If These Walls Could Talk

My Personal Homecoming Story

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Today, as I write this we are all spending more time than ever at home. I am mindful of how important our home environment has become for all under the roof to feel safe, content, inspired and happy. Sharing this gift with others is so personal to me. This is a full-circle moment I’m compelled to share.

South Austin in the 1970s and 80s was a magical kind of bubble. Growing up here recalls a time where everyone was over-educated and underemployed, and the cost of living was low so there was not much need for anyone to have a “real job”. I am the youngest of nine siblings, and my mother and father built a house to accommodate us all. It was a five-bedroom ranch style brick home in a new and up-and-coming neighborhood in South Austin called Cherry Creek. There was a beautiful masonry sign indicating you had entered the neighborhood, and our house was one of the first built there on the highest lot available because my mother was concerned with floods.

 

Mary and Albert Worrel in the early 1970s

My father was a retired colonel whose last assignment had been as the base commander at Bergstrom Airforce base, located where the current Austin/Bergstrom International Airport is now. He had decided to go into residential real estate sales after retiring, but he really did not
work much. My sister and I were the last two babies in the family, and the only two children my parents had. My father had a daughter from another marriage, and my mother had six from her first, so when my sister Patience and I came along we were a novelty to our other much older siblings.

Growing up with parents who were both Greatest Generation (my father was born in 1915 and fought in WWII, and my mother was born in 1929 and had had a hard beginning living through The Great Depression) meant my sister and I were raised a bit differently than my friends. Their parents were mostly baby boomers and in the middle of their careers, while my mom and dad were both pretty much retired and home all the time.
My sister and I joke that we never realized till late in the game that people had to actually go out and work for a living every day. It seemed like a primitive concept, and when I realized I was going to have to take it up I was vaguely offended by the notion.

My mother was a lover of garage sales, and she was also a painter. Mary was her name. She taught my sister Patience and me that nothing was more important than education. She had been denied it, and she was fiercely determined that all of her children would get a college education, at least. All of them did, indeed. She was mostly self-educated, but her real gift was with people. People were drawn to her for her enthusiasm for life and her childlike interests both in the world and in them, personally. For years she worked as a tarot card reader. She would earn extra money by inviting people into our formal living room to read the crystal ball and “do readings” with them. She was so sincerely interested in helping them that it did not seem to matter much what she told them. They simply loved her and always came back for more.

Her creative spirit translated to an innate sense of how to put together a room. This also rubbed off on me! She was always buying and selling our household furniture as a hobby, and each time she would rearrange, she would create a new little world for us to inhabit. She would never allow us to have a television in any public places in the house, so we always had a room dedicated just to television watching. We called it the TV room (a precursor to today’s media room. Today I still prefer TV room). Mother wanted most of the home to be used for visiting with people.

Furniture was always placed for the best face-to-face communication and connection between people. It was also necessary that everyone have a comfortable spot–there was no perching on an uncomfortable chair. If you were in one of my mother’s rooms, there was going to be a piece of upholstered furniture for each adult in attendance! In our ever-evolving Cherry Creek home had a formal dining room, a formal living room, a bar seating area, a breakfast table and a den that opened to the kitchen. Every bedroom had at least one upholstered chair for a place to sit and visit, and the TV room had ample seating for all. I loved how the house would change according to her moods.

As much as mother loved to keep things in motion my father, Albert, loved order and cleanliness. He never watched any television! He was from another time, and his opinions showed it. He did most of the cooking for us and all the cleaning. (My mother’s interest in creating spaces did not extend to keeping them clean.) He kept the household running like clockwork. If you were not five minutes early to any appointment then you were late! I relished that order and reliability.

My father died when I was only just twelve, and I still miss him so much. He was absolutely fascinating to me. He had tanned, wrinkled skin from sun damage while he was stationed in the Congo during WWII. His sparkling clear light blue eyes would dance when he told stories. He kept his hair military short and greased back, and was quite a sharp dresser. I loved to watch him get ready and shave every morning. He smoked constantly, and I thought he held his cigarette perfectly like Cary Grant. Once my father passed away the house was always a bit untidy, but nothing stopped my mother from socializing and having parties, regardless.

As the years went by I got more into theater and ultimately English and art history, graduating from the University of Texas and moving to NYC in the mid 1990s. I worked at Christie’s Auction House, but found I didn’t enjoy the business side of auctions, so I took a new position as the front desk/administration person for Greenbaum Mann, a high end Architecture and Interior Design firm on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was a wonderful and civilized business, and I learned I had a knack for it, so I went back to school while working.

