These Old Houses

For some reason we can't quite fathom, someone once gave us a gift subscription to Southern Living, the magazine devoted to helping its readers live more elegant "Southern" lives. Maybe they were trying to tell us something. In addition to recipes for mint juleps (we drink beer) and many creative ideas for the use of chipotle peppers (we eat Taco Bell), the mag also contained countless photos featuring decorating tips from people whose homes look nothing like ours.

We say "people," but in fact they may have been another species entirely, from some faraway planet where everyone has good taste and no one, apparently, watches television. There in all their glossy glory in Southern Living would be spreads of gorgeous, well-lighted "family rooms" filled with tasteful furniture, antiques, tables of precious knickknacks--and no TVs. Not one stinkin' picture of what is, let's be honest, the linchpin of the modern American home. Do these people actually talk to their families in their family rooms? And those lovely, pristine sofas? Obviously, these people don't know that "sofa" comes from the Latin word for "clothes hamper." Where are all the treadmills with cobwebs and stacks of laundry? Why aren't the dirty breakfast dishes where they belong, in the sink?

Answers to these and other mysteries may become apparent this weekend as residents of the Munger Place Historic District open up their fine, Southern Living-esque homes for the 25th Annual Munger Place Tour of Historic Homes. For the price of admission, the decorating-challenged and others can tour five turn-of-the-20th-century "prairie style" homes, plus one new house constructed in the architectural style popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Prairie-style homes generally feature hardwood floors, open interior spaces, large central fireplaces, low-pitched roofs, horizontal lines and deep overhanging eaves. Munger Place in Old East Dallas, created in 1905 by cotton-gin maker R.S. Munger, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and claims to have the largest collection of such homes in the nation.

What's it like to live in one? Drafty, expensive to heat and cool, but nice, says Debby Rogers, who is coordinating the 100 or so volunteers who help put on the annual tour. The event is a draw for old-time neighborhood residents who remember when the homes were falling to neglect and others who are interested in historic restoration, Rogers says. The tour also features a popular "Porchfest," with local artists selling their works from the homes' wide porches. Remember that: Souvenirs are on sale on the porch. The bric-a-brac and saltshakers inside stay behind. (Rogers, whose own home has been featured on the tour in years past, says she's never had anything broken or stolen, though she did cringe once when a 5-year-old showed up on her hardwoods wearing tap shoes.)

So come. Pick up some decorating tips. Enjoy the architecture, but leave the tap shoes at home. Oh, and by the way, Rogers shared with us where she keeps her televisions--in armoires. That must be some fancy design term for "on milk crates."

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams