You Must See The Magic In This Texas Home
After The Alamo fell, Sam Houston, his men, and fearful Texas settlers fled the encroaching Mexican army in what became known as the Runaway Scrape. Legend has it that they retreated by taking the high road. Just off this path, located somewhere between Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, is a hill that's now dotted with dozens of big oak trees and a large, gabled, and light-filled home. "There's a natural parting in the oak trees at the top of the hill," says architect William Curtis. "And you have a 40-mile view. If I hadn't decided to put the house right there, I wouldn't be any good at my job."
House on a Hill
It's the weekend-getaway home of a Houston couple seeking a different kind of retreat. And its design was inspired by a small, historic place in the nearby town of Round Top, "an iconic little house that has been in the community for 160 years," Curtis says. "The owner loved it. So we had to find a way to build that distinctive image into a 5,000-square-foot space." The result is a home that feels like it's straight from a Texas history book on the outside with all the modern comforts of today inside. This mixed aesthetic is also deftly executed by interior designer Phoebe Howard and one of her senior designers, Lindsay Plyler. "I love to find a client who likes traditional decorating and appreciates when I find something one of a kind," Howard says. "A room doesn't really come to life unless it has some antiques in it." Her work is also informed by the pastoral scenery. "I wanted it to feel inviting, what everything in the South stands for: comfortable and hospitable, like a relaxed farm," she says. Follow along to uncover Howard's and Curtis' best tips for bringing that relaxed farmhouse philosophy into your home, no matter where you live.
The exterior's front windows are smaller and reminiscent of the mid-19th-century house that inspired this home, but Curtis modernized the rear facade with floor-to-ceiling windows that capitalize on the view. He also carried a single gutter across the windows without interrupting the look with downspouts to avoid "disrupting the calm exterior," he adds. The function-first design is appropriate for the home's country aesthetic.
Old Inspires New
Howard designed this home by building around the owners' antique pieces. After selecting one of their tables for the entry, she chose a set of wicker bull heads for the stairway wall. "I said, "These just have to go here,"" Howard recalls. But the homeowners weren't so sure. "We hung them up with Command removable hanging strips and then took a photo. The owners decided to leave them after seeing how cool they looked. Sometimes, you have to do a little convincing," she adds. Howard makes sure to work in pieces with utility. Here, an urn is pretty on its own or filled with branches, and a bowl makes a great spot to hold keys.
The brick floors on the two interior "porches" are another nod to many other traditional historic homes in the area. "We have a lot of clay in Texas," Curtis explains. "It is the natural material they would have used to build a home in the mid-19th century. Secondary spaces weren't afforded fine materials." Howard included both upholstered chairs and a love seat around the dining table. "We wanted to create a relaxed farm atmosphere, so a formal dining room was not necessary," she says. Beside a sofa or next to a chair, Howard prefers low tables (about 20 inches high) instead of traditional end tables. She says, "My theory is, when you sit down, you want a place to put a drink that's at the right level."
Open Shelf Help
Howard complemented the owners' library of books with two different collections: antique baskets and blue-and-white spatterware. She explains, "Each of the pieces is unique, but there is consistency so they don't seem random." The changing arrangements also help distract from the TV that Howard sneaked into the shelves. She does warn that a haphazard bookcase can really bring down a room: "Don't put one in unless you have books. It's too hard to fill with just bric-a-brac."
"This is one of two rooms that were designed to seem like porches," Curtis says, referring to how the shiplap siding and overall ambience of the room make you feel like you are outdoors. "Although you're walking into an interior room, you move through an exterior door to get here." Howard pulled a design fake-out by creating an antique-style coffee table by shortening the legs of a 19th-century table. "Coffee tables didn't exist at that time," she says. "They're a modern invention." When it comes to lighting, Howard says to go ahead and mix floor and table lamps. She notes though that it is important to make sure the tops of them are level. "I like for the shades to be around the same height. It makes them look less busy," Howard says.
The living room, which is visible from the entryway, is 18 by 34 feet. Curtis wanted a large room so visitors could see straight through to the back of the house and down the hill. The size is also a way to match the magnitude of the rural Texas landscape. "We thought that beautiful view was worthy of a big room designed to help enjoy it," he says. Howard managed the living room's grand size by breaking it into two seating sections with matching back-to-back sofas—but she avoided too much symmetry by keeping the ensembles distinct with different furniture and fabrics. To give a large room the same comfort as a small one, Howard advises using "a good mix of fabrics, prints, and textures to help it feel cozy."
Pure and Simple
The kitchen matches what Curtis describes as the "straightforward character of the house." Although he made some modern-day concessions like the large island, he conjured up old-house authenticity with a few well-chosen carpentry details like the wall's wainscot, brackets beneath the upper cabinets, and the island's thin, turned legs.
"You need something to hang over a wet bar," Howard says. "I prefer to put a mirror there instead of a painting." This antique wooden piece she found won her over because, "It just felt like Texas without being cliché." She also applies this advice in other geographic locations. "Beach houses, mountain homes, and city apartments—they have their obvious decorating go-tos," she says. "I try to be more subtle about it." Here, Howard has arranged a handful of bar items on a tray. "I like to have things on display instead of behind the cabinets," she says. "It feels more festive."
Room to Rest
"Guest rooms should not be cluttered. They should stay a little on the sparse side," Howard explains. In this case, that translated into a few blue accents and the primitive painting over the bed. She advises keeping the space relatively neutral so your guests will have an easier time slipping into it and making it their own. "They will also have much more space to spread out their things," she says. Howard says antique beds work great in guest rooms because they give instant warmth to the space without needing much else.