A Natural Habitat

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

n the Texas Hill Country, where sweeping views and vivid sunsets abound, first instincts often point to the proverbial house on top of a hill. The owners of Brushy Top, a family getaway nestled in the Hill Country north of Blanco, were initially tempted to make the hilltop choice when conceptualizing their home, but a process of site exploration with architect John Grable led them to a different place. “As we explored, we came upon a shelf that had an entire stand of trees with waist high grass, and a great view with a natural slope,” Grable shared. Being further down the hill, Grable observed that in addition to offering plenty of natural beauty, it was a practical solution, as it would conserve resources in terms of road development and landscaping.

Resource conservation was a vital part of the program. Despite the fact that the property boasts bodies of water and stop tanks, sensitivity to the land was very important in planning the shelter. “It was an interesting challenge, because of the fact that we were in a drought at the time. We knew that the aquifer was being taxed by development. One criteria was not only to live with the land but to capture rain water for landscaping.” Inspired by the natural landscaping, the clients and the architect began thinking about the habitat in terms of the trees, and observed that it was a regular gathering spot for deer and other wildlife. “At that point, we KNEW that it was the right place.”

The home, a weekend getaway for the family and their young children, had a firm budget and specific objectives. “This project was about quality over quantity. We designed the house knowing that they wanted to have something modern that was driven by the specific site,” said Grable. The clients desired a compact floor plan, a common living space, and a focus on public spaces.

A homeowner’s association had additional specific requirements, such as a rule requiring them to expand the floorplan, which was initially smaller, to 2,200-square-feet. They were also required to add a garage. In response, the plan includes a car-port which doubles as an outdoor living space; often used for family dinners, the slatted sliding barn doors open to frame the sunset, enhancing the dining experience.

Designed to be a natural escape, the family hoped for something modern that fit into a regional style, and utilized materials that were low maintenance. Concrete floors, plywood walls and a combination of Hardiplank® siding and Limestone Veneer exterior walls were incorporated in part to make things easy to clean. “The clients said that they wanted to be able to clean their house with a leaf blower and a garden hose,” smiled Grable. The plywood walls throughout the living space add a unique warmth and texture without distracting from the expansive views. “We were fortunate to work with a contractor with a number of skill sets and an open mind to the process,” Grable mentions. “That was key to the success of the project. This house is constructed of common materials but assembled in uncommon ways.” The entire process was a team effort. “The team was like a triad with the homeowner on top and the architect and contractor (Olson | Defendorf Custom Homes) underneath,” says Grable.

Concrete floors, in addition to being a low maintenance solution, invite energetic children to run (and roll) throughout the open floorplan, and the space accommodates easy transitions from indoors to out. “With their young children, they had a desire to instill the values of nature and to ground them in that particular lifestyle by having a place to go experience nature,” said Grable. As such, every aspect of the design points to the outdoors, so that even when working in the kitchen, one feels directly connected to the environment outside.

In keeping with their desire to incorporate the natural beauty of the area, the owners also requested that the common space, with family, dining, and living areas, be designed with maximized views. Sliding barn doors open off of the living room and allow the peripheral views to expand and achieve a dramatic panorama. The emphasis on view meant that the door and window package was a top tier item in the budget as well. Grable uses the example of an ocean liner wheelhouse to describe the design. “We realized the metaphor behind the feeling one got looking at the distant view that had more depth of field, with the trees in the foreground giving depth of field for the background. We thought about the wheelhouse of an ocean liner. The ocean was the movement of the tall grasses in the breezes.” As the design process advanced, the team realized that more people might visit, and offered creative solutions to add sleeping space without compromising the commitment to communal space. “We worked out a program and made hallways into wider galleries. We envisioned incorporating bunk beds in these spaces so that the children might be part of this immediate adjacency to the public living space,” says Grable.

The focus on public space continues to play as the client hoped it would. Grable shares, “The neat thing about it is that the kids love it: they love playing inside the house as much as they do outside. They set up tents and teepees in the public space. They learned to navigate the space with running and with tricycles and it was neat because we knew we had arrived at the right solution for that type of habitat. Everyone felt at ease and the enjoyment was to hear the client say ‘we feel like even when we are inside we are enjoying the outdoors.’ The deer come at the end of the day and become friends and neighbors, and those barriers are erased.”

In one last nod to the Texas Hill Country, Grable presented the clients with a special gift. During construction, the team had not come across many American Indian artifacts. “I always look for these artifacts in the Hill Country, because it’s an indication that the site is a good habitat. I found this box of arrowheads and flint, and gave it to the owners. I asked them to take these and scatter them across their property, and challenge the children to find them, collect them and bring them to the fire pit.” With that gift — a small reminder of the past — the habitat was complete: a functional and modern home firmly rooted in its hillside landscape. 

ARCHITECT John Grable Architects, Inc.
210.820.3332 | Johngrable.com

BUILDER Olson | Defendorf Custom Homes
512.243.6508 | Odcustomhomes.com