When the owner of this house was a child, he and his extended family would pile into cars and meet for weekends at camps and ranch houses all over Texas. Today, he and his wife host such festive gatherings themselves, but instead of long drives to rustic cabins across dusty plains, they now roll up to a contemporary cedar-and-glass structure situated along a bend of the Guadalupe River. Here, with their own grown children and other guests, they can swim, kayak, canoe and casually pursue the enjoyments of a well-lived life. “We sit down by the river and watch the tubers go by,” says the husband, “and they look up at us and holler out, ‘Cool house!’ ”
Perching the house ever so carefully at that bend was an important component of the design. Because the river occasionally overflows its banks, local building codes require living areas to be placed off the ground. So Houston architect Chung Nguyen built the house on concrete posts, giving it a playful tree house-like appeal that also allows rising water to simply lift to its highest level and drain back down. He cleverly filled the spaces between the posts with burnished concrete blocks; their slotted pattern lets water swell through either way.
Manipulating the ebb and flow of the home’s walls and interior spaces came next. “We curved the house to parallel the curvature of the river,” Nguyen says, which gave every room an enviable view. The main living area was placed near the center of the plan, with the master suite on one end so the owners only have to open half the house when they’re enjoying a quiet weekend alone.
On the opposite side of the living room is a screened porch claimed by Nguyen and his clients as a favorite spot. Steeply angled, with a trusswork ceiling that rises up to capture cooling breezes and verdant vistas, it is as contemporary as can be, but has a definite historic connection. “It brings to mind an old-fashioned dogtrot plan,” explains the architect, “with a porch flanked by living spaces.” Additional bedrooms are adjacent, farthest from the master. “Guests can come in at four in the morning and we won’t hear a thing,” says the husband.
Although this house may be all about having a good time, building it was sometimes a less-than-comic endeavor. “The architecture is both simple and intricate,” explains builder Mark Nichols, pointing out its serpentine nature as one example. “We spent an entire day figuring out the joist layout for just one room,” he says.
Achieving an elegant simplicity was the primary goal for the interiors, a task the wife took on herself. “Showcasing the views was what it was all about,” she says. So painted white walls back furnishings that are straightforward, stylish and easily maintained, while white exposed aggregate concrete sweeps out underfoot. “I wanted a gravelly, pebble-y look to the floors that would remind us of being on the river’s edge, even when we were inside,” she explains.
Plans for the kitchen and bathrooms took a bit of brainstorming, and for that the wife consulted designer Christi Palmer of Palmer Todd in San Antonio, who took her client’s lead as she helped her develop design details for these complex areas. Together they decided to eschew upper cabinets in the kitchen—they would just crowd the room and compromise the view—and put the fun into functional with playful tile patterns in the bathrooms. “This place calls for things that are easy-breezy,” declares Palmer. “It is a weekend home, after all.”