A Backdoor Look at Being on a Homes Tour

This past Saturday, our home was one of seven Austin houses featured by Preservation Austin.

What’s it like, you might wonder, having hundreds of people pass through your house?

Map for Preservation Austin "Into the Woods" Homes Tour shown in French Place backyard

Having been on both sides of the door (visitor and host), I put together this Q&A to perhaps dispel some misconceptions and provide insight.

How’d you get picked to be on the Preservation Austin homes tour?

Last October, I got an email out of the blue. Preservation Austin Programs Director Lindsey Derrington wrote that their organization was interesting in including our home on their 2018 ” Into the Woods” tour.


Bluebonnets at French Place house in the front yard walkway
Tour photos were taken in February and bluebonnets showed up in March. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler


Evidently, these folks spend time canvasing the city and surfing the ‘net (in this case, our architects’ website) for homes that fit the year’s theme. I was skeptical; was a house built in 1960 “historic”? Sure (and boy, does that make me feel old!).

In December, a panel of judges toured each of the suggested homes and shortly afterward, Derrington informed us our house had been selected.

Why did you say “yes”?

Oh, for the massive amounts of fame and financial compensation, naturally!

Cookbooks and decorative "N" with paper recipes in the Nyfeler kitchen

Hah. No; my husband and I did it because we believe in Preservation Austin’s mission. Most of the things we love about this neighborhood, Cherrywood, are ultimately encapsulated in its homes.

Sadly, a lot of Austin’s small, older houses are being torn down. When new buildings are designed without regard to the area’s aesthetic–well, it’s not the same place. You’ve essentially abandoned what made the ‘hood so special in the first place.

House in Austin with Christmas lights on eaves and "JOY" letters.

If Preservation Austin felt we would be a good ambassador for adaptive reuse, we were happy to throw open the doors.

Call our motivation community service.

So there’s no compensation for being on this homes tour?

Define “compensation.”

No, we weren’t paid any money. We didn’t receive any special gifts or free services. Correction to special gifts: four tickets to the home tour (I’d have liked a T-shirt, hint, hint).

And clarification to free services: I arranged to borrow a large painting from a neighborhood artist I admire (which may cost us in the future because it’s just so damn perfect on that blank office wall).

Information on French Place house and Delwood neighborhood in Preservation Austin Homes Tour 2018 "Into the Woods" booklet

Does attention count as compensation? If so, then yes, our house was featured in the local newspaper. Now, the Statesman could’ve just as easily written up one of the other six (in fact,  different media spaces did cover other homes on the tour).

How about ego? Honestly, there’s great gratification in hearing others say they love your house, too. Because I’m the one who maintains the yard and handles interior decorating, I got a huge amount of personal validation.

Local coverage of French Place house in Austin's daily newspaper

The biggest payoff? People. I met a woman whose grandmother lived on the next block, where she’d grown up playing. Someone else was a personal friend of an Austin artist whose works decorate our walls. I talked with folks about mutual passions: standing desks, gardening, finding the right window coverings, cooking/eating, politics, writing, and neighborhood changes.

Did participating in the home tour cost you money?

Yes and no. We didn’t pay any fees to Preservation Austin. But OMG, did the house projects flow! When hundreds of people will parade through the house, you get busy on put-off projects. I finally spruced up the bedroom with a new comforter and bed frame.

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The yard, especially after finishing construction on the new guest room last December, needed TLC, so we bought plants and mulch, and paid for some heavy lifting in landscape (relocating a raised bed and building screens for vines).

Indoors needed to be show ready, too; to save time (hello, I have freelancing to do!), I paid to have the house cleaned just before the tour. And our elderly neurotic cat deserved an overnight trip to the Kitty Spa while all those strangers invaded her space. It all adds up.

So was getting ready very labor intensive?

preparation taping for redoing grout in master shower at French Place
Little jobs, like time spent redoing the master shower grout, add up.

Being on a homes tour is as involved as you want. An editor by trade and nature, I tend to be excessively detail oriented (that sound you hear is my husband laughing ruefully). Thankfully, we got word in December, so there was ample time–four months–to schedule projects and thoughtfully tick through that checklist without killing myself (or him).

Some things–seasonal yard work, like mulching and trimming–are yearly tasks, so that wasn’t an extra burden. Other prep chores (replacing the master shower moldy caulk; power washing dirty concrete walkways, patios, and lawn furniture) were scheduled due to company calling.

