Preciado at work in a home she restored in San Antonio’s Dignowity Hill area.

Preciado at work in a home she restored in San Antonio’s Dignowity Hill area.

Alumna works to restore the past

While restoring some of San Antonio’s historical homes, San Juanita Preciado ’95 BA has found that the skeletons of the centuries-old structures offer momentary glimpses of yesteryear.

“The walls start to talk to you,” she said.

Recollecting the work on a home in the Dignowity Hill Historic District on the city’s East Side, the interior designer was demolishing a 13-foot by 11-foot wall and found the markings of the lumber company that provided the materials to construct the home, as well as its phone number.

“It was 3132. Phone numbers were only four digits back then,” Preciado said. “Then at 511 Lamar, we went up into the attic and found vintage wallpaper, old publications (Wide World Magazine 1904 and Pearson’s Magazine 1902) and vehicle license plates.”

As owner of A Total Domain, Preciado provides her more than 20 years of experience in the remodeling and design of residential and commercial projects, overseeing them from concept to completion.

Now, with the success of her interior design company, the San Antonio native is paying it forward. Since 2000, Preciado has offered internships for UIW students majoring in the field and has hired them on occasion as subcontractors for remodeling projects.

Lumber from the original structure of the home on Dawson is displayed as part of the design.

Lumber from the original structure of the home on Dawson is displayed as part of the design.

“I have them shadow me,” she said. “They do research, accompany me to appointments and to job sites. Internships allow you to gain hands-on experience to prepare you for a career in this industry. You’re able to apply what you learned in the classroom to working as an interior designer outside of college although you never stop learning. There is always something new to learn with each project.”

Nataly Gutierrez ’14 BA, who is a UIW campus engagement coordinator and is working on her M.B.A. at UIW, interned with Preciado for about a year in 2014. “It’s definitely never boring,” she said. “I learned a lot from my textbooks, but when you’re in the field with a mentor, you learn so much more.”

Preciado credits her two mentors, retired UIW professors emeriti of interior design, Judy Broughton and John Lodek, for helping her find her footing as she was developing her business. “I had so many questions,” she said. “For instance, how do I structure my contracts? What is the hourly rate for interior designers? Their guidance was instrumental because they both have been in the field as independent interior designers as well.”

Initially, Preciado planned to pursue a degree in computer science, but the thought of sitting behind a desk all day, as she did for 10 years as a clerk in the Environmental Department for CPS Energy, made her think twice. As a 32-year-old, single mother, she left the utility company to become a full-time student at UIW, where she was a work study in the ceramics studio. Later, while still taking classes, she worked for Ray Ellison Homes, helping clients choose interior and exterior materials and finishing for their new homes.

Preciado at her current home restoration project on Lamar St.

Preciado at her current home restoration project on Lamar St.

After graduation, she launched Interiors by San Juanita, and then in 2005 she incorporated her business as A Total Domain. Eight years ago, she was hired to work on her first historical home at 106 Gramercy in Monte Vista Historical District. The second home, 628 Dawson in Dignowity Hill, was built in 1902 as a single-story home, but through the decades it was converted into a duplex. Preciado restored it to a single-family home. The project proved to be both a pleasure and a challenge.

“I had to go to the Review Board. There were two front doors. Which one do I close off? Does it become a wall or a window?” Preciado said. “I had to modify the exterior porch, sit with the planners to draw up the plans and submit those to the board. There are a lot of regulations you have to follow working in a historical district.”

She is struck by the remarkable craftsmanship of the historical homes she restores. “The construction back then was phenomenal,” the interior designer said. “The construction workers and laborers prided themselves on what they did, and you can see that. They were artisans. You can see this in the details in the crown moldings, for instance.”

And there’s no greater satisfaction than restoring dilapidated homes to their former glory and bringing them back to life in such a way that leaves owners speechless.

“It’s rewarding to know that these houses will stand for another 100 years. I’m humbled,” Preciado said.

By Rudy Arispe ’97 BA