The Old Lake Highlands home on Woodgrove Drive was one of the last lots left on the street. Its steep grade change, curved plot, and enormous 90-year-old American Elm with low-lying branches stymied most other architects and builders. Architects with Ju-Nel viewed it as a creative challenge. They partnered with architect and homeowner BJ Swango to design and build it, employing Ju-Nel’s low-pitched roofing to accommodate the tree branches.
|Cathy, Lexie, Bryce, and Bob Wolff in their home once owned by Walter Hendl, DSO conductor in the ’40s and ’50s. The South African wood paneling was also used on the kitchen cabinetry. Smooth, classic wood was a Ju-Nel favorite.|
10449 Vinemont St. I’m not Aquarius, but I should be for how I am drawn to water. Lakes, creeks, puddles, a dripping faucet. Whatever. The point is my aquatic East Coast nature demands personal proximity to water. The Texan I married underestimated my will in that regard for our first seven years together, remaining quite content to raise our family in our M Streets duplex. Battle lines were drawn. He dug in his feet while I enlisted his mom’s real estate agent. My quiet quest for homeownership was thus waged, coincidentally one very wet Sunday six years ago.
Pulling up to one home, our agent said, “Christine, you probably won’t like this—it’s contemporary.” (That’s because I had droned on about wanting a 1920s tudor in Lakewood.) But this 1961 contemporary gave me pause. It was perched high on a hill and surrounded by immense oaks and cedars. The front-facing wall was mostly large gray stone, and plate glass windows spanned and followed the low-pitched roofline. But the best part was its long, lake house-like, lofted front porch replete with creaking, knocking deck boards. Though it flanked a courtyard, it may as well have been a fishing pier. I swear I heard waves lapping.
|As needed, Ju-Nel custom-designed Japanese suji screens on the job. The screen pattern seen in the foreground is repeated in and outside the house. The background screen of natural wood is a sliding partition door. The five dining room lights are original ceramic fixtures. Owner Cathy Wolff has a fondness for them above everything else in her house. "They seemed to be a perfect fit for the original teak table and buffet purchased by my parents in Germany in 1964 after they were married," she says. The U-shaped floor plan is designed around an interior courtyard.|
10476 Silverock Dr.
Low-pitched roof, extended soffits, and exterior Japanese screens are signature Ju-Nel elements.
ABOVE, LEFT: Beams connecting the home to the courtyard help define space. Entryway steps are made of terrazzo, which was used throughout the home’s flooring. Outdoor plants courtesy of Redenta’s Garden Shop. ABOVE,RIGHT: Lyle Rowley, one of Ju-Nel’s two founding partners.
We merged forces, my husband and I, and made an offer nearly on the spot. We followed that up with a love letter to the sellers, promising to preserve the home and their sense of style. To some this might appear overzealous and poorly negotiated. But I’m telling you the house wasn’t even listed yet, and they had two standing offers. We acted fast and won the home of both our dreams.
Amazing in itself, we agreed on the home. Even better is that on move-in day we were greeted by our architect neighbor and his wife with a cooler of beer and the comment, “You have no idea what a gem of a home you have—it’s a Ju-Nel.” His beer supply was plentiful, his Ju-Nel knowledge not so much. I pestered architects and fellow Ju-Nel homeowners for six years to learn more and have since unearthed Ju-Nel’s untold history.
First, there are only about 50 Ju-Nel homes. Each one is different. Almost all are in Eastwood Estates, Casa Linda, Old Lake Highlands, and Lake Highlands. They were designed and built by Lyle Rowley and Jack Wilson who got their start working for famed Dallas architect Howard Meyer on Temple Emanu-El and 3525 Turtle Creek.
10029 Woodgrove Dr. With his influence and that of Frank Lloyd Wright inspiring them, the builder/architect duo left Meyer and opened Ju-Nel Homes in 1958. Rowley left Ju-Nel in ’63, and Wilson continued until ’78, but the mission never altered: Shatter the 1950s mold of boxy, ranch-style homes, and offer contemporary home designs with open floor plans instead. As Rowley, now 82, said, “We designed our homes that way because it appealed to us. We didn’t go into it knowing this would happen, but our open floor plans brought families together.” (Translation: White Rock moms were freed from their kitchen solitude!)
|Homeowners Montana Walsh and Jennifer Posner.|
Banks didn’t agree with their mission, however, and were reticent to make them loans. In the early going, Ju-Nel built spec homes, which attracted architects and other creatively inclined people to buy or make contracts with Ju-Nel Homes. Some of Dallas’s brightest creative stars, including Stan Richards (owner of The Richards Group), Kim Dawson (owner of Kim Dawson Modeling Agency) and Walter Hendl (Dallas Symphony Orchestra conductor in the late 1940s), were early Ju-Nel homeowners. Author and philanthropist Hazael Beckett awarded Ju-Nel their biggest contract to build her 15,000-square-foot, three-building “wildlife refuge”* in Sunnyvale.
Long before sustainable design and energy efficiency were on anyone’s radar, Rowley and Wilson were there. They embraced sloped lots and custom-designing floor plans around natural elevation changes. Rowley’s and Wilson’s wives, Julie and Nelda (hence the name Ju-Nel,) sometimes questioned their husbands’ unbending resolve to preserve the natural landscape. When the foursome visited the lake house lot that Jack and Lyle bought for themselves, Julie took one at the site’s cliff and exclaimed, "Lyle, you bought pure air!"
|Side-by-side brick flooring and a corner, copper-topped fireplace with a petrified wood bench are main features of this Ju-Nel home. When it was originally built, it did not include a downstairs den, or "gallery," at right, done later to continue the original design through similar hardwoods and beams. All artwork is original by homeowner Walsh.|
Their mid-century approach to home design proved timeless. Art enthusiasts and conservationists live in them now just as they did at the time they were built. I and my fellow Ju-Nel homeowners are pretty smug about our little finds nestled here in the hills of White Rock Lake. The Ju-Nel Club is small and devout. With a little luck and good timing, you just might find your way in. Just be sure to have a nice love letter at bidding time.
|ABOVE: Large rock in the exterior walls and heavily treed lots are
indicative of the Ju-Nel style.
RIGHT: A mosaic of tiles in midnight blue and metallic gold make the fireplace and hearth stand out. Wood paneling made of a smooth South African wood was a Ju-Nel favorite. No longer available, it was cheaper than mahogany at the time.
Ju-Nel Home Trademarks
• Low-pitched roof
• Plate-glass windows following roofline
• Soffits frequently with cutouts for nearby trees
• Large rocks used in exterior walls
• Adobe brick (which offers
greater color variety)
• “Texture 111”—wood accent walls
• Sloped, irregular, and/or heavily treed lots
• Contemporary lighting fixtures
• Open floor plans
• Vaulted ceilings
• Terrazzo, copper, teak, and slate
• Cutouts in walls
• Japanese-inspired screens
• Two-way fireplaces
• Jack-and-Jill bathrooms
• Floor-to-ceiling windows
• Abundant outdoor views and natural light