Work Live Play
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Jeremy Enlow
The ultimate project for this designing couple meant bringing work home — and that’s a good thing
“Even in the chaos, don’t forget to kiss” is etched in the concrete steps leading to the second-floor living quarters of Liz and Stephen Mears.
Married only since 2017, the Mearses already have endured a lifetime of relationship challenges, including long-distance dating, working together, starting a business (two, to be exact, including one during the pandemic) and building a home/business (also during the pandemic).
The couple own and operate The Holly, a natural wine shop in Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood. The new building — the creative couple’s most recent project — houses their business and an artist studio/retail space on the ground floor, along with their second-floor apartment.
It’s also the one, with its numerous highs and lows, that prompted the pair to take a stick to wet concrete and create a reminder that love helps get them through many frustrations — from delayed building permits to back-ordered furniture.
Even their initial meeting was born from chaos.
A native of California, Liz had planned on becoming a journalist until the 2008 recession inspired her pivot toward TV production. She landed a job in Australia with Nat Geo Wild, which also satiated her desire to travel. The transition from
the Outback to a home show called The Living Room that aired in Sydney soon immersed her in the renovation, building and design industries.
When the DIY Network (now the Magnolia Network) and HGTV came calling, she decided to head home.
“I decided to rent a ridiculously expensive beach place in Los Angeles. But then I got a call about a pilot they wanted to film in Fort Worth over two months, August and September.” When Liz looked at the weather forecast for Texas that time of year, she was even sadder about leaving her oceanside rental.
As field producer for the show Texas Flip N Move, her job was to find two houses destined for teardown that could instead be moved and renovated. The show had moving crews ready to go, but not the houses or anyone with renovation skills. Liz had four days to find both. She called everyone she could think of who might be able to help, including real estate agents, and one of them hooked her up with Stephen Mears.
“He had a house that he was about to tear down, and when he pulled up in a pickup truck that said ‘Mears Roofing & Construction,’ I was thrilled.”
She also admits that there was a bit of an instant attraction on her part. Stephen ended up working on the pilot show and flipped both houses. “It was hot and hectic, but he had skills and such a positive attitude.”
The couple ended up dating while she was in Fort Worth and continued a long-distance relationship after she headed back to California. The commute became easier when she landed in Waco, working on Fixer Upper.
Before Stephen got a taste of TV construction, he built new homes and renovated several others in Fort Worth. The Lubbock native worked in construction all through high school and got a civil engineering degree from Texas Tech. He went to work for Fort Worth firm Teague Nall and Perkins but eventually opted to build houses instead of bridges. In 2015, after Liz had moved to Fort Worth full time, the couple started Mission Street Design Build, a boutique contracting firm.
Among their projects were houses in Marfa and Austin, new builds in a couple of historic Fort Worth neighborhoods, and the transformation of an old North Richland Hills fire station into a work/event space for Ginger Curtis of Urbanology Designs. Their initial project together was their first home in Fort Worth, a 1930s renovated bungalow in Arlington Heights.
In 2017, while on their way to Croatia for their honeymoon, the Mearses learned they had a chance to purchase a dilapidated 1898 Queen Anne Victorian in Savannah, Georgia, as part of that city’s preservation program.
On their return, the newlyweds packed up their tools, their dog — a Great Dane-mix puppy named Lincoln — and moved to Savannah for the eight-month remodel. “It was a project that required a lot of research to uncover the house’s past,” says Liz.
After returning home and settling into a Fairmount house they had built, the Mearses continued to get to know Fort Worth. “All of our projects have been part of our journey,” says Liz. One thing she missed was a natural wine shop. “They were everywhere when I lived in Sydney and in Los Angeles. We have winemaker friends from the Central Coast in California, too,” says Liz, giving them the nod for inspiring her to open a shop in Fort Worth.
In order to make that prospect work financially, the Mearses came up with the idea of a work/live arrangement with rental income from a third part of the property. They also sold their Fairmount house to help fund the project and moved into an apartment. After closing on the corner lot in July 2020, they took seven months just to work out details such as sidewalks, alleys, trees and other exterior details with the city. They poured the foundation March 1, 2021, and opened The Holly (and moved in upstairs) this past November.
Both the couple’s home and wine shop reflect a modern aesthetic and an eye for detail. The Holly is wrapped in windows, allowing natural light to warm up the polished concrete floor and the birch plywood furniture custom-built by Fort Worth’s Brothersisterdesign and Millennium Wood Products. Seating includes a mix of equipale barrel chairs with black bentwood chairs and stools. Liz sourced colorful striped linen-cotton blend fabric from soaking tub and a walk-in closet that leads into the laundry room.
Completing the apartment is a home office, a guest bedroom and two more bathrooms.
The rooftop provides additional space for entertaining, with a platform ipe deck installed by Stephen, a small patch of synthetic turf and a covered patio. The view of the skyline is pretty sweet here, too.
Stephen admits that he learned a lot about construction while ensuring that the entire building conformed to commercial codes. But he confirms the choice to live above the store was the right one. “It makes us feel like part of the community.”
Across the street, more apartments are being built, and the Mearses hope the empty lot on the other side of them will house something interesting.
“We love living and working here,” Liz says, “as well as having Kendall Davis and her ceramics studio on the ground floor. We hope what we’ve done here will inspire others.”