Most would agree a spectacular setting enhances a home-building project’s success, especially if it involves approximately 500 acres on a wooded bluff in Texas Hill Country with views of the Nueces River valley and Goat Mountain. Add to that a grove of mature oaks, ample outcroppings of Texas sage, abundant wildlife and a migratory fly zone any birder would envy, and the raw natural beauty alone of one such locale is nirvana.
But when it came to designing a residence here for an empty-nester couple with previous ties to the area’s aptly named Goat Mountain Ranch, the team at Lake Flato Architects–which included partner Karla Greer and associate Rebecca Bruce Comeaux, along with principal Ted Flato and project architect Trey Rabke–wanted to do more than just frame the best views and determine the optimal solar orientation; they also wanted to make a strong connection to the rugged surroundings. “The wife’s father purchased the property in the early 1980s, and the couple started making regular trips there shortly thereafter,” Greer says. “Because they were so closely aligned with the land, we wanted to figure out how to draw both local and personal history into the project.
It was those ideals that first attracted the couple to the Lake Flato team, whose reputation for crafting homes that connect with the environment preceded them. “We saw a house they did in a magazine and liked the attention to detail, their green philosophy and the fact that their buildings fit with the surroundings,” the wife says. “When we found out they were in San Antonio, I thought it must be fate.”
In accordance with the firm’s philosophy, and as a way to relate to the region, the architects used the same stone that German immigrants had mined to build their domiciles nearby in the 1800s. After all, Hill Country is limestone territory and, according to Greer, many of its early homes featured thick stone walls with small windows. “We evolved that idea into a modern interpretation that included a lot more glass to engage with the landscape,” she says. Though the materials are more traditional, the forms are modern.
The finished home features two block volumes–the main living areas, including the kitchen, face north while the master suite and library look east–connected by a vine-covered, wood-crafted arbor that provides a shady respite for all who enter. “The wife grew up in Louisiana, and the breezeway has a romantic quality reminiscent of the South,” says Comeaux, who employed shed roofs with overhangs to provide additional protection from the harsh summer sun.
Perfecting the stonework on the parapets demanded skilled craftsmanship, so project manager Kelly Steele of Kelly Steele Construction Management–hired by the now-retired builder, Jud Prince of Prince Construction–assembled a seasoned crew with three generations of masons. “The walls are one of the most significant features and totally native to Texas,” says Steele, who, as the early settlers did, used a dry burlap rub on the walls for an authentic finish. Prince later enlisted Robert Holmes of Holmes Homes as project manager to complete the work and oversee final details, such as applying the exterior paint. “With the wife’s direction, I’ve also since added a stoop roof over the back door,” Holmes says.
Completing the materials palette, reclaimed cypress planks and timbers salvaged from the wife’s childhood plantation home grace the ceilings and some of the interior walls, while steel kettles once used for boiling sugar serve as water catchment containers for the rainwater system. “There were lots of old buildings on that Louisiana property that were falling down, and over the years we salvaged and stored the wood,” the wife says.
Old cypress planks weren’t the only recycled materials; the couple also incorporated furnishings and artwork that they collected through the years. “Whatever we had seemed to work,” the wife says. “I tend to like warm colors, so I centered everything in the living room around our brown sofa and stools with pitchfork backs and a circa-1800s antique dining room table surrounded by mahogany William IV chairs match the setting perfectly. “It was important that everything fit with the nearby nature,” she adds.
The final piece of securing the structure’s connection to its dramatic locale fell to landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck, along with colleagues Kent Sundberg and Cassie Bergstrom. Ten Eyck utilized limestone pavers, retaining walls and steps to make the transition from the house to the landscape. “I wanted the architecture to melt into the garden,” she says. Her plan introduced more oaks and sage along with native Hill Country plants such as yuccas and agaves to fill in the blanks around the house.
Now the homeowners heartily appreciate how beautifully their home integrates with the landscape. “Thanks to the thoughtful floor plan, the sun follows our progress and there’s a natural flow to our day that includes a seamless transition from inside to outside,” the husband says. His wife adds: “It’s wonderful living in a solid house that feels like it’s always been here and will always be here.”