Our clients were looking for a vacation property close enough to their main home in Houston, but far enough away to feel like a destination,” recalls interior designer Kara Childress. What the family found—an idyllic lakeside property just outside the city—more than satisfied their wish list. “We’re ‘Type A’ people but things slow down when we’re here and escape from our everyday lives,” says the husband about their weekend staycations on the lake. While they may bring work and school assignments with them, “it’s just more relaxed,” he continues, noting his affinity for spending early Saturday mornings outside amid the sounds of neighbors fishing and enjoying time out on the water.
“This is a fun house,” says residential designer Ryan Street. “There’s a natural similarity between rural homes in Texas and the materials used in the Mediterranean—limestone, wood, tile—and the same solutions apply. It’s all about scale and proportion and creating comfortable interior and exterior spaces inspired by architecture that developed when only natural light and ventilation were available.” To design spaces that “breathe,” Street developed an intentionally rambling plan embracing courtyards and providing an immediate connection with the outdoors. “It’s a fusion of Italian hill town architecture and Texas rural vernacular,” he adds. “We’ve drawn from specific references but haven’t created something false.”
Working with builder Tom Byer and his construction manager Sean Stobaugh, Street anchored the home with a large, double-height great room off of which spring the kitchen and mud room, the couple’s main bedroom suite, a guest bedroom, study and cozy sitting room. “It’s nice to retreat into those smaller spaces,” says Street, whose project architect was Jeremy Ristau. “Moving between large and small rooms makes each more interesting.”
It also creates a feeling the house evolved over time. “We thought a lot about our lifestyle and how we wanted to use the spaces,” recalls the husband. “Stylistically, it was the opportunity to build something that felt substantial and generational. We didn’t want anything contrived or disingenuous, so we asked Ryan for useful and authentic, not just aesthetics.” In other words, the balconies are real balconies.
“It’s a ‘forever house,’” says Childress, explaining the couple hopes to move in full-time once their children finish school. Early design inspiration derived from modern ranch living—luxurious yet functional with historical elements and modern conveniences—which meshed naturally with the reclaimed wood and stone elements forming the building blocks of the house. “We wanted to let those materials be the focal point,” explains the interior designer. “Instead of patterns and strong colors, we used texture to enhance the architecture.” Fabrics add a tranquil spirit, but since this is a pet-friendly home, Childress ensured they were easy to clean. “We used linens and cottons, not fussy silk velvets, so the more they’re loved, the better they’ll get,” she says. She also skipped draperies that would block the views. “You can’t compete with Mother Nature,” she notes.
To furnish the rooms, Childress worked with lead designer Ally Dougherty. Taking their cues from the “generational” feeling of the architecture, the duo chose a variety of antique pieces including the living room’s monumental armoire—“a jewel with function and character,” says Childress—as well as a 17th-century French mantel holding naturally shed antlers, and the powder bathroom’s towel ring, which is a repurposed doorknocker. Some surprises include acrylic barstools in the kitchen to counterbalance the rusticity. “Acrylic reflects light and elevates what you’re doing,” explains Childress. Other pieces just mean business, like a hardworking “conference” table in the study coated in automotive paint. “Nothing is fragile here,” Childress quips, pointing to the outdoor dining area’s stone table that required 12 men to install.
Elsewhere outside, comfortable seating areas stand up to the heat and humidity, while landscape architect Bill Prewett, working with landscape architect Shannon Gatts and project manager Eric Griffith, brought in a mix of native- and Mediterranean-style plantings, as well as ivy that will soon scramble up the stone walls. “We wanted to build something lasting,” notes the husband. “As the walls went up, we would walk through and think about how the kids would move through the house, how we would use the grill. We had time to observe shadows and wind.” Between the cooling lake breezes flowing through the house and the joyful acrobatics of hummingbirds at the kitchen window, it’s no wonder the family can’t wait to hop in the car come Friday. As Street loves to say, “This house lives well.”