house, which was really just us parking in front of it until we thought neighbors were becoming suspicious. We would just sit and look at it, talk about what we thought the inside looked like, and I would dream about living on the other side of the fence.

Weeks later, we got a phone call. The owner told Cory it was a good thing that we were in our twenties because this house needed young people with a lot of energy. He and his wife had purchased the house eleven years earlier with the intention of fixing it up. They lived there for a few years and then moved to the house next door still hoping to continue to the project. But the older they got, the bigger the house seemed for two people and the less they cared to do all of the work it would take to improve it. The only reason they hadn't put it up for sale is that they wanted to know their neighbors, to know that they were good people. And I guess they thought we were because they sold it to us.

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The house was built in 1926 and last renovated in the early 1960s. It has been vacant for five years, collecting dust and falling into disrepair. There is virtually nothing in this house that doesn't need work. It's been waiting for us, and now we're making a home in the wildland.

wildland n.  a wild, uncultivated, and uninhabited area

People have called us a lot of things when they see the gravity of this project. Ambitious. Brave. Crazy. At different times, I feel like all of these things. I definitely feel crazy when I'm sitting in what is for now the only inhabitable space in our 4500-square-foot home--a 12 x 12 bedroom where we eat, sleep, and basically do all of our living. Renovating this house is an enormous undertaking that we don't expect to finish any time soon. We're taking it step by step, room by room, and someday we'll have the dream house we could see the first time we saw this dilapidated old mansion.

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And so begins all of the work that has inspired this blog, which will not only document the progress of our renovation but will also be a collection of design inspiration, projects, and ideas.

It's going to be quite a journey.

-Kate