A Mid-Century Modern & a treehouse

Ruth Jennings’ Mid-Century Modern home at 103 Chula Vista is on the Heritage Home Tour with a setting that is more closely related to living in a tree house. Photo by Denisa Burnham

The Mid-Century home on Chula Vista is the sixth house on the Heritage Home Tour this year. Unlike the other homes on tour, this one is truly unique because the home towers into the tree tops with a garden akin to a state of natural wilderness.

What resonates most is the simplicity, with a flood of natural light always filling the house.

Ruth Jennings’ home is a story about a house and perhaps it should start with the influences that affected it most. Jack and Nell Jennings built the house in 1955 with the help of Jack Jennings’ brother-in-law, Jim Hiester, who was fresh out of college with a degree in architecture. It was his first job and Nell Jennings’ father built it.

Frank Lloyd Wright, often considered America’s most important architect, felt that a home should relate to its setting, and Wright was the greatest influence on this home’s design. The long, low, horizontal lines, exterior stonework, cantilevered terraces and an open carport were elements typically integrated in organic architecture.

It was one of the first Mid-Century Modern homes in San Marcos. A large portion of the house is post and beam construction. The redwood and cypress materials were shipped from the northwest. Most of the rock in the walls and on the floors came from excavations on the site.

There was a learning curve for Hiester, with mistakes along the way. For example, there was an error of about one foot on setting the house’s floor elevation so the carport ceiling is low on one side. The cost of correcting the mistake was expensive so it was decided to leave things as they were and “duck your head.”

The interior is a quintessential example of a Mid-Century Modern with floor to ceiling windows, exposed beams, exotic woods and the use of stone throughout. Within a few steps from the entrance, there are several steps to lead you down into a sunken living room which is another characteristic of the split-level home plan typical of modern design.

The kitchen was remodeled and updated after Nell Jennings passed away and Jack remarried to Ruth Jennings. Originally the kitchen had been smaller and there was a small den on the kitchen side of the two-sided fireplace. The office (closed during the tour) between the kitchen and the carport was originally a drying yard for clothes that was screened from the street view. The stained glass in the kitchen above the work counter represent views of Ruth Jennings’ most beloved local attraction, the San Marcos River, and serve as sliding partitions between the kitchen and office.

One of the interesting observations about this house is that it has been able to accommodate changes and still maintain its design integrity. Mother Nature’s voice was probably much louder than Hiester realized, because she really drove the design inside and out, and that was probably the biggest influence of all.

The Jennings’ Mid-Century Modern home will be featured in the 43rd Annual Heritage Home Tour that will kick off with a preview party on May 4 and continue through May 8. Tickets are $20 if purchased before May 4 and $25 at the door on Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6. Tickets to the Preview Party are $75 and include a ticket to the home tour. All tickets are available at heritagesanmarcos.org. The Heritage Home Tour is held by the San Marcos Heritage Association, for more information call 512-392-4295.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666