After 60 years, everything needs a little work.
Photos of the President’s Home when built in 1957 and photos in early 2017—inside and out—look very much the same, reflecting its timeless and classic design. Some similarities, however, revealed the need for updates and refreshing. Since the house likely would be vacant for a few months between the departure of the 15th president and the arrival of the 16th, members of the Board of Trustees took advantage of the opportunity for renovation.
Board of Trustees member Becky Russell Sykes ’67 tapped senior trustee Ann Holm Ross ’66 and John Herron, longtime College friend and interior designer, to take on the project. Along with David Turk, the College’s executive director of facilities, they began examining the house for necessary structural and aesthetic updates.
The team brought in expertise as needed. Tom Newbury and Tom Sanden of Art and Commerce offered significant assistance throughout. When the team decided the master bath should be gutted and started anew, architect Bryce Weigand, FAIA, a member of the President’s Visiting Council, drew the plans.
While bathroom and closet updates are surely appreciated by the residents, the project team felt the renovation project was about more than new flooring, lighting, and paint colors, though new floors and lights were installed, and all the walls were freshly painted. More importantly, the team was committed to continue within the home’s interior the mix of modern and traditional elements that characterize the College, to bring the spirit of Austin College inside. Along the way, they uncovered bits of history that brought the house’s heritage to life—portraits of Robert and Mae Files Wood, both ’38, who funded construction of the home—Wood House—and beautiful furniture purchased for the home in 1957 but moved to other parts of campus over the years.
The team had a good historian on hand: senior trustee Rebecca Moseley Gafford ’72, who moved into the house at 6 years old and grew up there. What she couldn’t remember, she could find in the meticulous scrapbooks of former first lady Sara Bernice Moseley. Former first lady Anna Laura Page also helped with details about furniture locations around campus.
The project team next decided to include Austin College art in the home—art created by alumni and faculty, as well as that depicting the College. Paintings or sculptures by alumni and faculty now highlight every room. Photographs of iconic College scenes grace the stairway. Much was donated by the team; artists donated other pieces.
A major difference in the house from 1957 to present was an addition in 2007 of a large reception room at the back. That room added greatly to the ease of hosting large groups and even moderate-sized dinners. Unexpected noise issues were addressed in the recent update with new flooring; otherwise, only some paint was needed. Beautiful doors now separate the room from the rest of the house as needed.
Another important element of the project was the installation of double-paned windows and attic insulation for added energy efficiency, in keeping with the College’s sustainability efforts. As landscaping progresses, native plants will be incorporated to continue those goals.
With the renovation came a restoration. The portraits of the Woods now sit prominently in the reception room, a focus of the many guests who pass through. Over the years, the Wood House name had been lost from the regular language of the College community. That, too, has been dusted off and shined: 921 North Grand Avenue hereafter will be known as the President’s Home at Wood House.
Art Throughout the House
- Painting by former faculty member Vernon Fisher, donated by Jay D. Evans ’64
- Italian wooden kangaroo, donated by Jay D. Evans ’64
- Painting by former faculty member Gail Norfleet, donated by John R. Evans ’64
- Painting by professor emeritus of art Richard Neidhardt, donated by Jay D. Evans ’64
- Three paintings and one sculpture by professor emeritus of art Richard Neidhardt, donated by his wife, Frances, and his daughter, Eve ’80
- Two paintings by Mark Smith, art faculty, donated by the artist
- Ten abstract works of art by James Lawrence ’66, donated by the artist
- One sculpture by Mark Monroe ’81, art faculty, to be installed, donated by the artist
- One photograph of Sara Bernice Moseley, donated by Sara Caroline Moseley ’66, Rebecca Moseley Gafford ’72, and John D. Moseley Jr. ’69
- Three aluminum masks by Melanie Keeling ’84, donated by Jay D. Evans ’64, John E. Herron, and John R. Evans ’64
- Austin College photographs courtesy of College Communications and Archives