Real Estate / Houses

Houston’s Ultimate Fun House: Adventurous Couple Builds Merry Mayhem in Garden Oaks

BY Steven Hempel // 07.17.15
photography Jenny Antill Clifton

When it comes to play in the everyday, this couple lives with their arms wide open for fun. Wooch Graff, a personal trainer and co-owner of Timberline Fitness in Montrose, has spent much of his adult life challenging himself with adventure races and endurance events, balanced by fun costumed activities. Jill Smith, a graphic designer and head of a design studio that bears her name, is an expert at hopscotch, freeze tag and finger painting. She also acts as conductor for the quartet, which includes sons Pace (6) and Brae (3), whose perpetual state of motion can best described as a whirling dervish of merry mayhem. Steven Hempel briefly cornered the husband and wife to talk about building a family and building their dream home in the thriving neighborhood of Garden Oaks.


Jill: We were renting in Garden Oaks and had considered moving out of Houston a million times. But once we had our first kiddo, we realized how nice it was to be in a big city that wasn’t crazy expensive, had arts and culture and diversity and an airport with such a wide reach, so here we are. My parents are also here, which is huge for us. We bought a home with the intention of remodeling, but after much debate, we changed our minds and built new.
Wooch: We worked with architect Joe Milton, Milton Architects, who has a Clint Eastwood squint, a John Wayne swagger and is as easy as Cool Hand Luke. He was great for us and patient with the initial idea of renovating our 1942 home … Five bids later, we learned it would be foolish to spend that much money to renovate if we planned on staying for long. So he took what we liked most about the home and accentuated it in a new design that retains much of the character of the original.

Jill: From our first meeting with Joe, we knew that we wanted to do some really fun and different things, like putting in a fire pole from the second floor down to the first, and installing a slide on our stairs. We like playful things, and we don’t like to take ourselves too seriously. What we didn’t know is how hard it is to do fun and different things when building a home! But Wooch found some very nice firemen (seriously) and got some great information concerning our fi re-pole installation. And we found artist Sam Jones, who built our slide, which is my favorite permanent fixture in our home. It’s made of old bowling-alley fl oors that Sam carved and sanded to fit perfectly. It’s truly amazing. And, every morning, our kids go down it in their pajamas on their way to breakfast. My father, Pat [Smith], who is a retired landscape architect, came up with a brilliant idea of a 360-degree pass-through area behind secure gates for safe play, protecting peace of mind, dogs and kids.


: A wide variety of people live in Garden Oaks, but it seems that we all value the trees and space. The neighborhood is small enough to feel cozy but varied enough to be interesting.

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Wooch: We live in a community of passionate people: old, young, gay, straight, family and single who find value in their environment. We like green spaces, and, more often than not, we like each other.

: I love being a mom. It sounds cliché, but it is so true. I love spending time with my kids, playing with them, sneaking glances at them when they’re sleeping and getting to experience everything with them. That’s not to say that sometimes they can be little twerps and make me question if I’m doing a good job or not!

Wooch: And I love being a dad. It’s by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it truly has the biggest return in joy. As a parent, I’m reminded everyday to be patient, kind and honest. This, along with Jill telling me to be “Patient, kind, and honest.” Often.

: Yes, do it. Hang out with kids. They are honest and funny and will make you smile.

Wooch: We do it as much as we can, and we’re fortunate both of our jobs allow it. Every day is a mystery of newfound opportunities and exploration.

: We play Uno and poker, build train tracks, bike around our neighborhood, dance and eat pancakes on Saturday mornings, take vacations and read stories. A favorite place to visit is California, because we have family there, and our kids love to jump on their trampoline and pet their chickens. Our kids would probably say their favorite place to visit is an ice cream store.

Wooch: Can’t leave out sidewalk-chalk body outlines and Big Wheel race tracks. We enjoy lots of board games, putting puzzles together, and we definitely love to travel together.

: It’s hard to do. I would love to make more time to do things like take my mom and dad to lunch or to swim a few laps for some exercise. I think most mothers can relate that it’s hard to find enough hours in the day to take care of everything. Wooch and I recently went to an event in Los Angeles, and we flew on a plane alone. I was so excited to sleep or read on the flight, when in reality I didn’t know what the heck to do with myself. We’re looking forward to more date nights in 2015.


Favorite karaoke song.
Jill: Trust me on this one: You never, ever want to be within a five-mile radius of me and a microphone.

Wooch: “What does the Fox Say”by Ylvis Who is the better dancer?

Jill: Wooch. Dammit.

Wooch: Jill taught me everything I know. We love to dance!

Who cooks?
Jill: The lovely take-out chefs at Coltivare, Down House and Revival Market. Kidding (sort of). I’m the one who gets food to the table, yet neither one of us are great cooks. I joke that I curate meals. I bring healthy, wholesome and simple food items to the table, and we eat. It’s like a simple picnic every night for dinner.

Wooch: I grill, and she curates …

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