A Classic Blend

The Steele family home, built in 1920,
has seen many memories made over numerous
holiday gatherings. The Steele’s children and
grandchildren always look forward to visiting
there, and two of the daughters have asked
their parents to never sell the house to anyone
outside the family. This attachment to a family
home is nothing unusual, until you realize that
Rocky and Judy Steele bought the house only
10 years ago.

Judy, the eldest of a Michigan farm family’s eight
children, had moved to Ennis with her husband and
three daughters in 1980. Rocky had grown up in
Abbott, Hill County, Texas. Both were
“single again” when they met in Ennis’
American Legion Hall: the band Rocky
managed was playing for a dance there,
which Judy attended. When the “tall,
good-looking Southern gentleman” asked
her to dance, she accepted. They hit it
off, married in 1994 and spent the next
six years looking for just the right place
to call home. They wanted an inviting
house where the step-siblings could all
visit and feel like part of one family.
“We looked at some new houses, but
they were too commercial-feeling,”
Rocky said.

Then in 2000, a casual acquaintance
mentioned he wanted to sell his house.
The Steeles asked to see it. They arrived
to find overgrown trees and landscaping
that almost hid the house. But they were
barely inside the front door when both
knew they had found their home. “We
just loved the floor plan, and especially
the front porch,” Judy said. Originally a
two-story house, its upstairs had been
damaged by fire in the 1940s. Rather than
rebuilding the second floor, the owner
simply had it removed and a new roof
built over the old first floor, resulting in a
three-bedroom, two-bath house.
When the Steeles bought the 80-
year-old home, its previous owner had
done much of the structural work it
had needed. Rocky and Judy set about
improving its appearance. First they
thinned out trees and cut back overgrown
shrubs. Turning to the building itself, they found many of its charming
original features intact, such as the windows, interior woodwork and four
working fireplaces. They wanted to make the home more comfortable
and convenient without losing its old-fashioned character. Since their
daughters — Judy’s three and Rocky’s four — had all left home by this
time, they have been able to remodel at leisure, project by small project.
They simply use whichever rooms they are not working on at any given
time. “It’s definitely a work in progress,” Judy said. “We pay as we go,”
Rocky added. Judy’s daughters, who still live in Ennis, have often stepped
in to help with wallpapering and other chores.

From fixtures and appliances to paint and furniture, the Steeles have
selected items which maintain the home’s classic architecture. They have
transformed the area behind the ample kitchen into a cozy, double office
and a laundry/utility room. Despite new appliances, the kitchen’s matte
green walls, white cabinetry and retro-style sink and faucet preserve
its vintage look. “The kitchen is one room you can modernize without
decreasing its value,” Rocky said. Victorian style graces the dining room
and carries into a compact bathroom whimsically decorated with a small
chandelier — “the cute bathroom,” according to one daughter. More
masculine touches include the leather-furnished den and the master
bedroom’s blue-and-white quilt and drapes.

When it came to furnishing the house, the expertise came from Rocky,
whose family had worked in the furniture industry for many years. “I’ve
done everything with furniture,” he said. “Designing it, building it,
upholstering it — and sitting on it.” Building on his experience
creating award-winning conversion interiors, he blended period
pieces from antique stores, friends and relatives, with new
fabrics. The look is so harmonious that every item appears
to be part of the home’s original furnishings, but Judy said,
“Everything comes from somewhere else.”

Meanwhile, the extended family was
growing, adding sons-in-law and grandchildren.
Rocky and Judy began inviting everyone to
their home for Easter, Thanksgiving and
Christmas. Wanting to give their grandchildren
a sense of having roots, they blended some
holiday traditions from both families, and
persisted in following those for each gathering.
They can tell their efforts have paid off. As
Judy said, “Now if we try to deviate, even a
little, they come after us!” Lady, the couple’s German Shepherd-
Husky mix, does her part to make each grandchild feel safe
and welcome. Affectionate with family, but aggressive toward
intruders, she reigns as both hostess and bouncer.
The couple also instills a sense of belonging by displaying
old family photographs and memorabilia, and telling the
stories to the young ones. Rocky tells them about his greatgreat
grandfather, Alfonso Steele, who appears in an old photo
hanging in the living room. Alfonso was the first Steele in Texas
and the last living veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto. As the
grandchildren find him in their Texas history books, each in turn
has called up “Papa” to ask for more details about their greatgreat-
great-great grandfather.

Attractive as it is, are there some challenges to living in a
90-year-old house. Judy, unconcerned, said, “Oh, it can be cold
and drafty, but that just reminds me of the old farmhouse in
Michigan. In a way, adding an extra blanket or putting on a
sweater is like comfort food.”

The Steeles, with their rural backgrounds, enjoy
living in Ennis. Rocky said, “Even though it’s a
small town, it has the conveniences we need.” He
also likes the people. “They have the education and
style of city people, but they’re nice, down-home
folks.” Judy, after years of working in Dallas as a
legal secretary, now represents Mary Kay and works
part-time with Harriett Adams. She relishes the
more relaxed pace.

At last count, Rocky and Judy had seven
daughters, six sons-in-law, 21 grandchildren, one
great-grandchild, and another on the way. Their grandchildren,
ranging in age from 4 to 21, include several talented athletes
and musicians. The Steeles are proud of every one of them.
The children and grandchildren love gathering at the old house,
accepting each other like blood relatives. “The character of this
house helped do it,” Rocky said. Judy added, “There’s nothing
new here to worry about ruining. They can just be comfortable.”
In 2006, all their daughters got their children together to sit
for a photo, then surprised Rocky and Judy with a large framed
copy. The priceless photo, now hanging in the hallway, includes
every grandchild they had at the time. Rocky may credit his
classic house, but surely his and Judy’s loving example set the
tone for blending their families so well.

Written by Janice C. Johnson