(VIDEO) After serving as a Home Management House and child care facility, the 93-year-old building regained the historic charm it deserves, thanks to Texas Tech’s own people.
Editor's note: This article is the second in a two-part series that premiered on March 5, 2020. It was supposed to publish one year ago today, March 12, 2020, but was disrupted by the announcement of the Texas Tech University System's transition to digital instruction in response to COVID-19. In recognition of Women's History Month, we are proud to now present the series in its entirety.
There's a hidden treasure at Texas Tech University.
Tucked away behind the L-shape of Weeks Hall, hidden by Doak Hall on the south and the children's playground on the west, is a relatively small, unassuming building simply called "Human Sciences Cottage." On the outside, it has the same traditional bricks, red roof and stone accents as many other buildings on campus. But walking inside is like stepping back in time.
Surrounded by beautiful hardwood oak floors and French doors; vibrant teal walls; a grand staircase carpeted in lush teal, butter, bronze and taupe; and coordinating Tiffany-style light fixtures, it's easy to feel momentarily transported to 1927.
That's how Don Collier wants you to feel. After all, he was the man in charge of transforming an aging building that had fallen into disrepair into the historic Texas Tech gem it is today.
Home Management House
Texas Technological College opened in the fall of 1925 with 910 students in four colleges. More than half the student body was in the College of Liberal Arts, where there were only slightly more men than women, but the College of Agriculture had 60 men and no women, while in the College of Engineering, women were outnumbered 312 to 1.
The College of Home Economics was different. It boasted 66 students, all of them women. It was a trend that would continue for 23 of its first 26 years, actually, and in each of those three years that did have a male student, it was literally a male student – only one.
Part of the reason the college was exclusively female, of course, was its focus. According to the 1925-26 course catalog, the college "centers its work around the home to the fullest extent. Work in foods, clothing and child study is the specialty of this college." Class offerings included elementary nutrition ("A study of food requirements and food selection"), home nursing ("A study of personal hygiene and home care of the sick"), and dress appreciation ("Study of economic, artistic and hygienic principles underlying the selection of clothing"). The courses catered to women because, as many in the 1920s could tell you, a woman's place was in the home.
"Rather dated, and certainly not politically correct in this day and time," said Collier, program director for interior design in the Department of Design in what is today the College of Human Sciences.
In 1927, construction began on the Home Management House, informally called the "practice house" because it was exactly that – a place for the home economics students to practice what they were learning in the classroom. When it opened in January 1928, the Home Management House offered a high-intensity, hands-on education for home economics students. For nine weeks, students lived in the house full-time with a resident instructor. They practiced cooking, cleaning, gardening, doing household crafts, creating meal plans and serving as hostesses for organized functions – in short, all the things they would have to do to run their own households one day.
Beginning in 1931, the Home Management House offered a nursery school during the summers to give home economics students experience in childcare as well as their other household duties.
In 1936, then-Home Management House director Sannie Callan took in a motherless baby girl, and the women of the house got their first around-the-clock parenting experience. The first practice house baby – simply called the "practice baby" – lived in the house from the time she was two weeks old until she was 3 years old, and other practice babies followed. Students cared for each baby all day and night while also attending classes and completing their house tasks, learning what it really meant to be in charge of a household.
In January 1938, the College of Home Economics opened a year-round nursery school with 24 children under Callan's watchful eye. The nursery school building, which no longer exists, was located between the Home Economics building on the north and, on the south, the campus bookstore, where the Child Development Research Center (CDRC) and Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery are located today.
By 1951, practice babies returned home to their parents for weekends and official holidays. It wasn't long before the duration of each baby's daily stay varied on a case-by-case basis, depending on the child's home situation. The children of local students and faculty members, for instance, sometimes spent only part of the day in the house, and then returned home for evenings and weekends with their parents.
But by the late 1950s, institutions nationwide found it increasingly difficult to continue offering a practice baby at all. Although the College of Home Economics was able to support the program longer than many peer institutions, Texas Tech's last documented practice babies were in the summer of 1967.
Likewise, the practice house didn't continue much longer. In January 1961, the home management program had moved its residency course into the President's Home – now the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center – so it could accommodate more students. According to the 1968-69 course catalog, "An important contribution in home management is the opportunity for residence in the Home Management House, as well as in modern mobile homes, located on the campus, where students experience many phases of home living, including the care of an infant."
