Ann and Brian Dell lived for 41 years in a Mesta Park home built in 1914, before deciding in 2012 to put it on the market.
Forty years would have been plenty.
“Everyone talks about how well old houses are built,” Ann Dell said, standing in the light-bathed space that will soon be the kitchen in her new house. “But we spent one too many winters with those thin walls.”
When it sold, the empty nesters didn’t want a condo or a townhome, or a garden villa in a gated retirement community.
Instead, they hired a leading design firm to build a new house for them on an urban infill lot downtown at 925 NW 8, near Classen Boulevard.
For the Dells, the decision to leave Mesta Park and start over began with three simple considerations: location, location and location.
“We couldn’t imagine ourselves in the suburbs,” Ann said as she walked through the 1,925 square-foot new house, weaving through painters’ supplies as she visualized furniture placement and the decorating job that lies ahead. “We wanted to stay in the downtown-Midtown area.”
But, she said, “All the houses down here are old,” and she knew one thing for sure: “We didn’t want another money pit.”
Maximizing narrow lot
So the Dells retained Butzer Gardner Architects to design a house that would maximize the narrow lot they owned.
Torrey Butzer, principal designer on the project and co-founder of Butzer Gardner along with her husband, architect Hans Butzer, and Jeremy Gardner, said the firm has been focused on the development and growth of downtown since the couple was selected in 1997 to design the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
Building a single-family home that in its own small way “reactivates the urban core” is “the right thing to do,” Butzer said, both as a use of resources and as a statement against suburban sprawl. The contractor is d.build LLC.
Brian Dell said he and his wife were excited “to take a chance on moving into a new area.” But, he said, “It’s not that different from what we did when we bought in Mesta Park” back in the 1970s.
That was a decision they didn’t regret, sending their children Vicky, Louis and Sarah to Wilson Elementary School and watching the neighborhood blossom into one of the city’s most desirable.
Key among the new house’s design features is its long, flat west-facing wall — meant to suggest a billboard and rising a full two stories above bustling Classen Boulevard.
‘A protective shoulder’
Butzer called the wall “a protective shoulder” turned against the noise and speed of Classen, from which a shed roof slopes away from the street and down to the more intimate scale of the east side of the house.
All of the windows from the living area look out to this protected side, which will be an enclosed garden.
“Very simply, this house solved all our problems,” said Ann Dell, who has taught biochemistry, genetics and molecular cell biology at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics since 1991.
Brian Dell, an attorney, agreed that the new house, a step down in size from the 3,250-square-foot home they left, is “smaller, but still with plenty of room for our grandkids.”
The space is divided among three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a kitchen-living room that blend together around a central island.
Except for a loft space above the living room, the house is laid out all on one floor.
With move-in set for the end of this month, the Dells are eager to explore life without leaky windows, thin walls and more stairs than they cared to count.
The Dells’ grandchildren have already given their approval to the new place — although granddaughter Charlotte Casse of Dallas had to ask why her grandparents were moving into “half a house.”
Drive by sometime, you’ll see what she meant.
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