Because the laundry closet doors would be open, I scrubbed behind the washer and dryer. The linen closet was reorganized, just in case.

raised bed and metal furniture with succulents at French Place on Preservation Austin 2018 homes tour
The “secret garden” in the far back corner got a makeover. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

Putting personal items away, tidying for committee review, and decorating before the big day certainly involved many woman hours. Actual clock time with strangers in the house–review committee evaluation, pre-tour meetings with house captains, prep, and tour time–probably totaled 12 hours.

Yeah, I spent a lot of time and energy getting the house and yard ready.

But all those people…weren’t you worried?

Here’s where the house captains came in. Preservation Austin’s team reviewed our house with a practiced eye for traffic flow and congestion areas. They calculated the number of docents required–for example, someone was present in the master bedroom all day to prevent anyone from opening dressers and closets. Bathrooms were ribboned off; closet doors tied closed. And Preservation Austin carried insurance in the event of any problem.

Outdoor patio table with chairs and old RunTex sign at French Place home on Preservation Austin 2018 tour

So were there any problems? Did people get into stuff?

Once the house captains packed up the registration tent and outdoor chairs, took down Bike Austin racks, removed signs, picked up trash (disposable booties, tape and ribbons, cups), and emptied the water cooler, you’d never have known all those people passed through. Absolutely no visible wear and tear, thank goodness.

Most people followed tour rules. A few, however, didn’t think those rules applied to them.

Some skipped required booties to go barefoot (think about lots of strangers’ naked feet on your floor). Others felt the “don’t touch anything” admonition overrated; they opened kitchen cabinets, rubbed the table, sat on the sofa. A handful traipsed across the lawn in spite of the prominent “Please Don’t Walk on the Grass” signs. Someone grumbled about bathroom’s being off limits. People, think about it–hundreds of folks using the furniture, walking through the grass, and flushing our residential bathroom would wreak destruction. It’s not the one; it’s the many.

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Most annoying were those who completely disregarded instructions on “no interior photos.” Like the woman who completed a 360-degree video in my kitchen. (She also opened the pantry, so there’s that.)

When you’re on a home tour, especially one like Preservation Austin, keep in mind the house isn’t staged–you’re in someone’s beloved personal space.

Be on your best behavior.

Was it worth the time and effort?

Oh hell yeah. Why, you ask? These three big takeaways:

  • I learned more history about my house and the nearby neighborhoods. And that made me feel like part of a bigger community.
  • We finished house projects and whipped the yard into primo shape–things we’ll enjoy every single day.
  • Those people connections–from Preservation Austin volunteers to tour attendees, especially neighbors who stopped by–were priceless.

Have a question I didn’t answer? Ask by posting–I’m clearly happy to share.

Art by Karen Alexander in office at French Place

Want to Know More?

All about Preservation Austin

“Couple’s Redone Forever Home in East Austin on Preservation Austin Tour”

“A Midcentury, Midtown History Worth Preserving”

“Sneak Peek: Inside Midcentury and Postwar Homes on Upcoming Tour”

Rick and Cindy Black (architects for home remodel, guest bedroom new build)

K + D Design (landscape and drainage)

Morrissey Home (interior decorating)

Bike Austin

Karen Alexander (art on loan in office)

For additional pieces I’ve written on my wonderful ‘hood:

“New Sidewalks to Make a more Walkable Cherrywood”

“Working Out in Cherrywood with Dane’s Body Shop”

“Leaving the Lights up for Dia de Los Reyes”

“Can I Be Absolved of Gentrification?”






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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

7 thoughts on “A Backdoor Look at Being on a Homes Tour

  1. Oh man- I wish I had gone on the tour! I would have been so happy to walk into your house! It looks great and so comfortable. You should be very proud of all your hard work. How about a pic of the kitchen????

    1. Thank you so much, Kate! Check the post; I updated with kitchen photos, taken this morning. Enjoy!

  2. Really enjoyed your article, Leah. We love home tours and wish we could have seen this one, but you maybe it was even better to read about it from your afterwards point of view. Mike and I went on three tours last year – Christmas in Brenham, Llano homes tour, and a Wimberly tour that featured five homes r that were renovated after being destroyed in the 2015 floods. Thanks for sharing all the pics and insight from your own homeowner experience!

    1. Oh, that Wimberly tour sounds like it would be cool. I love a good homes tour (clearly)!. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  3. Your house looked spectacular! It is an amazing house but all the extra work you put in to getting it ready made it sparkle and glow.
    Love how you write about all the benefits of participating in this event, especially the ongoing enjoyment of completing all those house projects!

    1. It was such a joyful surprise to see you and Cherie walk in–thank you for coming by, friend! And thanks for these kind words.

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