By Janet Gregg | Photos by CJ White
They say bigger is better. Here in the Lone Star State, where residents are infamous for Texas-sizing everything from hair to houses, big is synonymous with happy. But one Tyler couple who decided to buck the trend and downsized to a home one-third the size of their previous one say they are happier now than in any home they’ve ever lived in.
Tom and Karen Johnson moved to Tyler from Houston in June 2006 after their children graduated and moved out and Tom retired from 20 years of service with the Houston Police Department. Now he is the executive director of Campus Safety at Tyler Junior College and director of TJC’s Law Enforcement Academy. He also teaches history thanks to a doctorate degree in education, one of five college degrees he holds.
Karen, who is a Tyler native, teaches ESL with the Tyler Literacy Council. They have been married for 19 years.
“In Houston we commuted an hour to work every day,” Tom says. “Now we’re five minutes from work. It’s all about being happy and having a simpler, better quality of life.”
When they moved to Tyler they bought a 1945 house on New Copeland Road that they first saw on the Internet. It was in disrepair but had charm, and they could tell it had been well-built. It took four months of work to get the inside the way they wanted, and Tom laughingly says they’ve been improving on it ever since.
“We did it one room at a time. I hand-sanded all of the beautiful, original oak hardwood floors and then sealed them with three coats of varnish,” he says. “We replaced all of the windows with double-paned argon gas windows. They’re very energy efficient.”
“This house is 896 square feet,” Karen says. “It’s one-third the size of our home in Houston, and I just love it. We’ve had more company here than we ever had in Houston.”
The house retains a number of original features, ranging from built-ins to the cabinet where the hideaway ironing board used to be mounted. It now serves as a display shelf. The house also has the original phone nook and door knobs that, while not original to the home, are still very special.
“These glass door knobs are around 100 years old,” he says. “My Dad gave them to me. Years of sunlight hitting the manganese in them gave them a purple tint.”
A few other features that attracted them to purchase the two bedroom 1 ½ bath home are a large workshop where Tom pursues his woodworking hobby and the half-acre lot, the majority of which makes up the large back yard. Tom has built a deck and added some strategic seating throughout the yard. The front of the home is highlighted by a picturesque porch and large oak trees. They say every aspect of their home is perfect for entertaining.
“This home reminds everyone of a simpler time,” Karen says. “Tyler is a wonderful town, and we have a lot of people who stop by, write us letters or even knock on the door out of the blue saying it’s beautiful and praising all of the renovations we’ve done. I think it reminds them of a simpler time and place in their life, when people sat on their front porches and talked to their neighbors. These smaller old houses are the houses our parents and grandparents grew up in.”
“We consider ourselves part of the new downsizing movement,” Tom says. “We just wanted a simpler life and a smaller house gave us that. Our electric bills here are half of what they were in Houston. We have gas heating and a gas stove. The taxes are also much cheaper here.”
“We can actually enjoy life now,” Karen adds. “Back then we worked to live. Now we enjoy life. Everything we do is on a cash basis, and for us it’s all about being happy and having a simpler, better quality of life. Everything now is about quality of life. My dad even moved up here to Tyler last year, and he’s very happy here, too.”
So instead of “bigger is better” consider this instead: Sometimes good things really do come in small packages. That was the case for Tom and Karen, who are proving that things really do come full circle and all things old are eventually new again.