By the following year, the home management program changed. It had to move out of the President's Home to make way for the Texas Tech Ex-Students Association, and the 1969-70 course catalog no longer listed the Home Management House or infant care, instead offering "single women students the opportunity to live in apartments and mobile homes where they gain experiences in group living and managing." By 1972, the residency course disappeared altogether.
Child Development Center
After the original Home Management House was vacated in 1961, the College of Home Economics used the building to house two of its child development laboratories; it was convenient, since the children's playground was right beside it. And in 1964, to accommodate an expansion to the campus bookstore, the nursery school moved into the former Home Management House at the urging of Dean Willa Vaughn Tinsley.
"Our request is based on the conclusion that the old Home Management House can best be converted into the preschool laboratories instead of reserving it for a possible future home management residence laboratory if and when the president's home is no longer available for this laboratory," Tinsley wrote to the campus planning committee in October 1963. "It is unrealistic to think that the old Home Management House can ever revert back to a home management residence laboratory because of the increasing number to be served in home management residence.
"When we moved from the old Home Management House in January 1961, where we could enroll only seven students at a time, we were serving an enrollment of 546 majors. After moving to the president's home where we can enroll 11 students at one time, we are serving a student body in the fall of 1963 of 646 majors, an increase of 18 percent in three years."
Tinsley requested that the building be remodeled so child development laboratories could be housed on both floors, and the planning committee agreed. The stairwell was enclosed, restroom facilities on the first floor were relocated, and the second-floor restroom was remodeled. To mark the changes, the facility was renamed the Child Development Center. A few years later, to emphasize its research mission, it would become the CDRC.
There, it grew and thrived. According to the 1978-79 course catalog, the CDRC maintained five different half-day programs for young children and their families while providing opportunities for home economics students to learn about the children's development and guidance.
When a new addition to the home economics building was completed in 1979, the infants from the CDRC were moved into it, in an area designed as classrooms and an observation room. The older children remained in the former Home Management House, which was then designated the "preschool lab." But even in two facilities, the CDRC eventually became too cramped. To accommodate its growth and the numerous families on its waiting list, the entire program moved into the current CDRC building in the fall of 2006.
A new challenge
For the next three years, the former Home Management House became research offices for grant-funded professors' dedicated research. But from 2009 to 2011, it fell into disrepair. That's when Linda Hoover, then dean of what had become the College of Human Sciences, reached out to Collier.
Hoover wanted the building completely redone. She wanted a space where 60 people could attend events, she wanted a catering kitchen to service those events, and she wanted office space upstairs.
"And she said, 'Lastly, Don, I want it pretty,'" Collier recalled. "And I said, 'I can do pretty.'"
But before making it pretty, he had to make the space usable.
"It had not been used in a long time, and the building had fallen into a great deal of unkemptness," Collier explained. "We counted up to 47 feral cats that were occupying the building at one point, along with a whole lot of mice, and about 24 bags of corn that the children would plant outside."
Even once it was cleaned up, the existing building didn't really lend itself to Hoover's vision.
"It was institutional," Collier said. "From the photographs we've been able to find, the interior was off-white; it was very chalky. It had some dark furniture. It wasn't very homey. Upstairs where the students slept, there was just a brass curtain rod and they had curtains that separated their sleeping areas.
"There was a formal dining room, which was where we now have the catering kitchen, and so that was pretty formal, but the rest of it was little bitty offices that you can't even get normal desks in now. Small, small bathrooms. It really wasn't very pretty at all. There were a couple of rugs that were just tacked to the floor, from what I can tell from the photographs."
Also still present were Tinsley's changes from when the building housed the early CDRC.
"The staircase had a wire cage around it so the children couldn't get hurt," Collier said. "In addition, the bathrooms did not meet current building codes. So there were a lot of things that had to be taken out."
Also, since the facility's construction in 1927, building requirements had changed substantially. Any renovation had to bring it up to the new standards.
"A lot of it was not worth saving," Collier said. "There was a fireplace that never worked. Nothing met current building codes. Bathrooms were wrong; the staircase was wrong; entrances and exits were wrong. The kitchen did not meet American Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, the bathrooms didn't – all sorts of various and sundry things. So, we knew we had a challenge ahead of us with all of that.
"In addition to that, it was riddled with asbestos, so we had to have the asbestos removed first. In doing so, we made the decision to just gut the whole interior – first floor and second floor – and come back in with a new space plan, which fit the needs of what Dr. Hoover asked us to do."
So, in collaboration with Darren Densford, lead architect for the university Physical Plant, and graduate research assistant Emily Spalding, Collier got to work.
