I was overjoyed to be working on a property with such great history and for a family that truly wanted to maintain the spirit of that tradition,” says architect Chris Davenport of the retreat he designed for a couple with three sons near Llano in Texas Hill Country. Set on 2,000 acres, the property, named Glensprings Ranch, holds historical significance: In Roy Willbern’s book, The Old Man of the Glen: Ferdinand Columbus Willbern, 1827-1903, an entire chapter is dedicated to the beauty of this land and its identity as a place of community. The grounds originally featured a little red three-bedroom home that the owners had used for getaways from their main residence in Houston. Clearly outgrowing the smaller abode, the couple decided it was time to build a house that would be large enough to accommodate their extended family—as well as friends and guests—while at the same time feel comfortable and inviting.
The vision came from the owners, who had researched Western ranches around Montana. “I had a picture in my mind of how I wanted it to look: rustic and ranch-like in nature, as if it had been there a long time and fit into the historic countryside,” says the husband. His wife had ideas of her own. “My husband was showing me pictures of homes that were amazing, but there was so much wood. I was afraid that the house would be heavy and dark, and I wanted it to be homey and warm with plenty of light.”
Respectful of their wishes, Davenport came up with a plan. “Old Texas architecture speaks to me in terms of typical ranch structures that are utilitarian,” he says. “I thought if we could get something similar in the vernacular of this home, we could create a feeling of age and belonging.” As a result, he broke up the massing of the space into a series of interconnected barn-like structures housing the main living, kitchen and dining areas; a master suite; and a large game room and basketball court, respectively. An added bonus was a covered outdoor living space with two seating areas, an outdoor fireplace, a dining area, and a kitchen and bar.
Davenport used materials that gave a sense of history to the project, such as native Texas Lueders limestone and handpicked reclaimed Douglas fir, each with its own challenges. “The stone had to be stacked just right to look rustic and raked so that no mortar would show,” explains builder and project manager Tory Jones, who worked with Don Thomas of Don Thomas Builders on the construction management aspect of the job. “We had samples stacked 12 different times to get it right,” Jones says. “Loads of lumber had to be transferred onto trucks that were able to drive on ranch roads. It was tricky.”
Both stone and lumber were used extensively for the interiors as well— a concept that Davenport says blurs the lines between inside and out. Steel-and-glass windows open up the structure and provide natural light. Within this framework, the task of creating cozy living spaces fell to designer Charlotte Carothers. Regularly scouring The Original Round Top Antiques Fair, Carothers and the wife picked up several key pieces, including an antique window casing for above the master bed and a large Belgian table for the dining room. “Charlotte was amazing,” says the wife. “She thought everything out and selected just the right pieces.” Using textured fabrics, such as chenille upholstery for the great room sofa seats and a serape-covered bench in the master bedroom, softened and balanced the interior wood. “We had to choose certain elements to highlight,” Carothers says. “If you make everything a focal point, it can overpower the space.”
Reflecting on the project, Davenport says: “What really excites me about architecture is getting to do things that respond to someone’s particular needs. This house is modern living in a rustic way yet it doesn’t look campy or themed. It’s a family property that will be used for generations.”