For the new home they were building west of Houston, Todd and Morgan Barten considered many styles, including Spanish Colonial. But local influence prevailed when architect Michael Imber proposed another idea. “We felt an early-Texas-farmhouse-inspired look was more appropriate to the feel of the landscape,” the architect says. Set amid ancient pecan and sycamore tree groves, the house rambles in a built-over-the-years way that harmonizes with its surroundings.
Key goals for the design included ample light and plenty of square footage for the couple and their children to spread out and entertain their frequent guests. Imber, whose project manager was Brandan Moss, wrapped the house with wide porches but kept the structure one-room deep. He placed windows on two to three sides of each room and incorporated reflective white materials and porch ceilings, providing a luminous quality. The owners also requested “a large living area overlooking the pool so they can keep an eye on the children,” Imber says, so he aligned the living room to “capture views and place activity areas within the wife’s sight.”
The architect connected the living room to an eat-in kitchen, which the couple favored over a formal dining room. A gallery links these spaces to a wing comprising the master suite, the children’s bedrooms and playroom, a guest room and a mudroom. To balance the footprint, Imber designed a wing on the opposite side of the home for a study, the garage and an entertaining pavilion that “embraces the arrival to the home,” he describes. These wings form arms around the front courtyard, where a mature oak tree was planted to appear as though it has always been there.
To further give the home a sense of belonging, Imber used authentic materials such as Hill Country stone, Post oak flooring, reclaimed bricks and wood shingles. “Texas farmhouses originally had wood roofs made using the cypresses along the rivers,” he notes. The architect sought the expertise of builder Mike McDaniel, who is familiar with restoring period properties. “I love the way Michael created a narrative for the house and how a combination of stone and board-and-batten structures represents different time periods,” says McDaniel, who worked with his brother and project manager Morris McDaniel and project superintendent Andrew Shinker. As Imber explains, “This gives the illusion the home evolved over time.” But making a new house appear old isn’t easy, the builder concedes. “A particular challenge was hiding the electrical,” he says, noting this required the team to route the wiring through the timber frame, then conceal it with a new piece of wood.
Designer Fern Santini was onboard with the timeworn feel, layering in art and accessories spanning hundreds of years in age to complement the structure. “The architect’s work is masterful,” she says. “It’s historical but current.” She sourced antiques from all over the country and incorporated reproductions, such as the RH kitchen barstools customized with blue leather. In the gallery connecting the two wings–designed to seem like a porch that was later enclosed–Santini added a collage by Lisa Beaman and a series of 18th-century botanical studies found at W. Gardner, Ltd. The designer also softened the space’s brick floor with antique rugs, which helped establish the home’s muted palette. “You get the full spectrum of color in the house–gold, taupe, rosy reds, gray blues–but it’s nuanced and helps counter the green views,” she explains.
These soft hues, as well as a clever use of texture and patina, bring warmth to every room–especially the master bedroom, where Santini placed a jute-wrapped bed and an 18th-century carved-wood chandelier. In the adjoining bathroom, she paired a gilded Louis Philippe mirror with an ebonized Art Deco vanity. “I really love the mix of genres in this house,” the designer says. She continued the juxtaposition of elements outside, where entertaining areas meld Sutherland and Liaigre pieces with early-20th-century industrial tables, Hollywood-inspired pool seating and a painted-cement ostrich by Emile Taugourdeau. Affectionately named “Carl” by the owners’ children, the bird is known to migrate around the house. “It’s important to bring in pieces that make you smile,” Santini says.
And perhaps that’s the home’s true spirit. Although built with an understanding and a love for the past, it’s merely a continuum of history and in tune with how a modern family lives, Imber explains. “We’re not rebuilding history,” he says. “This house just has a relaxed quality people understand.”