Defining Homes • Super (re)model

Remodeler Chris Sandlin says slow your roll before that redux

Wingren-Kitchen-5By Jonanna Widner

As a third-generation homebuilder and remodeler, it’s no surprise that Chris Sandlin opted out of a journalism career and instead chose the family business. He made the change in 2005 and with such a history of the industry in his blood already, Sandlin brings a fairly unique perspective to the market.

“I’m 30 years old, which is relatively young compared to others in my position,“ he says. “But I put a lot of time and energy into the right team of workers and sub-contractors to customers’ homes so the end result lives up to what the homeowners deserve. As a gay business owner, I’m happy in providing stellar home services to the community.”

Before moving forward with that remodel, Sandlin says to think before demolishing.

Wingren-Master-Bath-2Know when to remodel: “I commonly work with homeowners to determine whether it makes more sense to remodel or move. I approach each situation openly and honestly, and try my best to suggest what I think would be best, even if that means I don’t win the job.”

Remodel before selling: “This is usually the case with older homes that have not been remodeled recently. Homeowners accept my guidance for what sells. I have a good combination of experience in the homebuilding and real estate industry.

“There is a catch-22 here. If the house sells quickly, homeowners in won’t have time to experience the finished remodel project which tends to be the kitchen or master bath.”

“This can happen very easily. Most $250,000 homes do not need a $50,000 bathroom redo, nor does a $300,000 home need a $100,000 commercial grade kitchen. A wide variety of factors need to be considered, including how long they plan to stay in the home, what’s the budget, how it adds to the home’s value.“

Budget help: “When in the budgeting/planning phase with homeowners, research the values of nearby homes, especially with remodels. This has been helpful in concrete figures regarding their remodel, as well as experienced conjectures about how the remodel will affect the home’s future value.”

Don’t rush the details:  ”Too many homeowners want to rush into their project without a clear vision. Step back, assess the project and come up with a plan. With that, the end result will be everything the homeowner wants. Rushing into it without a plan will only result in more time, money and headaches.”

Going green: “This is an area I take pride in. As a certified green professional through the National Association of Homebuilders, I integrate green philosophies and I want to minimize waste factor and landfill component as much as possible.”

“I started making many green features as my standard a long time ago because I feel it’s the right way to build and remodel. I’m happy to see more homeowners interested in these options.”

DIY:  “I’m happy to help prepare homeowners for what they would encounter if doing it on their own. Sometimes it works out just fine, with small jobs that don’t require licensed tradesmen or city permits. When it comes to larger jobs, people need to know if they honestly have the time to do this in addition to the day job.”DH

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.



















—  Kevin Thomas


After success at running Fashion Optical, Morgan Gianni sets his sights on a new path: Designing an eyewear line

FROM DRAWING BOARD TO YOUR FACE | Gianni started out sketching frames inspired by specific clients; two years later, the finished products are for sale at his shop, Fashion Optical.

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

If you’ve ever asked somebody local where they got their really cool eyeglasses, chances are good their response will be Fashion Optical. Already a mainstay in the gay business community, the Oak Lawn optical shop has become a favorite of some of Dallas’ best-known celebs, from TV stars to football players to fashion icons and debutantes.

Every frame in the store’s vast selection of hip and trendy eyewear is handpicked for each client from one man, who can almost instantly match a client by the perfect pair when they walk through the door.

Having a flair for fashion has always been a part of who Morgan Gianni is. As the only boy in clothing construction class in high school, he knew he was different. But he also knew he was good, and any adversity he experienced only made him stronger and more determined.

“I marched to my own drummer,” he says with a laugh.

In 2006, he and his partner, optometrist Randy Atwood, added the optical shop next door to their just-leased optometrist office and combined the two into one venture: Fashion Optical. Within five years, they amassed more than $7 million in sales, thanks to the ability of customers to see the eye doctor, pick out frames and have their complete glasses manufactured all in the same place.

Fashion Optical has become one of the top places in the city to pick up unique frames from unique and edgy designers like Alexander McQueen, Versace, Emilio Pucci, Tom Ford and Alain Mikli. But this year, a new designer line debuted that will forever change the store’s future — and the destiny of Gianni himself, who designed each and every one.

The m.GIANNI Collection is already selling fast, though the design and manufacturing process has been going on for well over a year.

The first two collections, Gianni says, will all be sunglasses, but expansion into traditional eyewear is the next logical progression. To create the line, Gianni often imagined specific friends and clients while working on the designs, even naming them after his inspirations. Utilizing the highest quality Mazzucchelli acetate, each frame is handmade in Japan. Unique color combinations and high-fashion accents like Swarovski crystals make each pair a showstopper.

