Randall Edmiston found building within a conservation district was full of rewards
When Randall Edmiston moved to Dallas from San Francisco, he wanted to live in a neighborhood that had the urban charms he had come to enjoy a place where you could live near work and walk to restaurants, shopping and other amenities.
And the M Streets off Lower Greenville Avenue fit the bill.
“This was one of the few areas I found where I could do all that,” he says. “The homes were not super-expensive, although they are going up, but you can be close to work and park your car and walk to places. The key there is walking being able to eliminate your car is a great concept.”
Edmiston also found himself smack-dab in the middle of a conservation district an older neighborhood that is officially recognized by the city as having a specific character to the homes.
The idea of conservation districts is to preserve the historic look of a neighborhood and prevent cookie-cutter “Plano mansions” from cropping up. But for a builder, they present challenges.
And Edmiston has always enjoyed a good challenge.
Edmiston’s new company, Randall Ross Design Build, had already renovated two American Craftsman-style houses in the nearby Vickery Place neighborhood, itself a conservation district. But while he loved the classic lines and forms of the design, he realized that the format had its drawbacks for people who enjoy more spacious homes. How, then, could he construct a roomy house in a conservation district that prohibited McMansions?
It turned out to be easier than he thought.
“You have to do your homework and make sure you understand what the requirements are,” he says, but appreciating the neighborhood’s character made it simple to achieve (although he admits it did cost him slightly more to build as a result of the requirements).
There were some missteps. He originally had designed a portico-chere but was told that while the district would permit it, the building code did not. “Then three months in to building, I heard they approved portico-cheres. It’s a very fluid building environment.”
He also had to tear out the walkway and replace it with one approved by the district, although he says it was not a big deal and it was also the right thing to do.
“It was one of the first homes to be built under the conservation district guidelines and I thought it appropriate to do it as a Craftsman. Beyond that, I thought there was a market for people who liked classic lines but an interior that was even more contemporary than what most builders are doing.”
The fun for Edmiston was updating a look that has been well-established for a century.
“The Craftsman style stood out to me as the house that had a friendly type of look,” he says of the design, which includes clean lines, porches and natural materials in a sturdy structure. But it has its drawbacks.
Interiors are typically small, and the single-story form limits usable space. And because Craftsman homes in the area were built mostly in the 1920s, the older homes lacked modern updates. Edmiston fixed all that.
He knew the McMansion craze meant he had to up the ante for living space. “A single-story house would not compete with a two-story home, especially if built on either side of it,” he says. “A lot of it grew out of what I didn’t like about brick two-story homes.”
He updated it by making it taller (there’s a second-story master suite in back), making the porch bigger and changing the motif on the outside. He raised the porch higher than usual and added lots of square footage to it, and put circular steps in the corner and created a front patio.
“Overwhelmingly, I have had people come through congratulating me on building something close in keeping with what that neighborhood looked like, but also fresh and interesting and so much bigger,” he says.
The Craftsman house is unique for Edmiston, who says he’s “really more of a modern kind of builder.” Indeed, after a Tudor renovation he’s currently working on, his next project will be what he described as an “urban oasis.” But working with the guidelines of a conservation district ended up being a wonderful experience for him.
“I found a mix of old and new that was invigorating for me and for the better of Vickery Place,” he says.
This article appeared in Defining Homes Magazine on November 9, 2007