How one couple updated their abode to adjust to life as empty nesters


Bruce Bernbaum remembers the day he moved into his new house.

He was hot and tired after shuffling boxes around, so he decided to try out the steam shower — a 4-by-5-foot area of blue slate that continues up the wall, making the space appear even larger.

As he let the hot water run over him, he reveled in the joy of what he had just accomplished: a new home, perfectly personalized for him and his wife, Cindy, as they embarked on a new phase — life after kids.

“I just stood there and started giggling,” he says.

Of course, the Bernbaums love their two daughters, Abby and Zoe, who have gone on to college after attending Kramer Elementary, Franklin Middle School and Hillcrest High. But Bruce and Cindy also love coming home to a quiet, uncluttered house free of chaos. So in spring 2009, after their youngest headed to the University of Texas, Bruce began sketching out designs to de-baby proof their home and incorporate a more sophisticated artistic style, updating the kitchen and expanding their master bedroom and bath.

“We made a decision to stay here and make it more comfortable for us,” he says about their mid-century modern home located within walking distance of the Jewish Community Center and North Haven Gardens.

Bruce is an architect by trade with his own firm, Bernbaum Magadini Architects. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune to the challenges that come with a major renovation.


Bruce has a word for it — that sinking feeling you get when you realize you’ve wholly committed to having your rooms gutted and the floor torn apart. It’s remodel suicide, or “remodelcide”. But it doesn’t have to be that stressful, he says.

“Stuff is going to happen, and it’s how you deal with it. We don’t have any preconceived notions about how the house should be designed.”

Take, for instance, the Bernbaums’ air conditioning debacle. The house, which was built around 1956, had an AC system that ran underneath the foundation. When they decided to replace the flooring, they discovered that the ductwork had collapsed.

Solution: Drop down the ceilings and re-install the AC there. Crisis averted.

Luckily, they contracted out all of the major construction.

“We’re not stupid enough to do that [ourselves],” Bruce says.

But you can find Bruce’s design vision all around the house, which is lined completely with windows on the east side to merge the indoors with the outdoors. Make no mistake — this is a house for adults. The spacious living room has clean modern lines and no sofa — only a large, glass dining room table for dinner parties.

“We love to entertain,” Cindy says. “We’re trying things that we want to try. Like art.”

Several delicate artworks adorn the living room, including a sculpture by George Tobolowsky and landscape prints by Jim Doughty and James Surls, who has exhibited at the Meadows Museum.

The Bernbaums had their kitchen completely gutted, bought new appliances and installed a green marble countertop for a splash of color.

A few feet down the hallway is a high-traffic area that has gone from playroom to dance room to den. That’s where the girls spent most of their time while living at home, but Bruce and Cindy took back some of the space by cutting off seven feet of the den to expand their master bath on the other side of the wall.

Considering they would have fewer clothes to wash, they converted the laundry room to an office where Bruce showcases his miniature model trains, which line the walls inside glass cases. He has been collecting since 1985.

“I’m fascinated by the detail of the trains,” he says.

Only an architect could be so detail-oriented.

Design driven

Born and raised in North Dallas, Bruce became interested in architecture at age 15. He spent half of the day attending W.T. White High School for regular subjects and the other half at Skyline High School, which had just begun offering career classes, including architecture.

Bruce has redesigned several extravagant Preston Hollow homes, but his more modest, 2,300-square-foot abode proves that bigger isn’t always better.

“It’s about how a space can be used differently,” he says.

But it also comes down to small, functional details, such as giving Cindy a vanity where she could plug in both her hairdryer and straightener at the same time.

“That was the one thing I had to have,” Cindy says.

The next phase

No more teenagers traipsing through the house. No more rushing to dance practice. And no more girl drama. Now that life has slowed down for Bruce and Cindy, the two spend most of their time cooking dinner and watching their favorite television shows.

“After the girls moved out, we got HBO and Showtime. We call ourselves ‘TV-stupid’,” Bruce says.

And their new kids are two dachshunds, Tamale and Lola, who have the run of the house. The Bernbaums still miss their daughters but enjoy the calm.

“I was prepared,” Cindy says about the girls’ departure. “It’s bittersweet when your kids go off to college. You want them to have those experiences. You’ve done your job, and you’re happy for them. You always miss them.

“It just feels so good, even when you’ve had a bad day, to come home and there’s not chaos. It’s refreshing. I can remember when the girls were here, and we used every inch of this house. We love our kids; we’re just at a different point in our lives.”

Bruce came to terms with his daughters’ independence a long time ago — as soon as they turned 16.

“You see them drive off, and you know that they can fend for themselves.”