Cecilia Reese Bullock was an English major in college. But when it came time to enter the business world, she chose to pursue a career following her great love for historic homes.
Bullock grew up on a dairy farm in a home that was more than 100 years old. A native of Mississippi, she started building houses in Atlanta in 1976. But she couldn’t find house plans that looked like the old homes she loves so much.
“When I started building, I wanted to build new houses that looked like old houses,” said Bullock, who is owner of Historical Replications (www.historicaldesigns.com). “But I couldn’t find any house plans like that. At the time I wondered if I was only person out there who wanted to build a new house that looked like an old house.”
She was asked to build a house for the Atlanta Parade of Homes in 1979. She built an exact replica of an 1855 Georgia Plantation Plain home.
“It was the hit of the parade,” Bullock recalls. “Atlanta went crazy with a lot of television and newspaper coverage. Thousands of folks were begging for more plans. So my little bright idea turned out to really strike a chord. It took off. I put out a whole book of historical house plans. Later, I moved back to Mississippi and published more collections. Now I have eight.”
‘Incredible luck’ credited
Bullock calls it “a stroke of incredible luck” that her ideas to make historical replica homes became so popular. Before she started doing historic home plans, no one else was doing it. She created a niché, and has since been credited with originating the now popular style of new homes that look old.
“If I had any great advice to give women or anyone else in business, if an idea strikes, go with it like I did,” Bullock said. “I just hated new houses. I hated how they looked, how they felt, and how they smelled. At the time that I had a bright idea to build historical replica homes, no one else in the country had the same idea. But there were just millions of folks out there who love old houses, but don’t really want to live in an old house. So that little idea I had just really took off.”
Her early success included getting her first collections of house plans syndicated in Professional Builder Magazine in the early 1980s. She was the first woman in the country to have her plans published in a national house plan magazine. Success followed that is the stuff entrepreneurial dreams are made of.
“Because no one else was doing this historical home thing, I got syndicated by everyone I approached,” Bullock said. “My house plans ended up in Better Homes and Gardens, Professional Builder Magazine, Country Living, Home Planners, Sunset and House Beautiful.
“When I sent my plans off to everyone, I had no idea they would get syndicated. It is extremely difficult to get into the national house plan magazines. They get a lot of submissions each week. But everyone I went to welcomed my house plans because they were unique. At that time, no one was doing new houses that looked historical. By being the first through the chute, it really opened up tremendous advantages for me. I was so gratified by the response. I always got a lot of publicity for what I was doing because it was novel.”
Moving to Jackson
The good run of publicity continued after she moved to Jackson. When she went to open her business bank account, her banker was so intrigued she called The Clarion-Ledger and suggested they do a story on Bullock. The phone soon started ringing with people who wanted her to design their homes to look old.
Her house plans have now been in more than 50 national magazines, and have been on the cover of a number of those. But the biggest response she ever got came from an interview with Fox News Online that she nearly forgot about until the day after Super Bowl Sunday a year ago when her phone started ringing off the wall.
The response to her Web site was so intense that the site “vaporized.” She normally gets approximately 5,000 to 6,000 hits per day on her site. After the piece on Fox News Online, it went from 5,000 per day to 5,000 per hour. And then 10,000 per hour, 20,000 per hour and then 50,000 per hour. At 100,000 hits per hour, the Web site collapsed.
“The Web site vaporized,” Bullock recalls. “It went wherever Web sites go when they get too many hits. It took weeks to get it back up again. But that type of publicity has been wonderful for my firm. I have been blessed. It has really helped me grow.”
Success breeds competition
On the heels of this success, she now has hundreds if not thousands of competitors offering historical architecture plans. She said at first she didn’t know whether to be irritated or complimented. But since there is nothing that can be done about it, she just accepts it.
“If you’re good, you will be imitated,” Bullock said. “Getting out first was a huge advantage. There is no way the doors would open for me now that opened for me then. Being the first out of the chute opened up so many opportunities for me that otherwise would not have occurred.”
To this day “work” is somewhat of a misnomer to describe what she does. Work is a pleasure — not a grind.
“I so purely love this,” she said. “This is so much fun. I’ve always loved old houses with a passion. When I started building, I was very dispassionate about what I was building. I needed to find what would get me in a sense of fervor. I was able to come up with a way to explore my love for old houses by recreating them. To this day, what I do does not feel like work because it is so pleasurable, fun and rewarding.
“Everyday I’m excited about it. I keep coming up with new ideas and collections. It’s been a great business for me for several reasons. It has been very rewarding to create a business that continues to pay me years down the road. The house plans I created in the 1980s are still being ordered today. That is wonderful, too, to see your work is timeless, that your work will live beyond you. All those things are a great part of why I’m so blessed and happy to have found this career, although it is a far cry from my original goals when I was an English major in college.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.