What has George W. Bush been up to since leaving office, aside from painting portraits of dogs? Per Architectural Digest's account, spending a lot of time with Laura, Barbara, and Jenna at the family's Central Texas ranch, which occupies about 1,600 acres outside the town of Crawford. The Bushes completed Prairie Chapel Ranch in 2001, where they stay in what AD refers to as a "strong but relatively modest home that quietly honors its location." And yes, it's also where Bush does a good deal of his painting, at an easel in the breezeway (pictured above). Compiled below are 18 essential facts about the place that AD uncovered.
18. Known as Bush's "Western White House" during his presidency, the ranch has hosted many heads of state, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
17. An unidentified subset of these world leaders "were coaxed to join the leader of the free world as he raced along the property's 40-mile network of bike trails."
16. Dubya does his painting in the breezeway (above), where a few of his "expressive ranch vistas and tree studies" are propped in the photo.
15. A portrait of Barney, one of the Bushes' late Scottish terriers, hangs in the study (pictured below). Some consider it to be one of the best-executed works in the Bush oeuvre.
14. The non-Bush artworks hung about the house include paintings by Adrian Martinez, Otis Dozier, and Manuel Acosta, as well as sculptures by Pamela Nelson and reproductions of ornithological paintings by naturalist John James Audoban and his son.
13. Prairie Chapel Ranch was designed by architect David Heymann, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin's School of Architecture who was recommended by the Bushes' friend Deedie Rose for "the way David sites buildings." Deedie also sat on the committee that selected Robert A.M. Stern to design the Bush Presidential Library.
12. A geothermal heating system and a rain-fed 42,000-gallon cistern used to irrigate the lawns count among the eco-friendly features Heymann incorporated into the design.
11. According to AD, Laura Bush wanted their home to quite literally "fit" within the landscape, which the three-bedroom structure and its adjacent guesthouse do by nestling into an "almost imperceptible rise amid an existing grove of live oaks and cedar elms."
10. What Laura had in mind for the house was something "one story and low to the ground, a style you saw a lot in the '50s and '60s," based on the spec houses her father built.
9. The Bushes achieved that laudable goal of indoor-outdoor living by having many windows that open right onto covered terraces, and will often step outside to go from one room to another. "It's slightly motel-ish," says Mrs. Bush. "But we love that."
8. Laura worked closely with Heymann, who describes her as someone with "a very, very good eye," which is partially due to "a lot of experience from seeing the carefully organized houses that her dad built."
7. During the construction process, the former first lady objected to the perfectly cut limestone blocks that were chosen for the exterior and some of the interior. To achieve what AD describes as a "subtly rustic, handcrafted look," she opted to use the "so-called rough-back pieces that were traditionally thrown away in the trimming process rather than smoothly finished blocks."
6. Laura also takes the lead with most of the gardening choices, working with plant expert Michael Williams to arrange a selection of mostly native species that stay alive without much care, including white prickly poppies she refers to as "hot-weather dudes."
5. However, Dubya does like to spend time tending to his 90-acre tree farm, and selling off some of what he grows to landscape architects. "I'm his best customer," notes Mrs. Bush, who is looking to create an "artful grove" near the main house with around a dozen live oaks.
4. When on vacay in Crawford, the 43rd U.S. president's loves to fish for bass in a lake on the property. He claims to that the largest one he has caught to date was a ten-pounder.
3. During his presidency, Bush was known to go on expeditions "clearing brush, often in searing heat, sometimes encouraging aides to join him."
2. The interior was done up by Forth Worth-based decorator Kenneth Blasingame, who has been a Bush family go-to for nearly three decades, and contributed to rooms in the White House and the Bush Presidential Library. Noteworthy pieces include a leather-top partner's desk that belonged to George W.'s grandfather Prescott Bush, a collection of Mexican painted-wood plates hung in the breakfast area, and a number of rugs by Arzu Studio Hope, which trains and employs underprivileged Afghan women.
1. Blasingame describes working with Mrs. Bush to decorate the place as "a painterly process, talking about things, layering, evolving." He jokes that this painterly aspect "probably inspired the president," whose work reminds him of Fairfield Porter.
· Laura and George W. Bush's Serene Texas Retreat [Architectural Digest]
· Five Things Learned From NYT Profile of Dubya's Ranch [Curbed National]
· Politico Pads archives [Curbed National]
· Presidential Decor archives [Curbed National]
· Printed Page archives [Curbed National]