Two Savvy Austin women take us inside their inner sanctuaries
Turning into the Agave neighborhood instantly dispels the east side’s reputation as the hipster capital of Austin. At the base of a small hill, the multi-storied, multi-colored modern homes seemingly pop up out of nowhere. Belying the trend of bright exteriors (a modern home trend of the last decade), Carly Uson, a PR powerhouse, has a different take on “modern.” Uson and her husband, Jason, bought their home almost a decade ago and while they loved the space and openness of their home, they knew changing the bright or ange and green paint colors was the first thing they needed to do.
“Where this is liveable, rustic modern, previously it was just very straight lines, very simple, very minimal, but very bright ,” says Uson. “I always err on the neutral side these days.”
The Usons’ home is light and bright with floor-to-ceiling windows on almost every wall of the main floor. Soft but modern touches combine with industrial elements in the architecture that create a disarming juxtaposition to the exterior.
“[My style] is modern rustic with touches of luxe and texture. I like some little sexy spots here and there,” explains Uson as she describes the first of many changes they made to the home. “I try to anchor the house with black and white, but I don’t want to go over the top because I don’t want to go too mod. And I don’t want it to feel too feminine so my husband feels displaced.”
A unique feature of the house is a freestanding metal pipe wall. Located in the middle of the den and open to the stairs that scale the center of the house, the pipe is currently causing a stalemate between Carly and Jason.
“My husband and I are in a debate about [the pipe installation],” she laughs. “He loves it — it was a selling point for him. I like it too, I think it’s super cool and I think it brings in that raw, industrial look, but I would like to pull them out and just put glass, which would look so beautiful. But he’s fighting me on that.”
The L-shaped sectional in the den carries out the neutral trend throughout the house but is more about utility than style, a fact which Uson offers no apologies for. “We have two big dogs and I like a glamour look, but I don’t like things that are too fussy so it’s not liveable. I like the dogs to be able to jump on the couch so I err on the side of cozy,” she explains.
Uson’s love of her animals might be one of the overriding themes in her home. From the bronze placard by the doorbell imploring rescue workers to save their dogs, to wall art on every floor, it’s clear this is a home where man and dog are equal. In addition to a gold framed portrait of their pitbull wearing a necktie in the guest bedroom upstairs, the Usons have paid homage to a special canine named Posey (whose name Uson wears in gold around her neck) in the sitting area of the master.
“We had this heart print, and the day Posey, our female rotty passed,” remembers Uson, barely holding back tears, “we took her paw and dipped it in some paint and pressed it on top on the heart. I just cherish that.”
This year, Uson says she is exploring new passions she’s always had, but never pursued. “Design has always been something I love, and I’m even doing some design consulting with a company right now,” she says. As for the future, Uson says she’s looking forward to new endeavors. “In January, I’m launching a lifestyle site which will be home decor, lifestyle, fashion, food. I’ve already changed my Instagram to the site’s name, ‘This Felicity,’ which is my grandmother’s name and means ‘happiness.’ It will be a lifestyle site that focuses on the things most lifestyle sites do, but instead of an emphasis on entertaining guests, it will be more on design and decor.”
She wants the site to focus on the neighborhood she has come to know in Agave, and the continually changing nature of the city. “I’ve been doing lifestyle for the last 10 years or so now,” she concludes. “I’m just segueing into a new chapter.”
“Who buys a house for one party?” Chelle Neff muses, surveying her light filled living room in the University Hills neighborhood in East
Perhaps a couple whose home decor includes a subtle scattering of skulls around every corner.
“One reason we loved this house is because we’re really into Halloween and every year we have a party and when we saw this, we said, ‘This is perfect for the party,’” Neff remembers.
Neff, the owner of Urban Betty Salon, and her husband, David, a business consultant, moved into their open concept ranch style home two years ago while planning a wedding and weathering two dog surgeries.
The walls on the main floor of the Neff house are fleeced with posters from both David and Chelle’s collections prior to getting married, which happened right around the same time they moved into the house.
“We’re both real big into music so we pay homage to that with these rock posters. David already had some, and I had mine so it really all came together nicely,” Neff says.
And then there are the skulls. You don’t notice how many there are at first, but they haunt the house in subtle ways: Southwestern -style skull art in the den, an anatomical skeleton poster above the mantle, glass bottles flanking the refrigerator, four framed prints masquerading as a headboard in the master bedroom.
Neff’s interior style at home combines estate and garage sale gems, thrift and antique store finds, treasures from high-end furniture stores, design centers and found items. (One dining room chair was even rescued from the curb and rehabbed through the magic of YouTube videos.)
One personal touch the couple added was a wood pallet wall in the dining room, adding a rustic feel to the otherwise vintage rock vibe of the space. A tin, turquoise “weird” sign that Chelle had custom made for David lights up the hearth where a fire would usually be. “We didn’t know if we should hang it on the wall or what, but one day the lady who cleans my house just put it there to get it out of the way and it just hit us that it should be in there. It fits perfectly,” laughs Neff.
Her personal interior style overflows to the professional at Urban Betty, which recently adde d eight more chairs (which, Neff says, almost felt like opening a second location) during a recent renovation.
“At Urban Betty I mix new things with old things so half of our mirrors were bought at estate sales or garage sales, I found some stuff at Austin City-Wide Garage Sale,” she explains. “The couch at Urban Betty is from Salvation Army; my little chair [at home] is from Goodwill — it was only $25! I was going there for Halloween decorations and I saw it and said, ‘That chair is amazing, I have to have it.’”
This mix-and-match philosophy was part of the reason Chelle and David’s created the Austin Weird Homes Tour. A conversation after the Modern Homes Tour a few years ago inspired the Neffs to seek out a “weird” homes tour to add to their repertoire. When they couldn’t find one, they were perplexed.
“That’s the epitome of Austin, why wouldn’t they have that? I said, ‘Well, that’s a bummer,’ and about a week later, David said, ‘We should do it,’” Neff recalls. “So the seed was planted and about a year later, we had the first Austin Weird Homes Tour.”
Ten percent of the proceeds from the Weird Homes Tour go to charity each year, another passion the Neffs share. In fact, an antique chest from the post office Chelle’s grandparents owned in Throckmorton, Texas showcases trophies and plaques both Neffs have received in recognition of the charitable work they do within the Austin community. It’s an important part of the couple’s ethos, and something that influences many aspects of their work. “The last two years [proceeds from the Tour went to] Caritas, which provides housing for refugees,” explains Neff. “We want something that ties in to the home tour, so there’s a couple more in town we’re looking at, too.”