The Evolution of a Home

Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Delves into Her Long-term Relationship with Her Childhood Home


Home is an ever-changing experience. Our homes evolve through the years, creating a living document of the chronologies of our lives and families. We rearrange spaces, redecorate with the latest trends, and renovate to keep up with the Joneses. Each step brings a new life and starts a new chapter for those who reside inside. I live in the home that I grew up in, which is a rare thing these days. Now, I haven’t been living here this whole time. I followed a trajectory that’s typical for many and made my return a few years ago. 

Here’s the evolution of my family home… 

Moving In 

My folks built our late mid-century ranch style home in 1971, and I moved in at just 18 months old. Back then, South Austin was a sparsely populated playground. I spent my early childhood days running barefoot around Austin’s city limits. I watched my older brothers play football on Westgate Boulevard every Thanksgiving, never having to pause the game for cars because there wasn’t any traffic then. I would go swimming with my family at Barton Springs. In the late 70s, the dress code of the day was cutoffs and the freedom of going topless. 

The home is a five-bedroom, three-bathroom setup, which housed our large family of nine kids. Well, those of us that were still young enough to be living at home then. I’m the baby of the family. So, I resided in my nursery, my sister Patience in her toddler bedroom, my two older brothers in bunk beds in the front bedroom, and my cheerleader sister in the largest bedroom as the oldest one in the house. She was certainly pampered with the luxury. My eldest siblings were already living out on their own in places like Travis Heights and far-flung North Lamar, which felt like the other side of the world. The kids lined the hall on one side of the house, while my parents took residence in the “mother-in-law” suite that sits on the other side past the laundry room and kitchen. A formal living room, dining room, and true Brady Bunch era den complete the floor plan. The interior featured sculpted carpet, dark wood paneling, avocado green appliances, floral wallpaper, and asbestos tiles — a true 1970s dream. 

The Bedroom Shifts

As with any family, older siblings move out to go to college, the military, or rehab, which leaves open valuable bedroom real estate for the other kids still residing at home. My sister Patience and I shuffled our living arrangements to adjust to the changes. We shared a bedroom for a time at the front of the house to make it easier for my devoted father to read stories to us every night until we fell asleep. Later, we moved into the largest bedroom and replaced our older sister’s cheer trophies with a big TV set. We’d spend our middle school days watching All My Children and Dynasty. I still love those gaudy 80s interior design schemes. When my sister Patience got ill with pneumonia, I moved into the spare room down the hall and ended up staying there through high school.  

I had this new room all to myself, and it became my first decorating project. My mom and I decked it out in head-to-toe Laura Ashley print, antique furnishings, and postcards from my museum visits stuck on the wall with tape. I saw these as very important art pieces. As you may be able to tell, I was quite sophisticated! 

While I was busy decorating my own room, other rooms in the home would continue to take on new identities as family members returned home after a failed relationship or for a place to regroup between living situations. For a time, my sister-in-law and baby niece lived in the two front rooms while she finished her nursing master’s degree, and my brother held down their home base in Kerrville. Spare rooms continued to morph from bedrooms to offices to guest suites for long-term stays. My favorite transformation was the music room created for my sister and me to practice in. 

The 1980s Renovation

Our home underwent its first minor renovation in the 1980s. The revolving supply of dogs and cats that graced us through the years took its toll on the sculpted carpet, which was replaced with a more durable parquet. The dark paneling was “freshened up” with a horrible glossy white, as was the floral wallpaper. My mother had an addiction to collecting furniture, which I inherited. So new-to-us pieces were brought in, furniture was rearranged, and old pieces were sold and stored. However, there were two upholstered barrel chairs that remained constant and still have a place in the home today. 

Leaving Home and Coming Back 

I left our house at 19 to go off to college, where I lived in a dorm and then an apartment. This is where I decided to move to New York City, where I spent the next 15 years. I started my career, married my husband, had two children, and never expected to leave the city. My second child was born very close to my first, so my husband and I decided it was time to relocate for some familial support. 

So, I returned to Austin, and we moved into a small home near the one where I grew up. (While it was small by Texas standards, it felt massive to a pair of former New Yorkers.) As coincidence would have it, the house we landed in was also a family home that had belonged to my brother, who built it and sold it to my mother, who managed a few properties. 

Falling into Disrepair

We often visited my mother, who still lived in our childhood home. As she aged, so did the house. The property fell into disrepair as the overwhelming demands of keeping up with a five-bedroom house fell through the cracks. My mother made her own bedroom shifts, as we kids had done years ago, to suit her changing tastes and make space for the family members that moved in and out with life’s ebbs and flows. At the end of my mother’s life, she was pretty much living in the den off the kitchen, reducing her navigable square footage for access and the ease of healthcare workers coming in and out to assist as her health declined.

My mother passed in 2016. After renting the house out for a few years, my husband and I decided we wanted to live in it.  

Moving in (Again)

We renovated and moved in (me for the second time) just before the pandemic hit in 2019. We outfitted it to the nines with cork flooring, soapstone counters, and custom-colored retro appliances to mimic the original avocado green. It’s very 70s chic because we resisted the urge to change it too much. We kept the bones of the house intact and only did a minor mudroom addition and fireplace demo. Now, the earthy 70s style seems to be back in vogue, so I feel one step ahead of the trends I love to ignore. Growing up, the house had been so comfortable, friendly, and versatile; I knew it would seamlessly open itself to a new generation without much interference from me. 

Five Decades Under One Roof

I’ve followed the life of this house for five decades now. But who’s really counting? I’m touched and inspired by its ability to support my family’s changing needs over the years and across generations without the need for frivolous remodeling. That’s a wonder, considering how many folks move into a place and take it down to the studs to rethink its life all over. Don’t get me wrong. There are properties out there that need renovating like crazy, and I’m honored for the chance to help my clients reimagine their spaces from the ground up. However, it’s wise to consider what’s needed and, more importantly, what’s not. I like to ignore trends and be a good steward of resources, thinking about the intentions of the original builder and reconstructing them to fit the new lives the house holds. I think in the end, the home thanked me for it. 

Home is Constantly Evolving

Home is constantly evolving, and I love that our houses can change with us on our journeys. I have seen it with my clients over the years when we have renovated and redecorated and then renovated and redecorated again at different life phases — when kids are born, when there’s a life change and unexpected new demands on the home (like a grounding pandemic), when kids grow up and move on. Our homes are there for the next big thing. 

Home is a religion for me. Let’s trust in its power to support and transform us. 

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.