Home sweet home in rural Oklahoma.
Joan Derby shows some love to one of the couple’s two donkeys. Photos by Laura Araujo
Interior Designer Molly Gerkin Johnston provides practical design tips to help create a unique home that tells your story.
Johnston helped Jim and Joan Derby design their house to highlight the story of their heritage and life. They include only the items that are the most meaningful to them in the home’s design.
Johnston also helped Dee and Barbie Paige design their home, which focuses on creating a place for family and growth. The Paiges like to invite guests, so their home focuses on areas ideal for gatherings.
Every home tells a story. Like a well-crafted novel that brings its characters to life, a home’s design tells the tale of the people who dwell in it—the places they have been, their accomplishments, what they love.
A home with history
For Jim and Joan Derby, East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative members, their home highlights the story of their heritage and life experiences.
Located in southern most Tulsa County, the Derbys’ 272-acre Concharty Ranch is situated on the crest of the northwest-sloping ridge of Conjada Mountain. This acreage, purchased in 1963, originally belonged to Bessie Gilcrease, sister of oilman Thomas Gilcrease. The homestead is adjacent to properties Joan and her cousin Galia Williams inherited from their grandmother, Neosho Brown, who received a deed to her 160-acre allotment in 1899.
Joan recalls spending childhood summers with her grandmother who was on the original Creek Nation rolls. At the time, they had no running water or electricity.
“I remember being worried when I heard people say, ‘The REA is coming,’” Joan says.
She didn’t realize the REA, or Rural Electric Administration, was the organization that would bring electricity to the rural land.
Photo by Laura Araujo
“I am fortunate to have had a tiny foot into that world,” she reflects as she recounts rich memories from the early days with her grandmother.
Over the years, the family enjoyed many gatherings in a cabin on the property they purchased in the ’60s. As Jim, a geologist, and Joan, a nursing professor, transitioned into retirement in the late-’90s, they decided to leave the fast pace of Tulsa living behind and relocate to the ranch.
With the help of architect Joe Wilkinson and designer Molly Gerkin Johnston, they made plans to build a home on the site of the original cabin. The Derbys were inspired by Arts and Crafts-style homes they enjoyed while visiting their daughter, Jane Breckinridge, in the Twin Cities as well Frank Lloyd Wright homes they toured in Chicago.
In keeping with this architectural style, Jim says they tried to “bring the outside in” as they constructed and designed their home.
Johnston, a Cookson Hills Electric Cooperative member, helped them to incorporate details into the home that highlight their unique history and interests.
Upon entering the home, one of the most stunning features is the rich pecan wood flooring, trim and shelving. Sourced from a friend’s pecan mill, the wood nicely ties in with Jim’s retirement enterprise of tending to the ranch’s 85-acre pecan grove.
Due to Jim’s lifelong interest in rocks, native stone features strongly into the home’s design. The California native and former geology professor still serves as a part-time docent and the resident geologist at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Pawhuska. The focal point of the Derbys’ living room is a stone fireplace, modeled after a photo Joan saw in Architectural Digest. They constructed it from Wewoka Sandstone excavated on their property. A Longhorn mount from the homestead’s original cabin hangs above the mantle. Other rock collections—each with a unique story—create a veritable museum on top of their custom bookshelves.
Native American artwork and artifacts, including a collection of arrowheads their son Bill Breckinridge curated, are reminiscent of Joan’s native ancestry. In addition, a colorful woven wall hanging they acquired from the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and a bison skull they recovered in the nearby Arkansas River add interest to the living area.
On the wall between the kitchen and living room, hang two paintings of redwood trees that Jim’s parents bought on their honeymoon in California. Art deco wallpaper borders lend color to the neutral space.
The Derbys’ furniture is a mixture of antiques and new items. A mirror passed down from Joan’s grandma is situated above an antique side table Jim purchased years ago. An Amish-crafted dining set is a new addition the couple purchased while traveling in Missouri.
In order to adhere to the simplicity of the Arts and Crafts-style home, the Derbys were intentional to include only the items that are most meaningful to them in the home’s design.
Photo by Laura Araujo
Johnston notes that what a client chooses not to incorporate into their home is just as important as what they do select.
“When all things have a place, it brings order and joy,” Johnston says.
Outside the dining room window, Jim points to a large cottonwood tree. He recalls the time when one of its branches fell on top of the family’s cabin. Today, it provides the perfect backdrop for the Derbys to watch goldfinches, cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers as they fly to and from the birdfeeder.
The front of the home is simple, painted in earth tones, with a welcoming front porch. A new addition is the monarch waystation. The Derbys used recycled electric poles from East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, along with Jim’s rocks, to frame the garden. In it, they grow swamp and tropical milkweed for butterflies and pollinators.
“We are so content here. It fits us,” Joan says.
Jim echoes, “The house has been a joy to live in.”
Home Design Tips
Interior Designer Molly Gerkin Johnston, a Cookson Hills Electric Cooperative member, provides some practical design tips to help you create a unique and beautiful home that tells your story well. For more tips, contact Johnston at email@example.com or 918-299-9100.
Photo by Laura Araujo
1. Before making changes to your home, consider how long you plan to live there. Are you making changes in order to sell it soon, will you live there for 5 to 10 years, or indefinitely? Think about this as you plan, and balance your current enjoyment with your future goals.
2. Consider the needs you will have as you grow older. As people age, they need more lighting. A single-story home with level flooring throughout is easiest to navigate and maintain. She also recommends having less decorative items to care for and dust.
