As an Austin couple searched for a spot to construct a vacation home, builder David Dalgleish invited them to explore Frio Cañon, a community along the Frio River in the heart of Texas Hill Country. “Quite frankly, I had no interest, because rivers are usually muddy and you can’t see what you’re jumping into,” the wife recalls. But upon seeing the Frio—a crystal clear river flanked by 300-year-old cypress trees—the couple began envisioning their weekend getaway. “The river was so clean, and the hills were so beautiful,” the wife says. “My husband wanted a place where he could feel connected to the wide open spaces.” But with three children, they didn’t want to be too isolated.
Conceived as a legacy community to be passed down from generation to generation, Frio Cañon, with its 100 acres of wildlife preserve, vibrant wildflower fields and a community space where families gather for cookouts or outdoor movies under the stars, fit the bill perfectly. “It’s a ranch that your kids want to go to because there are other kids around,” Dalgleish says. “The object is for the kids to grow up together, and when they have their own kids, they’ll take it over.”
To help bring their vision to life, the couple hired architect David Shiflet, along with architect Archie Cox and project architect Sophie McGough, to design a weekend home that was “quietly beautiful,” says the wife. “I didn’t want this to be a giant house that screamed, ‘look at me.’ So we talked about breaking the space into smaller pieces—three structures instead of one large building.” That cottage-scale concept, which affords space for guests without creating imposing architecture, dovetails with the design philosophy throughout Frio Cañon, which is to preserve the area’s magnificent scenery and keep structures artistic and quaint. Shiflet and his team designed a main building—living room, dining space and kitchen—as well as a separate cottage with three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a kitchenette. A third building comprises a garage with guest quarters above. “The architect did a great job in the design,” the husband says. “It’s so connected with the environment.”
In the main house, the spaces flow effortlessly with open alcoves. The porches are deep to protect the areas from the hot Texas sun yet the interior remains airy. “We added a ridge skylight in the center of the gathering area to let some light in,” Shiflet explains. Rustic building materials give the home a camp-like feel. “The timbers are from an old Vermont barn,” Dalgleish says. “Some floors are made of local quarried stone, and in all the sleeping areas, the floors are reclaimed oak from nearly 100-year-old fencing found mainly in Kentucky and Tennessee.”
Designer Blair Burton incorporated a peaceful palette to keep the rustic theme consistent throughout the home. “I wanted the colors to continue the feeling of being outside, so we used gray-blues and gray-greens,” she says of the interior that was designed to be beautiful yet durable. As the wife explains, “I didn’t want to think, ‘Oh gosh, you can’t sit on that in
a wet bathing suit.’ It had to handle the wear and tear of kids living on a river.” Hence, all of the upholstery is custom and easy to maintain, and trips to The Original Round Top Antiques Fair and elsewhere turned up one-of-a-kind treasures that have stood the test of time. A two-year search, for example, ultimately led the couple to find the perfect dining table. “It was from a monastery in Normandy, France,” the wife says. “My family had visited Normandy one summer, and my husband loves the area, so it was sort of a sweet end to a long hunt.”
Outside, landscape designer Rick Scheen created cohesion between the architecture and the landscape and river. “We pulled inspiration from the architecture as well as 100-year-old estates in nearby Fredericksburg—old Texas with a bit of German influence,” he says. “We added Lueders limestone patios for entertaining and, closer to the river, we used Brazilian hardwood ipe decking, bridging it over the root systems to protect the cypress trees.”
Today, the family takes every opportunity to visit their idyllic getaway, just a 2 1/2-hour drive from their permanent Austin home. “My youngest daughter and I just had a mom-and-me weekend,” the wife says. “We kayaked, watched a movie, and went on a big hike, and my husband gets plenty of father-and-son time as well. Our kids also look forward to the Fourth of July every year—the parade, the barbecues, the fireworks, and afternoons on the river. This year, we had 18 guests staying with us. As more and more people hear about it, they say, ‘Can we come to the Frio?’