David and Kim Hurt's Glass House in Dallas

All Aflutter

By Rebecca Sherman
Photography by Shoot2Sell.Net, Courtesy Ellen Terry Realtors

David Hurt starts his day just after sunrise with a cup of coffee, a pair of binoculars, and a copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds, before the clamor of kids and the hustle to school and work, in a room set up expressly for watching birds. Glassed-in on three sides and austerely furnished with a pair of vintage Eero Saarinen Womb chairs, the room cantilevers over the 1.16 acre lot, which ambles 20 feet down to one of two creeks on the property. Thirteen bird feeders are placed strategically within view of the room, and a bright row of native turk's cap makes a crimson slash under the windows, attracting ruby throated hummingbirds and butterflies.

“It’s bird watching paradise. I can’t wait to get up and look at what’s going on outside that room every morning,” says Hurt, 42, who started watching birds when he was in elementary school. He and his wife Kim, 41, own Wild Birds Unlimited, a store on Lovers Lane devoted to bird watching enthusiasts, which they opened in 1993. They’re also the founders of Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, a 290-acre plant and wildlife habitat in Cedar Hill, which will open this spring. Their bird watching room, as it’s sometimes referred to, is the focal point of this two-story 5,000 square ft. modernist house on Alexander Way near White Rock Lake that Hurt’s aunt and uncle built in 1965. The Hurts bought the house in 2002, and renovated it five years ago. They added a fourth bedroom, opened up the kitchen, repainted with low VOC paint inside, laid sustainable bamboo flooring, and improved the house’s energy efficiency with additional insulation and Energy Star appliances, an EPA-approved designation for products that meet the government’s energy efficiency requirements.

Their annual total energy bill averages a mere $1,200.

With deep overhangs and exposed cedar beams, the house has a muscular, Arts and Crafts feel.

"The money’s in the structure of the house, not in granite countertops and wine cellars. This is a house that's easy to understand. There's not a lot of unused, unnecessary stuff going on,” says Hurt, who concedes to being less interested in the design details of the house as he is the view it provides of the wooded landscape outside. In all, there are 70 native trees on the grounds, such as 11 big tooth maples that the Hurts imported from the Texas hill country, a broad stand of 60 ft., old growth magnolias down by the creek that Hurt’s aunt planted decades earlier, and dogwoods, oaks, pecans and elms. The mix of old and young trees, rushing and still water (there’s also a small pond on the property) creates an ideal habitat for wildlife (bobcats, foxes, beaver, flying squirrels have been spotted) and of course, birds. The Hurts have identified 135 species of birds in their yard over the years, including raptors like red shouldered hawks and barred owls; river birds like great blue herons; and showy, colorful birds like rose breasted grosbeaks, summer tanagers, and indigo buntings. A few summers back, Hurt spotted a male, endangered golden-cheeked warbler at the feeder. “It’s the most sought-after bird in the country, and it was feeding right next to me almost as if I weren’t there. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is the life.’”

Listen to the golden-cheeked warbler here.

For the Hurt’s children, Ben 11, and Brynne 4 1/2, the yard is their own private nature preserve. They fish for perch in the creeks, and watch snapping turtles and wood ducks come up from the water to lay their eggs and raise their young. “This is the first generation of children in our country who don’t have a real connection to nature. They’ve spent all their time in front of computers and parents are afraid to let their children play outside,” says Hurt, who donated 40 acres of their own land in Cedar HIll to start Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, in part to help other children experience nature like theirs have. The Hurts have spent the past eight years raising $7.4 million to buy another 210 acres. A 7,000 square ft. visitor’s center with classrooms, designed by Cunningham Architects, will be operated by the National Audubon Society.

Glowing like lantern at dusk, the house is perched atop a knoll that rolls 20 ft. down into creeks. A mini nature preserve in the heart of Lakewood, there are 70s kinds of native trees and more than 135 species of birds have been spotted in the Hurt's yard.

In September, spurred in part by an “ah-ha” moment while sitting in the carpool line, the Hurts put their house on the market. Says Hurt: “One of the cars in front of us had a bumper sticker that said, ‘You need to be the change that you envision.’ We realized we weren’t living like we think. We want to live a lot smaller, with a smaller carbon footprint, and this house is a lot to take care of. We don’t want all of our resources going to this house, as much as we love it. We’d like to give back to the community. Think of how many kids we could send to summer camp on the $18,000 a year in taxes it costs for this house?” The house at 7008 Alexander Way is listed for $1.29 million through Kim Gromatzky at Ellen Terry Realtors. Go here to see photos and details.

Meanwhile, the Hurts are searching for a 1/2 acre lot in the Forest Hills neighborhood near White Rock Lake and have hired Cunningham Architects to design a house for them, inspired by the house on Alexander Way. As for the glassed-in bird watching room? “We have the original plans and we’re taking those with us,” says Hurt. “Some day we’d love to build a house with a room like that in the mountains.”

My original story appears in the current issue of Modern Luxury magazine, here. Turn to page 60.