“When I design, just like when I’m buying, I’m picturing in my mind who this is going to look good on,” Gianni says. “I was inspired by all these fashion shows I’ve done. I noticed that other designers’ frames were way too heavy, too wide or the bridges didn’t fit. I wanted to change that.”

Gianni started with 161 sketches that eventually became the 17 models featured in the current collection, each coming in three colors or finishes.

“It’s a really long process,” he admits. “I sketched out charcoal drawings, then I converted everything to millimeters and then I turned them into graphic illustrations for a look book to help shop for manufacturers.”

Once he had a manufacturer he trusted with his design vision, he fine-tuned his designs, keeping a few key principles in mind.

“I wanted everything to be original and I wanted everything to fit. There’s a universal fit: If you study anatomy, you realize there are averages between the brow bone and the cheekbone. Some people don’t take that into consideration,” he says.

The line features styles for women, men and a few unisex options; each can be fitted with prescription lenses.

“I know what customers like and I have the credibility to make that statement. Different facial shapes call for different frame shapes,” he says. In fact, it’s his experience working on the optical side of the business that helps him stand apart from other eyewear designers. By working day in and day out with clients to find the perfect fit, he’s able to translate that knowledge into creating designs that would flatter.

Bringing the first m.GIANNI Collection line to life is just one accomplishment of many to come. Not just a hit with customers, it’s been getting attention from some of the biggest names in fashion.

“I have been approached to design eye wear by Jean-Paul Gaultier Eyewear to be sold at the exhibit of his collection as it travels from museum to museum,” Gianni says. “As you can quite imagine, I’m very excited by this possibility.”

Spoken like somebody with a future so bright, he’s gotta wear shades. But like few others on the planet, they’ll be his own creations.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Union Jack celebrates 40th anniversary

JUST JACK  |  Union Jack owner Richard Longstaff stands behind the counter of his Cedar Springs Road store, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in August. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Cedar Springs store may be oldest gay-owned business still operating under original owner — who still retains British citizenship

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

In August, Union Jack, the clothing store on Cedar Springs Road, celebrates 40 years in business. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the store will run weekly specials through August.

Owner Richard Longstaff said his business is the oldest gay business with continuous ownership under the same name. He said Club Dallas may have been in business longer, but the name has changed as well as the ownership.

Longstaff opened Union Jack in 1971 on Hillcrest Avenue across from Southern Methodist University. About a year later, he began looking for a new location and moved to Cedar Springs Road because gays started moving to the area and, he said, because it was just a nice place to be.

Union Jack’s history

When Longstaff moved Union Jack to Oak Lawn, he said his was the only gay business on the street. Lobo bookstore was already there, but wasn’t a gay business at the time, he said, adding that he isn’t even sure if its owner was out yet.

But back then, Lobo, which in its later years was mostly known for selling gay porn videos and magazines, was originally a bookstore specializing in Texas history.

Other stores on the street didn’t particularly welcome Union Jack, a store that always marketed to the gay community, Longstaff said.

At the time, surrounding businesses included a pool hall where TapeLenders now stands and the Old Warsaw restaurant, located approximately where the Round-Up Saloon is today.

Across the street were a laundry where JR.’s is, an office supply store, a grocery and Adairs.

“Adair’s was a redneck bar,” Longstaff said. “They had a hard time adjusting to the street turning gay.”

As a gay Pride promotion, Longstaff once put two go-go boys and a drag queen in his store window. The folks at Adairs called the police.

The officers who answered the call thought the drag queen was a woman and realized the go-go boys were appropriately dressed, so Longstaff was allowed to continue his promotion.

Adairs finally gave up and moved, he said.

Back when Union Jack moved to the strip, a grocery stood where TMC: The Mining Company is now.

“There was never much on the shelves,” Longstaff said. “The grocery was a front for drug dealers.”

The grocery closed and reopened but was actually a Dallas Police Department drug sting operation.

Slowly other gay businesses moved onto the street. The Bronx opened in 1975. Under Arrest, which later became Nuvo, shared the space. Frank Caven opened his first Cedar Springs bar, called The Candy Store, in the mid-70s. TapeLenders opened in 1980, renting Beta tapes.

In 1989, a fire that began in the Gay Community Center next door to Union Jack destroyed much of that side of the street.

Union Jack moved to a temporary space next to Crossroads Market. Longstaff said that although the store was a total loss, regular deliveries continued arriving. Within two weeks, he had enough merchandise to reopen.

Rebuilding took about 18 months. He said the insurance company dragged its feet in paying claims, and that the Round-Up Saloon experienced the same delay.

