Posts by Caitlin Adams
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories profiling the personalities in the real estate business.
More than 40 years ago, Virginia Cook was trudging up and down Preston Road in the dead of winter, pleading with homeowners to let her list their house. Today, you’ll still find her near Preston Road, but she’s since traded in her walking shoes for a corner office.
A lot has changed in the course of a few decades, but Cook’s passion for helping families find homes has remained constant.
“It’s an industry made for me,” she said.
But for someone who has been in the upper echelon of producers in Dallas real estate since her start, Cook didn’t have an
average introduction into the industry.
While studying English at SMU, she saw a family friend’s success as a Realtor. Cook was married and not yet 21. In the ’60s, that meant she had to get her “disabilities” removed, but that didn’t slow her down. She obtained her husband’s signature, got her license, and called the woman she looked up to most: Ebby Halliday.
But Halliday had some heartbreaking news; she wasn’t hiring.
“I went home and cried,” Cook recalled.
Although Halliday didn’t have a place for Cook, she didn’t give up on the young rookie; in fact, she helped Cook find a job with Judge Fite. Cook spent a year with Fite — who was responsible for those aforementioned walks — before being hired by Paula Stringer. She later purchased the office for a grand total of $8,900.
From there it was full speed ahead, and the Virginia Cook name has since been synonymous with success.
In 1971, Cook sold her company to Henry S. Miller Realtors and stayed on as president for nearly 30 years. The veteran retired when Miller sold the residential company to the National Realty Trust.
“I thought, ‘I’m just going to take life easy and do all the things you think about,’ ” she said. “Like travel, make every pie and cake you never made, and host every dinner party that you never had.”
But kneading dough and traipsing borders didn’t quite cut it, and Cook just couldn’t stay away from the job that was tailor made for her. By 1999, she was back to showing houses, and this time she indulged a lifelong dream by starting a namesake firm with one of her best friends, Sheila Rice.
“Virginia is an icon in the industry with an impressive, decades-long career,” Rice said.
That career includes being the first woman president of the MetroTex Association of Realtors and of the Texas Association of Realtors, both of which named her Realtor of the Year. But her success goes beyond the Lone Star State. She received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Realtors.
When asked about her secrets for success, Cook swears by traditional business practices. She’ll take a handwritten note over an email any day, and she stands by the testament that a phone call goes a long way.
“Customer service is customer service,” she said.
But it’s not all about signing the dotted line.
“She has more energy than the next three people, works circles around everyone, and she’s lots of fun,” Rice said.
Cook attends a weekly book club, enjoys reading autobiographies, and she spoils her eight godchildren, all of whom she thinks of as her own. And whether it’s through her work as president of the Dallas Woman’s Forum, or her advocacy for the Northaven Trail, Cook is invested in the city she calls home.
“We don’t sell homes; we sell communities,” she said. “Being immersed in the communities we serve is important to our business.”
She’s also immersed in her employees’ lives.
“I’m a real open-door girl,” she said, citing plenty of fireside chats in her office. “I don’t even have a lock on my door.”
Cook closely mentors each new agent who joins her ranks — a number that now surpasses 400 — hosts frequent events to celebrate milestones, and remembers that her business is more than a company; it’s a family.
It’s no wonder that her employees laud her for recalling pet names and anniversaries at the drop of a hat.
Existing tenants CH Carolina Herrera and Kate Spade New York will open at new locations within the center in the fall of 2013. Accessories retailer Stuart Weitzman relocated and reopened in April, and can now be found on the first level between Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
Fair Park’s Music Hall was alive with the sound of music Tuesday night for the second annual High School Musical Theatre Awards. The ceremony, hosted by Dallas Summer Musicals, recognized performers from 49 high schools across North Texas.
The large number of competitors made for a packed house, and the spirit was playful as performers struck poses on a red carpet, showing off their ball gowns and tuxedoes.
“There’s so many great nominees,” said Highland Park High School junior Charles Harper, who was nominated for best supporting actor for his role as Feargal McFerrin in Back to the ’80s. “It’s an honor to even be here.”
Student performers accepted awards in between back flips, high notes, and choreographed numbers. Giddy squeals and heartfelt acceptance speeches had the evening feeling more like the Tony Awards rather than a gathering of teenage actors and classmates.
Highland Park High School had two nominations aside from Harper’s. Travis Warren vied for best featured performer for his role as Mr. Cocker in the decade piece.
Calling all modern homes enthusiasts. This weekend is your chance to peek inside some of Dallas’ contemporary homes at the Modern Home Tour Dallas. The four houses for viewing showcase a variety of styles, and each utilize modern components such as lucite, stainless steel, and natural light.
The self-guided driving tours run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday. Advance tickets are $20.
Click here for ticket information and the list of homes available for viewing.
The dedication is done and the motorcades have taken their leave, but there’s still plenty of hype surrounding the opening of the Bush Library.
Snider Plaza’s Commonwealth Couture just sent along this photo of a window display they put together to honor the event.
Word is that the jumpsuit is believed to be an original Peruna Handlers outfit from the ’60s. Can anyone confirm?
Go Mustangs (said with love from an Ole Miss girl).
There’s a lot happening this spring at The Plaza at Preston Center:
Aftershock London‘s U.S. flagship store will also make its debut at the Plaza. The British fashion retailer will open May 9.
Dallas jewelry designer Matthew Trent returns to his roots in his recently renovated space.
True Food Kitchen will dish out healthy, locally grown menu items by the end of summer. The location will be the first in Texas.
On April 11, Calypso St. Barth combined two stores. The brand now houses both its women’s wear and home accessories under one roof.
Bag’n Baggage relocated to the Plaza this month after closing its Inwood Village store at the end of January.
