Shelley M Nelson

Profile in Style | Shelley M. Nelson

Shelley M. Nelson has a gift for transforming spaces through altering their surfaces—a relatively low-cost approach to renovation.


When she first toured her new house in Westlake, which she and her husband bought at the end of last year, the property had not been updated in decades. Other potential buyers might have been put off by the house’s dated, 1980s features, but Nelson saw potential in its open, airy spaces. She had the redbrick exterior lime-washed and the front double doors painted in black lacquer; she had the window muntins removed and the trim finished in an elegant dark gray. Now the sweeping exterior of the two-story home appears modern and striking with its palette of neutral tones.

Before moving to Westlake, Nelson and husband, along with their two daughters and one son, lived in nearby Davenport Ranch. Over 13 years of living there with her family, Nelson slowly remodeled the property. Of the decision to move, she says, "I felt like the canvas was complete." And when asked how she picked the new place in Westlake, she answers, "I was looking for a new project house."

Nelson, who is originally from Tomball, hails from a long line of Texans. She left the state for a while when she was younger—first heading to San Francisco (where she started dating her techie husband 19 years ago) and then to Boston—before returning to settle in Austin. "I always said if I came back to Texas, I wanted to come to Austin," she says. She has since recruited her brother to move here and is working on encouraging her parents to buy property outside of the city.

In addition to skillfully renovating her family’s properties, Nelson is also a visual artist. These days she spends a lot of her time painting on commission, in a spacious, well-lit studio facing the front of her home. Nelson's last house forced her to choose between dining room and studio (not long after her younger daughter was born, Nelson had what she describes as an "aha moment" and reinvested herself in painting, prompting her to sell her dining room furniture on craigslist; the woman who bought the chairs admired Nelson's paintings and eventually acquired three of them).

"I wanted my girls to see their mom doing what she really wanted to do," Nelson says of her return to painting (after a hiatus during her pregnancies because of the paint fumes). At the beginning of July, Nelson and her family traveled to the Bay Area to celebrate her 40th birthday, returning to the city where she and her husband fell in love more than a decade ago. Nelson radiates hospitable Texan warmth, and as we sat down to talk over margaritas, she spoke with genuine excitement about the approaching milestone, seeming very much at peace with where she is in her life.


Photography by Julie Cope

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