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After Their Preston Hollow House Was Destroyed in a Tornado, Robby and Christy Berry Built Beauty from the Rubble

When a Home is Healing

BY // 01.28.22
photography Lisa Petrole

In 2014, when Robby and Christy Berry bought their mid-century modern house in Preston Hollow, it was surrounded by seven or eight massive oak trees. “It was just so, so pretty,” remembers Christy, a real estate broker with Compass. Robby, a banker with Citi Private Bank, was smitten as soon as he stepped inside. “It had an open California floor plan and windows toward the backyard, and there was a greenhouse — it was just great,” he says.

The greenhouse, a vaulted beauty in steel and glass, had been added by a previous owner, an orchid enthusiast who relocated it from an old estate in Farmers Branch. He’d also dug a wine cellar beneath it, accessed by a winding iron staircase. The Berrys weren’t sure what to do with the greenhouse at first; for a while, they had rocking chairs in there so they could sit and watch egrets and other birds that frequented the backyard. They loved the greenhouse so much they eventually turned it into a dining room, and Christy furnished the space with a dining table large enough to host the entire family, including their five grown children.

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Lawson-Fenning sectional sofa. Warren Platner bronze table, Entler floor lamp. Lounge chair Marmol Radziner for McGuire. (photography by Lisa Petrole)

On the evening of October 20, 2019, two of their sons and a daughter joined them for an early dinner in the greenhouse, along with a son’s girlfriend; afterward, everyone gathered around the TV to watch the game. Shortly after 9 pm — sometime during the second half when the Dallas Cowboys were trouncing the Philadelphia Eagles — the house lost power. As the Berrys searched in darkness for flashlights and candles, they had no idea that minutes earlier, a tornado had touched down miles away near Walnut Hill Lane and I-35, and was tracking east directly toward them, destroying schools, houses, and shopping centers in its path.

Suddenly, rain began to pelt the house, and lightning crackled furiously. With each flash — and there were hundreds — Christy glimpsed a sickening, hazy green sky. “The air felt like it was being sucked out of the house,” she says, and the windows were starting to buckle from the pressure. Christy screamed for the kids to run for safety into the wine cellar, just as two electrical transformers were ripped from their poles in the alley and hurled through the greenhouse roof, missing them by seconds. Robby, who was recovering from back surgery and using a walker, couldn’t make it down the cellar stairs so Christy pushed him into a corner of the kitchen. Then she lay down on the floor, covered her head, and tried to hold the doors closed with her feet.

“Suddenly the windows exploded into the house, and a ton of debris was flying around, like the movies,” Robby says. “Next, I could hear a loud groaning, then a crack.” The tornado had lifted the southeast corner of the roof seven feet into the air and slammed it back down. As quickly as it all started, it was over.

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The sitting room sofa is by Lawson-Fenning, covered in Perennials Plushy fabric. Warren Platner side table. Lawson-Fenning coffee table.

In the aftermath, Christy and Robby were covered in debris and glass, terrified but miraculously unhurt. The children, also unhurt, screamed for their parents from the cellar, certain they had been killed. As the Berrys dug their way out, they used their cellphones to illuminate the destruction: The house and greenhouse were demolished, the pool was full of broken furniture, and their cars were destroyed. All of their trees had been uprooted and jumbled so high around the house they had to crawl through a dense tangle of branches to get out. Neighbors streamed into the street, surveying their own homes’ damage and checking on each other. People were in shock.

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“We never heard tornado sirens or got emergency text messages on our phones,” Christy says. NBC-5, which broadcast the Cowboys game that night, later apologized publicly for delaying six minutes while the tornado was on the ground before breaking in. The EF-3 tornado ravaged thousands of houses, schools, and businesses, causing $1.55 billion in damage, making it the costliest tornado event in Texas history.

Remarkably, no one was reported to be seriously hurt. “We’re all lucky to be alive,” Robby says.

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The Berry’s brand new greenhouse is a vaulted thing of beauty. (photography by Lisa Petrole)

It took the Berrys 18 months to rebuild. Like many of the tornado’s victims, they had to fight their insurance company to pay — but that’s another story. If ever there was a rainbow after the storm, the Berrys’ new house is it. Two of the first people Christy called when they got the green light to begin work were Chris Dauwe of Rosewood Custom Builders and Wren Homsey, whose company, Wrenovator, specializes in remodeling.

“The house was just a shell when I saw it, and Christy was still very emotional about it,” Homsey remembers. “So, we wanted to make it brighter and more fun, something they could look forward to.” They also carefully rethought how the house would be used.

Christy entertains a lot, and Robby often uses a walker, so the kitchen, dining, and living areas were combined into one large space with windows looking to the pool, and doorways were widened for easy accessibility.

“It’s very inviting, light, and fresh now,” Homsey says. A pair of floating plaster walls with a fluted texture was designed to define the open spaces. In the living room, a plaster wall with a custom Chad Dorsey Design Strike marble fireplace creates two distinct seating areas, while a plaster wall in the entry provides privacy and visual interest.

Corbin See of Sees Design handled the interior finishes and furnishings and took many of the design cues from Christy’s lively fashion sense. “She likes a lot of color, and has a really cool personal style, and we wanted the house to reflect that,” he says.

There’s also a definite mid-century modern vibe, with terrazzo floors throughout and furnishings from the era including Warren Platner coffee and side tables and an Eero Saarinen Womb chair and ottoman. “Having a house that she loves has definitely been healing for Christy,” Corbin says.

The greenhouse was entirely replaced and has again become a cherished place to host family and friends. And Christy will forever have a soft spot in her heart for the wine cellar — aka the tornado shelter — which saved her children. Now, with ramps, wider doorways, and lipless showers for wheelchairs, the Berrys have an ADA-compliant house and envision living here for the rest of their lives.

“There has to be an easier way to get a brand-new house, right?” Christy says with a laugh. “But the whole thing has been a miracle, and we are very lucky.”

Renovations by Rosewood Custom Builders, Wrenovator. Interiors by Sees Design.

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