Finally, Sprinkles Ice Cream will serve cold treats this June in spot adjacent to its cupcake counterpart. The Plaza location will be the third in the country. And alas, the cupcake ATM will finally make its way to Sprinkles.
Whew. Did I miss anything?
When college cohorts Jill Giddens and Anne Marie Goodwin reunited in University Park years ago, they were more concerned with play dates than design templates.
But one friend’s 40th made the ladies realize they could juggle business and motherhood. Giddens and Goodwin were at the helm of that friend’s birthday blowout, and they had 40 partygoers decorate plates for the honoree’s beach house. Attendees raved about the event, and the women went home with a newfound appreciation for their creativity.
“We realized there was a business in there somewhere,” Goodwin said.
It didn’t take long for the women to find a niche market.
“Six weeks later, we had our first plate,” Giddens said.
Now, the duo behind Me & Re Design curate 20 personalized “mom-tested” products. Their collection of home décor and accessories range from melamine plates and bowls to blankets and lucite trays.
Clients are able to customize individual products in unique color combinations and patterns, from paisley and chevron to stripes and polka dots.
Whether it’s beach towels during the summer or blankets when temperatures drop, the ladies are constantly looking for items to add a dash of their flair.
“We really have gifts for any occasion,” Giddens said.
Melissa Utley is a repeat customer who relies on the women for birthday and holiday gifts.
“I did all of my Christmas shopping with them in one stop,” she laughed.
Giddens has designed dishes for Utley’s lake house, key chains for her friends, and cups for entertaining.
“I’ve pretty much bought everything they sell,” Utley said.
Me & Re broke onto the scene in 2009, but personalized products have long been popular in the Park Cities. McCartney’s University Spirit owner Carolyn McCartney Culbert said the monogramming business is booming year-round, but she notices a surge during graduation season.
“People love to give personalized gifts,” she said. “Anything you can find in a dorm and know it’s yours.”
Greek life is another ball game. Culbert said sorority and fraternity newcomers flock to “left chest embroidery” on sweatshirts, tanks, and T-shirts.
And while Giddens and Goodwin donned their fair share of Greek letters as sorority sisters at the University of Texas, they do not have the licensing to print official insignia — a service that McCartney’s pays additional royalties for.
But that hasn’t stopped the duo from filling orders when bid day rolls around. They can design products using sorority colors, and as Giddens points out, the novelty of Greek letters fades away after a while.
The women have recently seen a surge of growth with the help of trunk shows and a newly launched website that pulls in orders from across the country.
Plus, both women have children in Highland Park ISD, and their children’s classmates clamor to sit down with them and design their own iPhone cases. It’s an aspect that Giddens and Goodwin adore.
“Our heart is in the creative part,” Giddens said.
And Goodwin echoes the sentiment.
“We love helping clients show their personality through designs,” she said.
Barbara Pierce Bush will be this year’s keynote speaker, accompanied by special guest First Lady Laura Bush.
Funds generated from the WINGS luncheon will be used to aid sexually exploited women and children by way of education, job training, and financial assistance.
Click here for tickets.
Betty Lou Phillips has cozied up on Oprah’s couch. She’s penned 28 books. And her interior designs illustrate House Beautiful and Veranda. It’s a career that Phillips said she “fell into,” but she hasn’t had any trouble making it her own.
“I love working with fabrics, colors, textures, and people,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to meet with people, incorporate their ideas, and strive to add value to every project.”
But her most impressive project isn’t any of the houses she’s designed from California to Florida; it’s the one she calls home.
Phillips moved into her Highland Park mansion three years ago, and the house is an ode to the city she holds dear: Paris.
Although she was never an official resident of “The City of Light,” Phillips has been enamored with France’s chic residents and their effortless entertaining for as long as she can remember.
“I just became fascinated with the French way of doing things,” she said.
Her numerous visits to the country allowed her to collect ideas and bring design details back to her own quarters.
“Inspiration is everywhere,” Phillips said. “It’s being aware of your surroundings.”
Phillips is perfectly aware that her neighborhood’s humble Turtle Creek doesn’t hold a candle to the Seine, but that didn’t stop her from making her own Parisian paradise. Her grand fortress encapsulates French flair in all aspects, from the copper pots that hang in her kitchen to antique oak flooring imported from the city itself.
Settees boast pillows stamped with Marie Antoinette’s portrait. Crystal chandeliers suspend from stone ceilings. Gilded mirrors reflect French glamour.
But that’s just on the inside. One step through the salon, and you’ll be in a backyard that looks more like a Claude Monet painting than a Texas lawn. Manicured gardens wrap around a pristine pool, and the pool house is one that would have satisfied Louis XVI himself.
And next week, the lush property will be on display.
Phillips’ chic eye for design attracted the Park Cities Learning Difference Association’s attention, and her veranda will be the site of the organization’s 36th annual pool and garden party. It was a partnership that developed organically, and Phillips is happy her home could play a key role in the cause.
“Special-needs children are dear to my heart,” Phillips said.
What is usually a tour of multiple homes and gardens has been scaled down to a single soiree, but Angela Malone, co-chair of the party, thinks Phillips’ grand house is more than enough for attendants to take in.
“The house is fantastic,” Malone said. “It’s everything we look for, and this time it’s under one roof. Guests are in for a treat.”
“I’m ready to retire and be with my grandkids,” he said.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel: Smith sold his lease to Zegna, a brand his store has carried since 1983.
Smith said he was planning on retiring when his lease ran out in 2014, but Zegna approached him about an early exit and it was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
“It was a good thing for me,” Smith said. “I think it will be a good opportunity for Highland Park Village and our staff.”
Zegna will take a few months to build the space to their liking and import their Italian inventory. The store is slated to open in November, and Smith said he plans to work as an “ambassador” for six months to helps smooth the transition.