Longstaff said both he and the building’s owner were underinsured. His insurance barely covered his loss, he said.

“We scurried around to buy used racks,” he said. “The store looked like crap but we knew it was a temporary location. Business fell off 50 percent.”

Longstaff would have preferred that the space beExa rebuilt with higher ceilings, he said, but insurance wouldn’t cover that. He said that when the new store opened, for the first time it looked like a professional retail establishment.

During his 40 years in business, Longstaff has relied on his own marketing sense. The store sold bellbottoms in 1971. He became Levi’s biggest vendor for 501s.

The farm and ranch line became popular in the gay community.

“We were selling 1,000 pair a month,” he said. “We were washing them before Levi washed them themselves.”
He had a commercial washing machine in the back to preshrink the denims to fit.

By the time of the fire, Levi was pre-washing 501s so the new store wasn’t outfitted with washers.

As 501s became common in mall stores, sales dropped at Union Jack and a few years ago, Longstaff said, he discontinued carrying the line.

Today, Longstaff likes to distinguish his store with products that are American-made by gay-owned companies. His store manager, Kim Johnson, said probably 18 of the brands they carry fall into that category including Andrew Christian, Pistol Pete, Guillermo and YMLA.

Longstaff’s history

Longstaff was born in Great Britain and came to this country in 1965. He first lived in Norman, Okla., where a former boyfriend from England was teaching.

That boyfriend sponsored him for a green card, something impossible since immigration laws were changed in 1968.

“At the time, immigration was open to northern Europeans,” he said.

Longstaff went to work for Braniff in the cargo department and moved to Dallas when he decided to open a retail store. For the first couple of years after opening Union Jack, he continued working for the airline.

Although getting his green card was easy, his attempt to become a U.S. citizen took more than eight years and went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Longstaff said he filled out the forms and went to immigration with two witnesses. The witnesses were interviewed and then Longstaff was questioned.

He said he was asked three times if he was a homosexual, each time louder and louder, the third time with a slam of the fist on the desk.

“Rather than perjure myself or show lack of candor, I answered,” he said. “Then they tried to pin me down.”

He admitted to having sex in Colorado — where it was legal — but had a sudden lapse of memory about where any other encounters may have taken place.

“Judge Joe Estes screamed and shouted at me,” Longstaff said, and the judge told immigration officers to find some reason to deny him citizenship.

The case was appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the denial of citizenship based on Longstaff having a psychopathic personality. Immigration law used the term and meant it to include gays and lesbians.

The American Psychological association, however, had recently changed its definition, so Rep. Barney Frank co-sponsored a law with Wyoming Republican Alan Simpson to remove homosexuality from the legal definition of psychotic personality in immigration law.

Based on that new law, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which denied hearing the case on the grounds that it would affect too few people.

Rep. Mickey Leland, who represented the Montrose area of Houston where Longstaff’s second store was located, challenged immigration officials. He asked if they were going to deport this business owner. He also had legislation prepared to keep Longstaff in the country if immigration officials did begin deportation procedures.

Immigration backed down and made a deal that they would return Longstaff’s green card if he agreed not to apply for citizenship again.

The story made international news, which is how he came out to his family when the story appeared in British newspapers.

Although achieving the status of owning the oldest gay business still owned by its original owner, Longstaff maintains his British citizenship to this day.

—  John Wright

Nowlin would be Dallas’ 1st gay council member since Oakley stepped down in 2007

In Friday’s Voice we reported that gay business owner and attorney James Nowlin is planning to run for the District 14 seat on the Dallas City Council, assuming that incumbent Angela Hunt steps down to run for mayor.

If he wins the seat, Nowlin would become the city’s first openly gay council member since Ed Oakley, who vacated his District 3 seat in 2007 to run for mayor – a race he lost to Tom Leppert in a runoff.

Oakley’s departure meant that for the first time since 1993, the council didn’t have an openly gay member. But thanks to some strong allies on the council, as well as Leppert’s openly gay chief of staff, the sky hasn’t fallen.

Still, with 14 representatives plus the mayor on the council in the nation’s ninth-largest city, it makes sense for Dallas to have at least one openly gay councilperson. And Nowlin certainly seems like a qualified and viable candidate.

Among other things, we’re impressed with Nowlin’s candidness about his sexual orientation. He hasn’t at all shied away from interviews with the Voice, and he states plainly on his campaign website that, “James and his partner, John, live in Lakewood Heights and attend Cathedral of Hope as well as Unity Church of Christianity.”

Anyhow, following our story, Nowlin sent out an e-mail on Saturday formally announcing his candidacy and requesting donations. We’ve posted the full text of the e-mail after the jump.

—  John Wright