Because the project involved a new design instead of returning the building to its original form, it's considered an adaptive reuse instead of a renovation. But because of the building's location in the university's historic corridor, Collier had to adhere to some very strict guidelines.
"I was told, you can do almost anything you want to the inside, but the outside profile of the building has to remain as is," he said.
That meant windows from the original 1927 structure couldn't be relocated or changed. The sun porch had been enclosed in the 1960s, but badly, Collier said, so he was able to rework the windows there, making them match the standard for Texas Tech, while re-enclosing the porch. But throughout the rest of the building, energy-saving double-paned windows were installed that came close to matching the original windows.
The outside of the building also held a mystery for Collier, one that wouldn't have been at all mysterious to people a century ago.
"On the north side of the building, there's this small door – it's about 30 inches by 30 inches big – and it was a door that, when open, went through the wall," he said. "And I could not figure out what that thing was for until I found the original architectural drawings and realized that's where they delivered ice for the icebox, because they didn't have a refrigerator. That way, the iceman could come deliver his ice and not disturb the ladies in the house."
With the inside completely gutted and all interior walls removed, Collier designed a new floor plan. On the south end of the first floor, he created a large meeting space. In the foyer, he rebuilt the staircase to mimic the original – with its metal railings and double turn – but with proper height and width on the steps and proper railing and handrail heights to meet code. On the north end is the ADA-accessible catering kitchen, complete with a farmhouse sink and cabinetry to match the original kitchen. On the east side, tucked behind the foyer and kitchen, are the lounge and restrooms. Upstairs are the offices Hoover requested.
Because the original structure featured wainscoting and French doors, Collier used those in his design as well, but he went with a lighter wood than the original. Then came the task of making it pretty.
"We started doing our research into finishes and into decorative elements and that kind of thing," Collier said, "and I'm thinking, '1927, great – black and white movies.' And then I realized that they had color in 1927, they just didn't have color photography. So I went to the fashion magazines from 1927.
"The color scheme you see here was chosen from an illustration of a cover of Vogue magazine: the teal with the butter and the bronze and the taupe. I had about four options, and this is the one Dr. Hoover chose. From that, we had the springboard to pick everything else."
The carpet now found throughout the building is from a 1920s collection designed for healthcare facilities. Not only was it in the right colors, but it was industrial – a huge plus for Collier.
"I predominantly went with the original kind of atmosphere with the sconces, light fixtures, ceiling fans, hardware, etc., to bring the architecture and the interior architecture back to the way it would have looked. A lot of the furniture, like the tables in the main room and the offices upstairs, are contemporary, but in softer colors.
"The one exception to that is what I call the breakout telephone lounge back here, where people can go to the bathroom or check their cell phones. That we did in a historic vent because there was French-style furniture in the original, so we went with the French-style furniture again."
The color-coordinated Tiffany-style light fixtures he chose helped create atmosphere.
"When I found the stained-glass sconces, it became more like jewelry," Collier said. "That added a whole lot of romance to it, and it pleased Dr. Hoover."
Best-kept secret on campus
Collier's work has been very well received, not only in the college, which uses the Cottage frequently for alumni gatherings, advisory board meetings, speakers and more, but also by the design community. In 2011, it won second place in the adaptive reuse category of the American Society of Interior Designers' Legacy of Design Awards. He says the fact that it was achieved entirely through the expertise of Texas Tech faculty and staff is special.
"With Darren, myself and my assistant, Emily Spalding, we put this thing together," he said. "The three of us just worked like a charm together, and it got done. The facilities are here, the staff is here – as long as we get good direction from the administration, we could do almost anything they'd ask us to."
Collier says he particularly enjoyed the opportunity to do something different through this project.
"We had a lot of fun doing the traditional part – that's something we don't normally get to do," he said. "I'm pretty much 'now and wow' in offices and conference rooms, etc. This was something that was really quite charming.
"It has a lot of quaintness to it and a lot of romantic atmosphere on the history of campus. What we tried to do was just bring it back, and it be a respite from the day-to-day of academia."
While he says the college uses it frequently, he believes it's still the best-kept secret on campus.
"It is really hidden," he laughed. "I think that's kind of the way Dr. Hoover likes it, quite frankly, or it might get used more than what she has in mind. It's a tucked-away little gem."
But for Collier's part, he hopes to be able to share it with more people. While he left his mark on the Cottage, the Cottage also left its mark on him.
"We're proud of it," he said. "It's part of us, too."