Rodd Gray, pageant-winning female impersonator and professional hair stylist, puts down the make-up brushes and scissors and picks up the paint brush and jackhammer to remodel his Richardson home
Rodd Gray’s new neighbors in Richardson have embraced the former Miss Gay America in a way he never expected. The Richardson Heights Neighborhood Association already informed him that this year’s Christmas party will be at his house. In fact, the only neighbors not thrilled having Gray — aka Patti le Plae Safe — in the area is one of the gay ones.
“They’re not the neighborhood’s favorite gays anymore,” Gray explained.
Gray purchased a four-bedroom home just north of Spring Valley Road in May 2015. In the about 16 months since then, he has turned the 1961-era home into a showplace.
The house had been home to eight people. Gray said there were bunk beds in the garage; there was a restroom sign on the bathroom door, and church had been held in the house on Sundays.
Gray decided to drastically change the floor plan. He gained space by tearing down walls to remove dark hallways and combine two bedrooms into one master. He replaced a wall between the kitchen and dining room with a long counter, and both the kitchen and dining area now open to the living room.
Gray added light by adding windows throughout the house, Putting in double sliding glass doors from the master bedroom to the fenced backyard brought in even more light. But to add the windows and doors, he had to replace load-bearing walls with new support beams. And to accommodate five square, evenly-spaced windows, he had to move column beams.
None of the home’s closets remained in their original place. But now the master bedroom’s closet has enough space to keep Carrie Bradshaw happy.
“It’s big enough to be used as an office,” Gray said.
One bedroom’s closet intruded into the bathroom. So Gray appropriated that space to make a new shower, built a linen closet inside the bathroom and turned the old hall linen closet into the smaller bedroom’s new closet.
Kitchen fixtures come from Ikea. But the two bathroom vanities — industrial steel tables — Gray built himself in his welding class. When the plumber came to install the drain from the sink, he wasn’t sure how he was going to hide the plumbing. Gray explained the pipes would be exposed and he’d have to use polished metal.
“We need to use pretty stuff, not plastic,” he told the plumber.
Gray’s welding teacher was so impressed with how the vanities turned out, teacher and student are starting a new business this winter making free-standing, open-faced steel bathroom vanities.
The floor throughout the house is now stained concrete. But to get there, Gray jackhammered out the old floor tile until he got down to the slab. Then he poured a porcelain finish that he spread with a trowel. The liquid flowed across the floor to make a smooth finish with the cement showing in places where the floor was a little higher. The entire surface was covered with a hand wax finish.
“It looks like carrera marble,” Gray said.
The kitchen features an island with a counter that matches the floor, made by Artisan Decocrete, a McKinney company that had been featured on HGTV. When Gray first contacted them, they were apprehensive about making the piece. Not only was it the largest countertop they had ever produced, but they’d never worked with the porcelain finish Gray used.
Under the kitchen counters, he installed drawers rather than cabinets, because with drawers, “I don’t have to get down on my knees,” Gray explained. “I’m too old to get down on my knees.”
Gray has done most of the work himself, and “What code didn’t allow me to do myself, I hired [out],” he said. That included the plumbing, electrical and air conditioning.
Because he wanted to use some corrugated metal siding as an accent to the exterior and use the siding to cover the garage, which juts out into the fenced backyard, he hired a professional to do that as well. City code didn’t prevent him from using the corrugated siding, but inspectors objected to an industrial material being used in a residential area. Gray pleaded his case to the Richardson City Council and won.
He also got help from Howard Okon, former owner of The Brick, who gave him advice and referrals.
“Howard was amazing support for this project. A big shoulder,” Gray said.
For such a major project, before issuing permits, Richardson wanted to see plans. As a gift for all of the fundraising Gray has done for the community over the years, Okon had his architect draw up professional plans to submit to the city.
As amazing as it is that the pageant-winning female impersonator and professional hairdresser did the jackhammering, welding and rebuilding of load-bearing walls himself, is how he made the time to do this much work.
“I did it after work, days off and when not working on a charity event,” Gray said.
As he’s finishing construction on his own house, it looks like his time will be consumed with more projects. His work spurred both of his next-door neighbors to remodel their kitchens, and a neighbor down the street has decided to do a makeover and has asked Gray to stop by to give them ideas for their redo.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2016.