INK BLACK AND SHROUDED IN SHADOWS, A BEAUTIFULLY BROODING 19TH-CENTURY HOUSE IN WEATHERFORD IS ANYTHING BUT MOURNFUL.

Drive one-hour west on I-30 from Dallas, and you’ll run into Weatherford, Texas, population 25,000. You may know it already as the birthplace of Rodgers and Hammerstein muse Mary Martin, who was best known for her portrayal of Peter Pan on Broadway. Her son, Larry Hagman — aka J.R. Ewing — was also born and reared, here.

More recently, though, Weatherford has drawn attention for another fascinating hometown character: a raven-hued 19th-century house owned by Dallas couple Richard and Chad Bettinger.

More than 60 Queen Anne- and Victorian-era homes still stand in Weatherford — but you can’t miss this one. “It’s the only black house in town,” says Richard, a fine art photographer and outside sales rep for David Sutherland showroom. Chad is the studio director for Newlon Collection, known for its artisan wallpapers depicting Richard’s images and available at Sutherland and on Newlon’s website.

The unexpectedly edgy throwback of a house seems a good fit for the couple: Richard has a penchant for wearing black cowboy hats and boots; Chad’s dark, bushy beard is both retro and hipster. For their engagement, the pair borrowed 19th-century men’s clothing and top hats, and had a  photographer capture them in sepia, looped arm in arm in their parlor.

Nicknamed the Black House for its dark-as-pitch paint job, the couple’s weekend retreat has captured Weatherford’s imagination, along with readers of Richard’s popular Facebook page, where he’s chronicled the ongoing transformation for almost three years. Some Weatherford residents posted comments on the Chamber of Commerce’s website, suspicious of the house’s brooding exterior and drawn blinds.

Still, most consider it mysteriously elegant. Curiosity seekers snap selfies on the porch or knock on the door, wanting to know more. Hundreds of children descend on the house at Halloween, and it was part of last year’s Candlelight Tour of Homes.

The Mystery Brightens
The town is warming to the unconventional house: Recently, an elderly couple flagged down Richard, who was gardening in the front yard. He was expecting a tongue lashing but instead won praise — they told him the house was not only beautiful, but it brought them joy each day when they drive past.

Designers have embraced the Black House’s esoteric countenance, with Elizabeth Robertson and Ann and David Sutherland making the pilgrimage from Dallas to Weatherford to see it. The house has served as backdrop for Neiman Marcus and Kim Dawson Agency fashion shoots, and it’s lured photographers and models from New York, Los Angeles, and Spain.

Chad first came up with the idea to paint the house’s exterior and trim coal black after researching Scandinavian design blogs, which had a number of similarly painted Victorians.

“They were striking,” says Chad. “And Richard was brave enough to try it.” Richard liked the idea because the garden’s greenery and flowers would pop against the ebony background, setting a mood. “The house has its own presence,” he says. “At night, it’s darker than the sky, so all you see is the silhouette.”

Original tub and sink, circa 1910. Antique Eastlake chair.
Original tub and sink, circa 1910. Antique Eastlake chair.

Weatherford was still the Wild West in 1874 when the Black House was built by the town postmaster. Native American attacks against settlers were prevalent. Today, local cemeteries are filled with ancient headstones bearing the phrase “Killed by Indians.” In 1905, a cattle rancher bought the house and added a second floor with bedrooms for his three daughters.

“I like to think about how much life has been experienced in the 123 years of the house,” says Richard, who purchased it from a woman who sewed draperies styled from the period and laboriously hand-stenciled walls in patterns documented from the 1800s, all of which they kept. The original wood floors downstairs were refurbished years ago, and they ripped out the 1970s carpet upstairs, revealing wood planks.

The original woodwork, including the doors, had never been painted, leaving everything with a lovely patina, he says. Without much insulation, it’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer, but that’s part of the charm. They let the house be itself. Says Richard: “Some people totally renovate, and then it’s not an old house any more.”

This is not the first historic house he has owned and refurbished in Weatherford — he’s lived in these relics off and on for 15 years, including the Mary Martin house — but the Black House is the oldest one yet. The previous owner had “goofy-looking Victorian furniture throughout,” he says, but they’ve made it their own with a handful of 19th-century antiques and contemporary furnishings from Sutherland, Donghia, and Richard Shapiro.

A white enamel and chrome stove from the 1950s, purchased for the kitchen from a store in Weatherford, looks just like the one Richard’s grandmother had. Walls are hung with their own photography and paintings. “Everything seems to work together,” says Richard. “We’ve been collecting things for years.”

Clad in its inky coat, the house would be an oven, he says, were it not shaded by a canopy of ancient oaks, cedar elms, and live oaks. A wild garden flourishes in the front, with native grasses, succulents, cactuses, and black-eyed Susans. Richard cultivates pink and red climbing roses, including natives that date to the 1900s that have thrived for more than 100 years; a pioneer grit for survival lives on in the garden.

For Chad and Richard, restoring the Black House is less about decorating and renovating than it is about preserving a century of vanished life.