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October 18, 2018

Dallas Morning News /
Dilbeck lovers using famed architect's original blueprints to rebuild 9,000-square-foot Dallas home lost to fire

The plans, details and materials are what Charles Dilbeck used in 1962.

For years, Mike and Stacy Geisler dreamed about owning a Charles Dilbeck home.

The famed architect known for his eclectic and idiosyncratic style and asymmetrical and complex floor plans is "one of the most prodigious and popularly admired residential architects to ever practice in Dallas," and only about 130 of the residences — small cottages to large estates built from 1932 to 1969 — remain in Dallas and Fort Worth, says Willis Winters, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

But the Geislers found one in 2007 that was perfectly suited to their family: a sprawling 1962 house with distinctive features — including a wall of windows and an impressive floor-to-ceiling fireplace — and a picturesque yard that backed up to a creek in northwest Dallas.

And though the house didn’t feature the drunken brick and Jack-and-Jill balconies typically associated with Dilbeck, its size, long-and-low profile, sweeping driveway, and the way it showcased stone and timber made it a standout, not to mention the cedar shake roof.

The 9,000-square-foot place, which wraps around a large central atrium, was “more house than we ever thought of having, but the style, the Dilbeck quirkiness and the massive fireplace” made it impossible for the Geislers to resist, Stacy said.

Built in 1962 in northwest Dallas, the sprawling house has many distinctive features — including a wall of windows and an impressive floor-to-ceiling fireplace — and a picturesque yard that backs up to a creek. (Courtesy Preservation Dallas)

Stacy spent the next several years hunting for just the right midcentury modern pieces to outfit the “California ranch-style” Dilbeck home, which her family dubbed the “Dean Martin party house” because of its sunken bar. And just days after telling a friend in 2016 that she had tracked down the final piece and was ready to declare her dream home complete, it was destroyed.

In the time it took to run a quick errand, gone were Dilbeck's fanciful features, the carefully curated furniture, the Geislers’ possessions. All claimed by a fire, sparked not by the 1962 wiring in the home, but rather a faulty freezer less than a year old.

Devastated by the loss, the Geislers set out to figure out their next move. When they discovered their insurance policy would pay to rebuild their home exactly as it was before the fire, they didn’t hesitate.

“We lived and loved in that that house,” Stacy said. “It was home, and that’s why we wanted to rebuild — to get all that back.”

Stacy and Mike Geisler are rebuilding the Charles Dilbeck-designed home using the architect's original plans. (Courtesy Preservation Dallas)

Immediately, the homeowners were in touch with Droese Raney Architecture. That team had completed research for the renovation of the Belmont Hotel, another Dilbeck project, and were familiar not only with the architect’s style but also with his archives. They contacted the University of Texas, where Pat Dilbeck, a friend of Mark Geisler’s mother, had donated her husband's original papers, blueprints and more.

Six sheets of Dilbeck’s original drawings for the home were discovered. There was no roof plan, but the floor plan, exterior plan and detailed drawings for some of the home’s cabinetry provided “a wonderful road map” for architect for Lance Raney to get to work.

They scoured through the rubble and salvaged what little they could, including a set of knobs from a bathroom that was then used as a model for hardware on drawers and built-ins throughout the residence. Before demolition, crews cut samples of every material in the house, including door casings, trim, and fascia from the roof, so that those, too, could be replicated.

“Every detail has been faithfully reproduced,” Raney said.

The family expects to be able to move into the rebuilt home next summer. (Courtesy Preservation Dallas)

The house will once again feature original California driftwood stone, vast amounts of pecky cypress and redwood.

The Geislers are sticking as close to the original as they can, with one exception: a sprinkler system.

“Because of the insurance, we couldn’t change anything, but we didn’t really want to,” Stacy says. “There weren’t a lot of decisions I had to make, because they had all been made years ago.”

And those decisions Dilbeck made were worth preserving, she says.

“I feel like I’m a steward for history," she said. "You need character.”

Though move-in is still about eight months off, the Geislers, who have been living in a nearby apartment, are eager to get back. “It’s still a construction site, but when I walk through it, I can already tell it’s home,” says Stacy.

Written by: Jamie Knodel
Originally posted in Dallas Morning News.