In the 1920s, swimmers waded into the water wearing attire fashioned from impractical wool accented with horizontal stripes. It’s difficult to envision those early beachcombers retreating from the waves in their soggy swimwear and not chuckle—and it’s in that spirit that designer Fern Santini lined a stairwell at this Lake Travis, Texas, retreat with a series of perfectly preserved and framed vintage bathing suits. “It signals the owners’ intention for friends and family to feel relaxed and have fun,” says Santini, who worked alongside architects Pam Chandler and Patrick Ousey—and their project manager, Michael Varhalla—to help transform the residence into a welcoming gathering place in keeping with the owners’ lively personalities.
When the couple first purchased the property, it was to gain proximity to Austin’s music scene and make summer memories with their offspring. And for years, the stone-and-stucco structure proved an adequate backdrop for the ensuing swim parties and marshmallow roasts—until it wasn’t. “With the children grown, they had something more sophisticated in mind; something closer to summer camp for grown-ups,” Santini explains.
What began as a furniture refresh soon morphed into a remodel. But builder Shawn Solsbery discovered rot in the walls, thwarting his attempts to work with the existing structure, and the inevitable takedown ensued. “It would have been easier to buy a new site and start over, but they loved their perch above the lake,” recalls Ousey, whose collaboration with Chandler produced a distinctive homestead with simplified roof lines and thermally treated ash siding to replace the original. “We also used local limestone but slurried the joints of the stone, which harkens back to German heritage,” Chandler adds. “It’s less suburban and more agrarian.”
Early on it was determined a great hall with large expanses of glass was essential. “Quality of light and maintaining a connection to the landscape were both very important to the clients,” says Ousey. The resulting space boasts a 15-foot-high glazed wall spanning about 35 feet that overlooks an outdoor living area as well as grounds planted with low-maintenance, drought-tolerant vegetation. A white wash on both the great hall ceiling and porch overhang ties the two areas together, with limestone flooring providing another layer of connectivity.
Dubbed “the canteen”—an homage to the social gathering spot central to camp life—the great hall also reinforces the home’s casual vibe with its combined entry, music alcove, and dining and living spaces. A colorful assemblage of faux trophy heads near the entry speaks to the wife’s sense of whimsy, with a nearby nook housing the husband’s classic rock-and-roll record collection. “He sifted through his records and we framed several and had a stereo cabinet made to store them,” the designer notes. At the room’s opposite end, a casual dining and living area features two multifunctional tables on wheels paired with a vibrantly striped banquette made for eating, playing games, or just hanging out. And at the great hall’s center, a Moooi chandelier—seven feet in diameter with leaf-shaped lenses attached to delicate metal stems—floats above a wood dining table with orange metal-framed chairs done in cheery peacock and coral fabric.
Santini’s unabashed use of color is rooted in the kitchen, where backsplash-to-ceiling, hand-painted tiles in a spectrum of green, yellow, rose and blue overlook a refurbished baker’s table that invites the owners’ friends and family to gather, chop and chat. This palette spills over into the living room, which features a textured Jan Kath rug in like tones that grounds striped ottomans and armchairs in a sunny gold material. “They wanted a worry-free environment and neutrals were not in keeping with how they wanted to live,” Santini says.
The same is true for the master suite, where patterned draperies open to reveal picturesque views of the lake and inspired the saturated indigo accents throughout. The custom headboard, for example, “is painted rather than stained, and clean but not too formal,” explains Santini, noting a television screen on the opposite side of the headboard allows for easy viewing from an adjacent workout space. And while the bedroom’s vintage Charles Hollis Jones Lucite rockers lean modern, white and gray cement tiles in the adjoining master bathroom underscore the home’s easygoing ambience.
The result is a sophisticated yet spirited abode with an ease alluding to summer camp—and a design falling into many camps. “It’s tough to define the style,” Chandler notes. “It’s not just Texas vernacular with materials like the local limestone, or simply farmhouse style, or contemporary with its expanses of glass,” Ousey adds. “It’s all of those.”