A dilapidated, historic home is painstakingly restored to recapture a forgotten era in Austin.
By Sue-Ella Mueller
That was how Katie and Jeff Bullard, principals of Avenue B Development, were first introduced to the Brady House. However, with a passion for renovating historic homes, the pair could see past the rundown conditions and outdated interior. Instead, they envisioned the home as it once was almost 100 years ago when another couple, Judge John Brady and his wife Nellie, had the home constructed.
“Austin has a limited historic inventory where houses are concerned,” says Katie Bullard. “We loved the 10 foot ceilings, the 1,400-square-foot wraparound porch and the fact that the original exterior had been preserved. It was one of the most spectacular houses we’ve seen. We put an offer on it the day it was listed because we knew what it could become.”
Bullard and her husband, the driving forces behind Avenue B Development, have been working together for more than 10 years. While Jeff’s background is in construction and remodeling, Bullard holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Virginia School of Architecture, as well as a professional certification in historic preservation. Together, the duo has recreated livable masterpieces throughout Austin.
The Brady House, a 3,000-square-foot, 1910s Arts and Crafts style home was yet another opportunity for the Avenue B team to tackle the challenges of paying homage to the past while employing the luxuries of today.
“There was no sheet rock on the walls and most of the trim had been removed (although saved in the basement), but the character had been maintained. Most of the original features including the majority of the windows with their wavy glass, which is spectacular, were still intact,” she says. “It’s in a great neighborhood and fortunately, the neighbors looked out for it.”
Located in the historic Judge’s Hill neighborhood known as Austin’s “original neighborhood,” not only is the home of historic relevance, but the original owners were also shrouded in an unusual past; one that included a political career gone bad, adultery and a murdered mistress.
Judge Brady, once a prominent attorney for Governor “Ma” Ferguson and later appointed as a justice of the court, went into a downward spiral after losing the election for a second term as judge. At 60, he became involved with another woman, but when he found her “in the company of other men” he stabbed her to death outside of her boarding house. His plea of insanity garnered him only three years in prison of which he only served two. Nellie remained by his side throughout the entire ordeal. Upon his release, the two continued to live in the home they built together until their deaths in the late 1940s.
Though the walls of the home can’t speak of the Brady’s turmoil, the foyer walls did offer Bullard a great deal of inspiration that played throughout the remainder of the downstairs.
“Whenever we start a restoration, I look for inspiration. There was still some fabric wallpaper on the wall. It was pretty traditional; it was a gray, silver and pink floral pattern. I didn’t want to put that exact wallpaper in the house, but I loved the color combination,” she says. “We don’t use a lot of wallpaper in our homes, but I thought it would be interesting here. I found a fretwork style that had a timeless, Moroccan pattern that’s been around for thousands of years. I wanted to bring that [timeless] feel into the foyer. It’s just a small area but it’s large enough to capture that era and that feel.” Bullard’s husband added a traditional nook for a mini-mudroom. “I used reindeer hooks on the coat niche just to add a little fun,” she says.
Just beyond the foyer sits an antique baby grand piano that came with the house.
Long time neighbors say it was once played by the singer songwriter Carole King (think You’ve Got a Friend) who rented the house sometime in the late 70s. Having sat in the house for years with no air conditioning or heat, the piano was in pretty bad shape. “We had it restored in Austin. It’s beautiful now. I sort of designed parts of the room around the piano actually. I wanted to bring the wood tones into the room. It’s the jewel of the house,” Bullard says.
The Avenue B team opted to keep the downstairs floor plan the same with the exception of opening up the dining room and kitchen. New sheet rock and paint were added to the living and dining rooms as well as having the original hardwood oak floors sanded and refinished. “We wanted to add drama to the dining room so we chose a deep raspberry for the walls and put in
a great “bling” chandelier,” says Bullard. The dramatic also comes into play in the downstairs bathroom with its turquoise, glass beaded wallpaper that she says, “makes you feel like you are inside a Tiffany’s box.”
But perhaps where the team focused most of their efforts was on the kitchen, the one room that had lost much of its original character due to renovations by previous owners. “It was relatively small and didn’t maximize the space. It also didn’t have the original hardwood floors or original windows,” says Bullard. With so much to work on in the kitchen, her historical knowledge and creativity kicked in to high gear.
“I wanted a modern take on a turn of the century kitchen,” Bullard explains. “We demolished the countertops and cabinets, then moved the peninsula to the opposite side and reoriented the cabinets. By moving it, we gained 50% more in cabinet and counter space.”
Reclaimed oak that had to be re-milled down to one and a quarter inches was brought in for the flooring and wood window frames were also installed to replicate the original windows. Custom-made, birch wood, shaker-style cabinets by RiverCity Cabinetry were mounted with open-faced, glass doors on the upper cabinets.
Picking back up with the colors in the foyer, Bullard says, “We painted the cabinets a light gray and kept the uppers glass which created, I think, a great dynamic. Traditionally, there wouldn’t have been a decorative backsplash, maybe a white backsplash at most. However, we chose a great white beveled arabesque tile by Mosaic Tile & Stone and used a gray grout so that the pattern would standout,” says Bullard. “The countertops are honed Carrara marble that would’ve been traditional during that time period.”
The Bertazzoni 36” gas range was also chosen with much thought. “The stove is a reproduction of a vintage style stove. The lines and feet are similar to what the Brady’s might have had, but this one still has all the modern amenities of today,” she says. With a hint of an industrial feel, stainless steel appliances, including a Frigidaire Pro® series refrigerator, were also employed in the kitchen and beyond to the breakfast room where a galvanized steel light fixture hangs. A deep, single basin, farmhouse sink with a white apron front creates a balance between the industrial and arts and crafts style.
But perhaps the most interesting piece in the kitchen is the custom-built vent hood. “It turned out great. It does serve a purpose, but I also think of it as a piece of art more than anything else.”
Unusual to the Austin area, the Brady House has a great, full height basement with windows. “I contemplated on where to put the laundry room. I didn’t want to sacrifice a bathroom upstairs, so in the end, we opted for the basement,” says Bullard. Knowing the climb up and down three flights of stairs would likely get tedious, the Avenue B team cut the trips in half by adding laundry chutes on both of the top floors. In addition to the laundry room, the basement also houses a den and small gym area.
Taking either one of the home’s two stairways leads to two master suites with private baths and a third bedroom and bathroom on the top floor. “Originally, there was only one bathroom upstairs as well as a laundry room. We refurbished the bathtub in the hall bathroom and created new master baths for the master suites,” she says. “With the new construction, again I wanted to combine traditional with modern.”
One of the masters has Carrara marble flooring, a pedestal tub and gray and white marble countertops. The shower tile is stacked laid instead of brick laid, creating a more modern pattern. In the second master bath, the Avenue B team used a reproduction hexagonal tile. “The black and white daisy pattern feels traditional even though the room was added.” In addition to the bathing suites, because of the way the team reconfigured the space, both rooms also have walk-in closets.
“I am proud of what we were able to do with this house. I think we were able to respect the original character of the house, but made modern improvements that are necessary to live today,” concludes Bullard.“I hope Judge Brady and his wife would’ve loved it. To me, it feels timeless.”