What’s Black and White and Green All Over?

The vibrant home of Dennis and
Jennie Niles sits serenely beside Village
Creek, which stretches from FM 917
all the way into the Trinity River.
Their corner lot, surrounded by native
elm, oak and pecan trees, as well as a
metal privacy fence, attracts Sunday
drivers who crane their necks to see all
they can of the lush three-and-a-half
acre retreat that Dennis designed and
built over the last 28 years.
Wild brush was his starting point.
“There was a very small old house here
where the golf course is now,” Dennis
said. “We knew it was there because
there was an old cistern still here when
we first moved in.” At that time, there
was also a wooden plank bridge on
Forest Lane over Village Creek, where
now folks drive over a concrete bridge.
Through the years, the Niles family
has had five black cats which have not
all survived the raccoons and other
varmints in the country just south of
Lone Oak Winery. Their current fuzzy
black friend, Smokey, was rescued from
an animal shelter and hangs out indoors
on luxurious white sheepskin rugs.
In fact, Smokey, his statuesque
counterpart and the black display cases
holding Japanese dolls (a collection
from the couple’s years selling Yamaha
motorcycles) are surrounded by white.
“When we originally built, the style
was dark paneling. Probably 10 years
ago, we were off on vacation and the
hose on the washer broke and when we
came home there was four inches of
water in the house. The more we tried
to dry everything out, the worse we
saw it all was,” said Dennis. “I told
Jennie, ‘We just need to redo the whole
inside.’ We had the contractor spray
everything gloss white, inside and
outside of cabinets and drawers, inside
hall closets, everything. Once we decided
to do the house white, I knew I wanted
to do black with the white. Then we
did the marble in places, and brought
in black furniture. We like it like it is:
black and white.”
Originally, the Niles’ 2,200-squarefoot
house was very rustic with a brick
exterior, rough cedar paneling, a
wood-burning fireplace and carpet that
looked like wood plank floors. In 1980,
the Niles went to Burleson home builder
Bill Ware and asked him to modify one
of his early-American designs. Dennis
and Jennie preferred the open concept
— unheard of at the time — and
wanted no walls between the kitchen
and the living room. “We stretched
the porch out, too, so that it goes all
the way across the back.” The couple
had been to California and Oregon,
and places where homes looked more
modern than most homes in Burleson
or Joshua. Elements of Greek, Roman
and Spanish styles were incorporated
in the Niles’ master suite and main
living areas, especially the garden room.
“When I’m in our garden room it is
like being outside, but I’m not,” said
Jennie, who could not even enter the
garden room 15 years ago when Dennis
kept the refuge isolated and raised
canaries. At one time, he had 24
breeding cages bolted to the area
where he has now placed two gorgeous
white-washed pine display cabinets.
Dennis spent half of every afternoon
cleaning their cages, and Jennie just
shut the door and played like the
canaries were not there. “They sing in
morning, and sing in the afternoon.
And when you have 300 of ’em, they
make a lot of noise,” Dennis said.
Once the songbirds were gone, the
garden room evolved into the special
family gathering place it is now. The
centerpiece of the room is the pine
picnic table which has been in Dennis’
family for 75 years. “My mother and
father bought this table in Connecticut
and it was in our house in Hartford.
The table was dark stained pine; they
handed it down to us when we built
this house, and we actually built a
nook near the kitchen for this table.
When we redid the inside of the house
to lighten it up, I refinished this table
in a white wash.”
In years past, this table has borne
huge Thanksgiving meals for the lively
Niles family. “Our home is where our
family comes,” said Jennie, who is
blessed to have all three of her children
living nearby. They bring their children
over for motorcycling, fishing and golf
in Dennis’ backyard playground. When
all the grandchildren (Kip and Kim
Niles’ sons, Brad, 20, and Travis, 18;
and Darcy and Matt Deno’s three boys,
Preston, 10, and Grant, 8, and Carson,
16; and Chris and Lori Niles’ daughter,
Brooke, 7) come to visit, sleeping bags
are spread throughout the house. Now
that everyone is older, the ladies in the
family do not want to cook; so, the
family has celebrated their health and
prosperity at places like the Table
Rock Lake, in Arkansas, or closer to
home at The Gaylord Texan or Mira
Vista Country Club. After
Thanksgiving, when the children are
out of school, each family takes their
motor homes and they travel together
between Christmas and New Year’s.
Dennis often goes fishing, even
traveling to Venice, Louisiana, where
the mouth of the Mississippi runs into
the ocean, fishing for drum and salt
water trout. Jennie enjoys spending time
with grandchildren, and exercising a
couple of hours each morning in the
boys’ bedroom-turned-gym. When
home, Dennis’ No. 1 pleasure is the
yard. “When we moved out here,
Jennie’s mother gave me six plants. The
cannas, the oxalis, woodfern, violas and
four-o’clocks multiplied and survived.
She gave me some phlox that I had for
years and years, but it is no longer
with us.”
His current project is the central
bed behind the house with its purple
moonflowers. “I discovered those
somewhere and started planting them,
and actually raised those two from
seed. They’re a real hot-weather plant,
and don’t germinate easily at all. I
started out with little peat pots in the
porch, where they’d stay warm in the
sun; tried to raise about 50 of them
and only got two up. I really like the
tropical looking flowers, like the
moonflowers and castor beans and
elephant ears from Louisiana that I
brought back from my fishing trip.”
The water lilies in the fully-stocked
lake that Dennis built a few years back
are taken straight from a water
conservation lake in Alvarado.
This winter, Dennis will prepare for
his favorite season — spring, when all
the flowers and vegetation in his
masterpiece return. “Ninety percent of
this is not here after November,”
explained Dennis. “After the first freeze,
I’ll cut everything back.” Passers-by
will still enjoy the views of showy
pampas grass and other pretty Texas
plants that hold their shape during the
winter. And oh yes, the magnolia tree in
the front yard stays green all year.