3. Make a budget. Johnston says some people never get started because they don’t know where to begin and how much a project will cost. If you can’t afford the whole project, she recommends making a plan and spreading it out over a few years.
4. If you don’t know your style, a designer is helpful. At an average of $80-$100/hour, design help might not be cheap, but if the designer can keep you from making expensive mistakes, it’s worth it. Even one or two hours of design assistance can pay off.
5. If you decide to hire a designer, make the most of your time by preparing beforehand. Clip pictures of things you like from magazines. Once the designer understands what you like, they can help you with a plan.
6. Not every designer is extravagant. Good designers will work with the pieces clients have already, and build from there.
7. Find the starting point of your room—whether it’s the wall color or a piece of furniture. Begin with that and make decisions based on the mood you are trying to achieve.
8. When it comes to decorating, there are options available in all price ranges. Johnston says it is very possible to decorate without spending a fortune, because there’s no need to buy the most expensive items. She even advises her young clients not to purchase investment furniture since their tastes and trends will change over time.
9. Make use of free resources, such as the design services offered by furniture, decorating and hardware stores. Online resources like Houzz and HGTV also provide guidance to the DIYer.
10. Using one type of flooring throughout a living space will help the home appear bigger.
11. When it comes to paint colors, work within color families, utilizing different shades of the same color. Johnston says a new coat of paint can transform a room.
12. Test your paint color before painting an entire room. An easy way to do this is to purchase a $5 paint pot and paint a piece of poster board. Move the poster board around the room to see how it looks in different lights at different times of the day.
13. An easy way to visualize the furniture layout in a room is to draw the footprint on newspaper and move the pieces around the room.
A place for family
For Dee and Barbie Paige, home is a location for loved ones to gather. It’s a place where new stories will be written. First steps. Family dinners. Laughter. Celebrations.
Dee and Barbie were both raised in Oklahoma and graduated from Oklahoma State University (OSU). They met in a bible study and married. After raising two sons and a daughter in Tulsa, the now empty nesters began looking for land in the country. In 2013, the couple purchased 160 acres in Central Electric Cooperative territory, not too far from their alma mater.
Photo by Laura Araujo
Inspired by the design of their friends’ Doug and Peggy Walker’s ranch home, the Paiges made plans for a two-story white farmhouse. After hiring Doug, the owner of Tulsa-based Douglas Walker Companies, as their architect and builder, one of the first calls the Paiges made was to their designer, Johnston.
“Having Molly as a friend and having worked with her over the years, she knew our tastes,” Barbie says.
For Johnston, her teamwork-approach to design has afforded her longtime relationships with many clients during her 40-year career.
“I don’t tell my clients what to do. I ask a lot of questions,” she says. “I want the finished product to look like them. If something is not my preference, that’s okay. But if it’s a mistake, I tell them. Part of my job is keeping clients from making expensive mistakes.”
The front of the farmhouse features a quaint porch with black rocking chairs, next to a bright-red front door. The finished home is a testament to Doug’s high-quality craftsmanship, with details like crown molding and high ceilings accentuated by rustic wood beams. Hardwood flooring spans the entire living area—except for the unique brick flooring in the mudroom.
Inside, the decoration style has a modern country feel—what Barbie describes as “cheerful-charming.” All of the spaces are built with family and friends in mind. The main floor includes an open-concept kitchen, living room and dining room—ideal for gatherings. The kitchen features white cabinets and light granite countertops, a contrast to the red island with bamboo countertop.
Photo by Laura Araujo
Upstairs, each of the three guest bedrooms is dressed in a different color scheme with a coordinating quilt for country flair. In farmhouse style, their furniture is a mixture of antiques, items repurposed from their old home, and new pieces.
With their grandson, Levin, and future grandkids in mind, they included some fun surprises in the home—like child-size closets for games of hide-and-seek and a secret laundry chute, accessible through a cabinet in the kids’ bathroom.
Out back, a deck stretches the entire length of the house and provides views of the pond that Dee put in. Today, Levin enjoys fishing for bass, bluegill and catfish in the pond with grandpa.
When Dee and Barbie purchased the property, they paid tribute to its farming heritage by naming it Paige Farms. Barbie says life in the country has been a learning experience, but they have wonderful friends and neighbors who have helped them along the way.
With an experienced partner, Dee has established a cow-calf operation, now 50-head strong. On another part of the property, the Paiges’ son, Kyle, and daughter-in-law, Natalie, live in the 1970s homestead. They raise dairy goats, pigs and chickens.
Having grown up with five siblings, Barbie enjoys hosting large family gatherings at the house. The Paiges regularly invite guests to come for tailgate parties; they’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner, two family weddings, and their annual cousins slumber party—a tradition that dates back two decades.
“Every year while the kids were growing up, we invited all the nieces and nephews to spend the night,” Barbie says. “For a while, during their teenage years, they outgrew it. Now they range in age from 34 to high school, and they wanted to restart the sleepover.”
Each Christmas-season, all 15 cousins gather at Paige Farms and enjoy catching up in front of the fire on the back porch or playing shuffleboard or foosball in the game room.
It’s moments like these that help shape a home’s story. That’s why the most beautiful houses are not the fanciest or costliest—they are the homes alive with stories, the homes that bring joy to those who live in them.
“Our hope is that this home is a place where people are comfortable and have fun,” Barbie says. “Our only house rule is ‘Come help yourself.’”