What is the significance of the Valley House in North Dallas? Often described as serene, idyllic, and a respite from the urban hubbub, Valley House and its gardens certainly fit these descriptions, and a visit anytime will awaken your senses and invite reflection. What makes the place unique? Why should you know about it? And why should you visit it again — and again — if you happen to know it already?
Above all, Valley House is the private home of Cheryl and Kevin Vogel. Few would know about it, though, if the Valley House were just that — a private home to the Vogels. Fortunately for the rest of us, the Vogels are generous and gregarious people who see themselves as caretakers of a small urban treasure, and who are happy to share it with those who can appreciate it. As it turns out, the Valley House is also the oldest, and one of the most cherished, art galleries in North Texas, with a distinguished history dating back to 1953, as works by Matisse, Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Calder, Henry Moore, and Chagall were all shown at the Valley House in its early years. And to top it off, Valley House has one of the most stunning gardens in North Texas, surrounding a gem of a house fully comfortable in its environment.
Kevin Vogel is the middle child of Donald and Peggy Vogel, the couple who purchased 4.3 acres of land on Spring Valley Road in the early 1950s. At the time, Spring Valley was a dead-end gravel road, and the land, bordered by White Rock Creek on the south, appealed to the young couple as a promising place to live and work.
Theirs was an original plan from the beginning: Donald Vogel was an artist, and the gallery and framing business were extensions of his interest in all things art. Construction of the three-building compound — art gallery, office, and house — happened over time, from 1953 through 1963, with the original frame shop turned into the current gallery space. Kevin, along with his brother and sister, grew up in the Valley House while his father and mother focused on the art and framing business as the place became known to art connoisseurs in Dallas. All along, Donald also found time to paint — inherently a solitary activity — which allowed Kevin plenty of unsupervised time to explore the woods and the creek, places full of mystery to the curious boy.
Clarence Roy, a landscape architect who graduated from the University of Michigan in 1951 and soon thereafter started his career with Lambert Associates in Dallas, designed the original gardens of the Valley House in 1959. Roy returned to Michigan in 1960, where he founded JJR, Inc. with brothers William and Carl Johnson. Over the years, JJR went on to become a nationally recognized landscape architecture, planning, and urban design practice with offices across the country. JJR merged with Smith Group in the mid-1970s, and the practice is known today as SmithGroupJJR.
It is fair to assume that the Valley House was a major commission for the young landscape architect from the north, who found, in Dallas, clients eager to embrace a type of landscape architecture rooted in academic scholarship. In fact, at Valley House we can find suggestions of the British picturesque approach to garden design, where the landscape surrounding grand estates is re-created in a naturalistic palette that negotiates the transition to the wilderness beyond. Frederick Law Olmstead, grandfather of American landscape architecture, himself employed similar techniques and vocabulary in designing public parks throughout the country in the second half of the 19th century.
But certainly the young Clarence Roy was also aware of something new that was happening around him, as the modern American landscape championed by Dan Kiley and Garrett Eckbo was being discussed and experimented with, starting in the 1950s. This modern landscape abandoned precedents and emphasized instead form, color, and movement. It was inspired by, and was in tune with, other fields — modern painting, sculpture, tapestry, and of course, architecture. Erika Farkac Vogel was chief landscape architect at Lambert Associates when she married widower Donald Vogel in 1981, and she continued to develop the gardens until Donald’s death in 2004. Since then, garden design has been directed by Tary Arterburn of Studio Outside in Dallas.
Walking the Valley House gardens today, the visitor experiences these bold gestures born of the modern idiom — color, texture, topography — as middle ground between house and the boundary of the property. Vince Ellwood, a dear friend and longtime Dallas landscape architect, first introduced me to the Valley House, and I quote him: “When you go there at various seasons of the year, it changes dramatically. The bright sunshine in winter is welcoming. The cool shade and sounds of water in summer are refreshing. The landscape is inviting and surprising each spring and fall. I see something new and fascinating every time I go.”
If the landscape is so rich, the main house is not far off it. Using an economic palette of brick for the walls and floors, plaster, wood beams and ceilings, and industrial-grade steel windows, the house feels airy, light, warm, and inviting.
Conceived by architect John Wesley Jones of Fort Worth working closely with Donald Vogel, the house reflects the architecture of its time and it simultaneously gives shape to an artist’s aspirations. A multiuse main room welcomes visitors and is the heart of the house: Kitchen, fireplace, eating, and living all happen in this generous and uncontrived space. It is easy to imagine family life unfolding here, with kids coming and going during the day, while at night friends gather, talk art, and eat together. The 13-ft-by-6-in ceiling height makes the room feel grand without losing its domestic ground, and the brick pavers extend from exterior to interior, helping to bridge house and landscape together while lending an informal character to the space. Nothing is too precious here — the place comes alive when it is actually inhabited and used — but nothing is accidental, either.
A gem of a space is just off the main room to the east: Donald Vogel’s former studio has a floor-to-ceiling glass wall facing north/northeast, plus a skylight, and is filled with soft light at all times of the day. Smaller than the main room in footprint but with the same ceiling height, the space almost feels like a cube lit from the side and from the top. How many hours did Donald Vogel spend in this space? How many paintings were inspired by the light and by the view to his gardens and to the sky outside? I recently visited with colleagues for a couple of hours in Donald’s former studio — it has since been repurposed as a sitting room — and I will not forget how serene it feels. Bedrooms are located across the main room to the west, and the master bedroom opens to a greenhouse on the south.
Cheryl and Kevin Vogel have been loyal to Peggy and Donald Vogel’s vision of the Valley House as a place that supports the arts and community-building, and over the years they have worked graciously and selflessly to make it even more relevant. The open access and tranquil park-like atmosphere of the place make it a jewel in the social and urban landscape of Dallas and of North Texas. Max Levy, FAIA, celebrated Texas architect and frequent visitor to the Valley House, comments: “Dallas is a sprawling mess. The best we can do with it is to punctuate the mess with restorative places. Valley House is a prime example of what I mean. The gallery, house, and gardens are a sort of indoor/outdoor cultural salon, a rarefied atmosphere that can give you a lift. Inspiration amidst the city’s debris.” And if the Valley House is still treasured today despite all the cultural institutions that have sprouted in North Texas in the last few decades, just imagine what it meant to the local cultural landscape of 50 or so years ago, when it first appeared in the area.
What is in store for the Valley House? Will future generations of North Texans be as fortunate to have it around? Will the community be willing to continue to support it in the way it deserves? And what if other arts patrons would follow its example and contribute to enrich the lives of our communities? Just imagine the type of city that we could have — a city indeed “punctuated with restorative places.”
Eurico R. Francisco, AIA, is a design principal at HDR Architecture in Dallas and a contributing editor to Texas Architect.