Torie Steele: Preservation & Renovation on Armstrong Avenue

Forget fashion—we know Torie Steel as a visionary preservationist thanks to the masterpiece she created at 4224 Armstrong Avenue.

Buy? Tear Down? Renovate? …Just Wait? We have answers.

You may know Torie Steele as a fashion-industry leader, but at The Rhodes Group, we know her as a staunch preservationist. In 2010, she searched for a place to call home in Dallas, and decided on a 1925 Highland Park Hal Thomson-designed home she couldn’t wait to restore to the heights of its historic glory. 

While others might have torn down the Colonial home or reworked the home entirely, adding anachronistic elements in obtrusive ways, Steele did her renovations carefully, creating a luxurious, state-of-the-art and modern home that feels true to its historic style. As advocates of preserving historic Park Cities homes and Dallas residential architecture wherever possible, we were honored to represent this home when it went on the market. 

Bringing 4224 Armstrong into the 21st Century

Torie hired and partnered with local Dallas architects Larson & Pedigo to update the home, executing her vision to double the home’s footprint while preserving its historic roots. The entire effort took three years—about as long as it took to build the home in the first place. 

On the exterior, she left the facade mostly intact, while restoring its condition to its original glory, going so far as to salvage the original hand-blown glass into newly fabricated windows, re-grout the exterior to consistently match, and add a Vermont slate roof. Inside, the team took pains to craft hardware matching original pieces, restore Venetian plaster walls and replicate plaster crown moulding. An entirely new floor plan breathed new life into the house, opening up and expanding unused areas like the attic and basement and adding a formal entryway.  

But it’s the 21st Century touches mixing and melding with its early 20th Century style that really make 4224 Armstrong incredible: details like radiant heated floors to keep your toes warm, generators and solar panels, a home automation system and — of course — an elevator that serves all four floors. Down in the basement, you’ll find one of the most impressive spaces, the control room. 

We weren’t surprised that Torie was able to pull off such a monumental renovation project. It might seem impossible to maintain such a home’s historic style while seamlessly imbuing it with the kinds of features you expect only in luxury new construction, but if anyone could do it, Torie could. She’s been taking on incredible challenges her whole life, and winning them with style. 

Tackling Your Own Historic Home Renovation

In this competitive market, you may be considering purchasing an older home and unsure how to best preserve its history while creating a place for you and yours. If you do decide to renovate, we have a few tips for you. 

4 Things to Prioritize When Renovating a Historic Home

  • When it comes to one-of-a-kind period details, keep and restore what you can, recreate what you can’t. In the Armstrong home, many items had to be crafted to match originals, but others could be restored. One of our favorite parts of Torie’s home is the original oven, a Porcelain Magic Chef oven, that’s been restored to its original glory and placed in the guest house. The team also worked hard to recreate the original hardware, like door pulls and rebuild windows with the original hand-blown glass. These details may seem small, but they make it possible to implement more modern design approaches—like open floor plans—while keeping the aesthetic consistent with the home’s original style.  
  • Invest in your home as a vital part of your neighborhood and city’s present, past and future. Even the most secluded homes don’t exist in a vacuum. The Armstrong house was designed by Hal Thomson, a noted Dallas architect associated with a key part of the city’s history. You can see his influence up and down Swiss Avenue, in South Dallas, and in Highland Park. By choosing to renovate and preserve a historic home, you elevate the neighborhood as a whole by staying true to its authentic design and history. Also, history builds an invaluable communal bond within the residents to protect what once was.
  • Don’t be so tethered to the past that you don’t plan for the future. Like most homes, this one, too, will need to be sold. Work with your real estate agent to understand how your renovation can increase the property’s resale value. For the Armstrong home, the new floor plan gave the home a more open and airy feel and rooms with more space, more in line with contemporary home design. Just because bathrooms and closets were tiny in 1925 does not mean you have to have tiny bathrooms and closets today. 
  • Set aside resources and time for technology upgrades and luxurious amenities. In a new build, technology upgrades — like home automation, whole home audio, security, energy efficiency — require expertise, planning and resources to be done effectively and well. The same can be said when it comes to luxurious amenities, like Armstrong’s gym sauna, elevator, or media room. In a historic home renovation, it requires even more consideration if you want these details to blend in seamlessly with the home’s aesthetic. And to truly enjoy your home, you’ll want the experience of using them to be effortless, too. 

As Torie showed us with 4224 Armstrong, you can preserve a home and stay true to its past while also preparing it to house families for decades to come. In the battle to preserve our city’s history, she offers us some great lessons. If you think you’d like to take on a preservation project of your own, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We know your neighborhood.

Buy? Tear Down? Renovate? …Just Wait? We have answers.

We grew up here. We live here. We’ve been buying and selling real estate in the area for two generations, immersed in the ebbs and flows of the local neighborhood markets. Deep ties to the community keep us in the know. It’s not just a slogan… WE KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD.