Traffic Calmed Area” and “Heavy Plant Crossing” are among the charming yet ambiguous British traffic signs amusing tourists tooling around the English countryside. But it was one signaling “Changed Priorities Ahead” that got a Texas couple on a London holiday snapping pictures. Indicating a change in the road layout, it proved an inspiration—so much so that a sign emblazoned with those words now hangs at the entry to the Hill Country retreat they built two years later. “To them it means put your phone away, enjoy Mother Nature and change your priorities while you are here,” says interior designer Debbie Baxter. These words would challenge her to create mood-altering interiors for the couple, their four high school and college-age children and their guests.
“They wanted a casual, no-fuss interior but with a certain sense of chicness,” explains Baxter, referencing the owners’ directives for the residence designed by architect Roy Braswell, who, sadly, passed away during the course of this project. With its Hill Country cream limestone walls, Braswell’s architecture melds with the local vernacular while the wall-height windows with frames painted to resemble steel offer a contemporary twist. Stained concrete floors throughout also lean modern while providing a smooth textural counterpoint to the hand-hewn ceiling beams.
The addition of a lake to the property prior to the home’s construction, which was implemented by builder Robert Allison, dictated the placement of the main house and four casitas Braswell designed. “The residence has a large kitchen and serves as the gathering place for friends and family,” Baxter adds. “These clients are ‘the more the merrier’ type.” At the same time, the tranquil water views paved the way for a design direction that was less ranch aesthetic and more lakeside retreat. “The native oak trees and green undertone of the water served as the jumping off point for everything,” says Baxter.
With blues and greens signaling relaxation, Baxter’s first selection was the kitchen island’s eucalyptus-tone quartzite. Elsewhere, a ceramic blue lamp here and aqua pillows there serve as background players while soothing water-esque wall tones dominate in the main bedroom. And in the large powder bathroom—where three compartments include a dressing area to slip on a bathing suit before heading out for a swim—the wallpaper is an explosion of flowers and cacti in a full spectrum of verdant hues. Meanwhile, Baxter employed punches of stark white for a playful kick throughout. “It became the major accent color,” the interior designer says, pointing to the plaster dining room chandelier, milk-white kitchen globes and linen-weave cafe curtains in the main bathroom as illustrations. Despite the locale, strategic choices such as these kept the furnishings looking anything but rustic. “The use of white draws in that very contemporary edge for a crisp, modern and young interior while injecting a sense of sophistication,” Baxter explains.
The same is true throughout, particularly in the great room, where wood chairs with rush seats and backs with cushions are organic complements to the soft upholstered sofa and armchairs. “They are very rectilinear yet textural,” says Baxter, noting she strategically placed an antique table between the seating and added a hand-woven Oushak rug to warm up the sleek concrete floors. And in the dining room, supple chocolate leather chairs offset a white-oak table with a natural black-walnut base. “I love the juxtaposition of texture with slick, old with new, the yin with the yang,” the interior designer adds.
A smattering of well-placed antiques and collectibles further ups the interest level. Citing the hand-painted Hungarian carpenter’s chest in the entry, Baxter recalls, “It’s been in my inventory for 15 years waiting for the right project.” And in the dining room, a whitewashed chest with an unknown history proved the perfect foil for an abstract painting serendipitously capturing the home’s palette. “The artwork even has that goldenrod coloring of the limestone—as if we had commissioned it,” she adds.
But in the end, the residence—from eucalyptus leaves spilling out of a vintage box in the entry, to the reclaimed wood great room coffee table, to the hand-painted kitchen backsplash tiles—points back to Mother Nature. “When you come around the bend and see the lake and casitas it all just makes you want to sigh with relaxation,” says Baxter. “And hopefully when you step inside, you’ll experience yet another relaxing sigh and your priorities really will change.”