Highland Park transplants find Italianate Zen in the ’hood

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Mike and Becky Casey raised their three children in a 1929 Highland Park mansion. A few years ago, they found themselves empty nesters amid 6,500 square feet of 80-year-old house. They say they were tired of checking the sump pump in their basement every time it rained and otherwise maintaining the beautiful but aging home. Besides, they wanted to find a new perspective, a next chapter. “We weren’t ready for high-rise living,” Becky says. “We’re still young.” So after 36 years in the HP, the Caseys replanted here in OC.

After putting contracts on two Oak Cliff houses that sold quickly to other buyers, the Caseys found their 2,600-square-foot Tuscan-style home in East Kessler. “We were so disappointed, and then we found this house, which is way better than the others. It’s perfect for us,” Becky says. Its previous owners, Todd Fiscus and Rob Dailey, put it on the market one day in June 2011, and the Caseys snapped it up. They put in a contract the same day.

“We feel very lucky,” Becky says.

The home’s L-shaped floor plan faces a veranda with comfy chairs around the fireplace, a dining table and a daybed. A fountain in the shady courtyard sets a tone for the home’s energy. Its informality enhances its elegance.

Jim Martinez and Jim Fissel built the house in 1994 on land they bought from the adjacent neighbor. Theirs was the first home ever built on that lot.

“The people who lived here before us had such vision,” Becky says. “All we did was move in.”

The term “Tuscan architecture” can evoke eye rolls because of overuse to tacky extreme all over suburban Texas. But this is not that. There is no terrazzo tile or any kind of fake fresco. The simple white stucco façade arrows up to a red tile roof. Tiered gardens in front feature dogwood trees and mostly white-blooming plants. Interior archways are impeccably designed.

“We just marvel at it,” Mike says. “The way they worked with the natural light, the way it catches the sunlight. It doesn’t look like a new home in an old neighborhood.”

Becky traveled to Italy and the Far East in her 30-plus years with her family’s fashion company, Harold’s Stores Inc. Much of the home’s décor is based on things she picked up on those trips. The Caseys sold some of their furniture from the Highland Park house in an estate sale. Some furniture went to their vacation home in East Texas.

“We really had to edit,” Mike says.

One piece of furniture they kept is the Harold’s boardroom table, which serves perfectly as their dining-room table. Becky had considered selling it before they found their East Kessler house. Now this relic of her family’s 50-year history in retail is a part of their everyday life.

The Caseys bought the previous owners’ custom headboard, which is upholstered in orangey red velvet.

“We never really thought of ourselves as red-velvet headboard kind of people,” Becky says. “But it works so well in this room.”

The home’s carved-wood doors and windows are “probably Mexican,” Becky says. “But everyone always says Moroccan.”

The best part about their home, as the Caseys and so many of us say, is the neighborhood. A few weeks after they moved in, the East Kessler Neighborhood Association had a party a few doors down. About 120 people came and went throughout the night — old, young, singles, families, gay, straight. The diversity impressed them, and they had a great time getting to know their neighbors.

“We walked home that night and said, ‘We’re really in the right place,’ ” Mike recalls.

Mike is chairman of Grand Bank of Texas, which has a branch at Zang and Colorado, and he says living in the neighborhood allows him to support small businesses and develop personal relationships with customers. The Caseys had hung out in Bishop Arts plenty, as Parkies will, but they say that after moving here, the sense of community touched them.

“I never realized how much pride people have in their neighborhood here,” Mike says. “They have a real commitment to their community.”

And there’s always something fun to do. They say their Highland Park friends are always eager to visit.