Then I landed an amazing position at Bilhuber and Associates and was designing and project managing before I had even tried my hand at the school part! It was both terrific and trial by fire, and I would not trade that experience for anything. I continued my studies in interior design at the NY School of Interior Design and Parsons and moved from Bilhuber to a position at Tom Scheerer Inc. where I was part of a growing firm, expanding from just the two of us initially to a staff of seven in a studio overlooking Union Square.

All three firms I worked in taught me so much, and the clients we worked with were exacting and demanding but the work was incredibly rewarding and I had the time of my life!

Once I had married my husband Robert, and we had two small children, I left Tom Scheerer Inc. and went out on my own. I worked for about two more years in NYC, then following September 11th, eventually the call of family and a potentially more relaxed lifestyle drew me back to my roots in Texas. I found that I missed the sound of the pink crushed granite under foot that you hear walking around the Town Lake trail. I even missed the cicadas–and the grackles–and the pecan trees! It was time to come home.

Shortly after returning home and launching Amity Worrel & Co. Interior Design in Austin in 2012 my mother passed away. Ultimately, my family of four decided to move to the home where I had been raised on Cherry Creek. The house needed updates, as it had fallen into some disrepair with my elderly mom not wanting to spend money on herself in her later years.

My husband and I decided to take it back to its former early 1970s glory! I had loved growing up in a house with lots of rooms to escape to and with ever-changing opportunities for socializing, lots of comfortable, upholstered furniture with areas that have their own personality and use.

Earlier this year, we moved in. Each kid is enjoying a new bedroom. We’re regularly cozied-in to the TV room where we gather at night to eat pizza and watch Star Trek. The den has a newly updated fireplace that opens onto a kitchen and breakfast room. The separate formal living and dining room off the attached entry hall stays prepared for visiting with company or stealing away with a good book while the other rooms take the wear and tear of family life.

We also have a comfortable master bedroom and the bonus of a mud room/laundry room off of a second master bedroom that we have turned into my husband’s study where he writes his sermons and sneaks naps.

The finishes were chosen for historic accuracy from cork-tiled floors and parque in the bedrooms to mid-century brick-look tiles at the fireplace and a “character forward” soap stone countertop that is the crowning glory of the kitchen. The kitchen cabinets are quarter sawn stained oak with vintage details and integrated pulls, custom made from the same wood as the cabinets. They are so right for the house and so much like the original, but more functional for a contemporary kitchen. We chose Dacor appliances because of their streamlined look that felt “modern but vintage all at
once,” including a custom-colored wall over/under and induction cooktop.

We chose Sherwin Williams French Roast for the color, and it is perfect for the space. Each of the three bathrooms are custom painted with hand cut stencil patterns by artist Julie Rogers. I chose the stencil patterns from some of my favorite fabrics I love, but altered the colors.

The inspiration came from growing up in the house where all the bathrooms had very ornate and
specific wallpapers that my mother chose. It felt right to copy her move there, and it also felt special. The paint was actually less expensive than wallpaper, and budget was a consideration, but mostly I love the look of a hand-stenciled wall! The formal living and dining rooms and entry hall, too have a beautiful lacy-look hand cut stenciled wall as well.

The pattern was inspired by the natural slightly floral pattern in the window treatments in the dining room. It feels as if the walls have been papered with the same
fabric as the window treatment, with the pale green wall peeking through the pattern.

To finish off the den I chose two favorite pink velvet camel back sofas on wooden frames. I had been saving the sofas for years in storage and had not sold, because I loved them so much. They lift the space out of the mid-century feel and give it a curated look that is cheerful and interesting.
I love my home so much!

Because I left so many of the original details in place (including sheet mirrors, vanity cabinets, door knobs and some light fixtures) it is especially reminiscent of my childhood here. I had no idea I was so sentimental! I think this house is where I lived when I fell in love with houses in general and where I fell in love with creating spaces.

 

When I was 15 my mother redecorated my bedroom in my favorite Laura Ashley pattern that was blue and white. To this day, I still love that pattern! I have a little bit of the wallpaper salvaged from where my mother had used the wallpaper to wrap the lightswitch plate.

I keep that piece of Laura Ashley wallpaper next to my mother’s baby shoe from the early 1930s. It reminds me that she loved me enough to try and give me exactly what I wanted in my room! She loved creating spaces as much as I did, and I am so grateful for that gift from her.

We will be updating the portfolio to include photos from our Cherry Creek project, so I’m very excited to share them.

Thanks to all who shared this journey, I have never felt more at home and clear about why we do what we do at Amity Worrel & Co.

Contact Us. It is an honor and a joy to help bring the vision of your home to light.

 

 

 

 


Amity Worrel

Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.