Years ago, Gina O’Hara’s family rented a ranch house in rural southern Texas for a reunion and she still thinks of it fondly. “The living space was in one building and the bedrooms were in a separate building,” she says. “It worked so well for us. Everyone could do what they wanted—nap, play cards, or be outside—without disturbing anyone else. I tucked the idea away in my mind.”
Later, when she and her husband, Bill, decided to build a house in the River Crossing Equestrian Community in Bastrop County, she drew on that memory for inspiration, along with some other influences the couple picked up along the way.
Those references weren’t lost on their architect, Hugh Jefferson Randolph. “We started talking, and Gina mentioned being inspired by the house in Out of Africa. I understood that the appeal was the long, low house with the big porches,” Randolph says. “They brought up Fort Davis, a historic military outpost, and I mentioned Cíbolo Creek Ranch, a luxury resort and historic site in West Texas.” As it happens, the couple became engaged at Cíbolo Creek Ranch.
Once the wavelength was set, the design began take shape. “We knew there would be a main house on one side and a separate bunk house (or guest house) on the other. We envisioned the two would be connected by big, deep porches,” says Randolph. “We imagined it as a sprawling, one-story building.”
Bill adds: “We wanted a house that was comfortable for us, and the guests that come visit us.”
And that’s precisely how it came together. The L-shaped home’s main wing (living room, dining room, kitchen, and master suite) is composed of rustic, pressed brick. The guest wing is clad with cedar wood siding. Standing in the prairie-like, seasonally wildflower-studded landscape that surrounds the dwelling, you might mistake it for a pair of historic ranch buildings that were connected by a breezeway at some point, rather than a brand-new house.
“It gives the impression of old buildings that have evolved over time,” says Randolph. “The change in materials creates the illusion. It appears that the brick part was built as the main house and the wood portion was added later—and, back in the day, they often did it that way.”
As the building program took shape, the O’Haras, particularly Gina, were starting to imagine the interiors.
The couple chose to forgo conventional drywall and opt for walls painted with American Clay, a natural earth product with a plaster-like finish that provides warmth and depth. Floors are made of polished concrete, which is a modern spin on the tile floors you find in many historic buildings in this region.
“I was drawn to a look that was authentic with a heft to it,” says Gina. “I’m not drawn to spindly, delicate antiques. Instead, I like things that have a weight to them. I love original elements that display real craftsmanship—and I wanted to fill my home with them and honor the craftsmen and craftswomen who made them.”
With that in mind, Gina began to collect antique light fixtures and rugs—and in the end, the house is completely outfitted with vintage lights and floor coverings. “My daughter jokes with friends she brings over that they should look up and look down or they’ll miss something,” says Gina. “It was important to me to furnish the house this way, because they literally don’t make things with the attention to detail and craftsmanship like they used to. It gave the house those notes of authenticity I wanted.”
Another handcrafted element is the stenciled tile in the kitchen. The material takes up one wall of the space, making it more like a mural than a backsplash. “At the time we were building the house, the tile choice seemed really out there,” says Gina. “I was so unsure about it, I printed pictures of the tile out and taped them up in my old house to try and get an idea of how it would look. Now, it’s the thing people notice the most in the house.”
Gina says that one area visitors don’t seem to notice is, in fact, her favorite space in the home. “I love the back entry. For such a small space, it is packed with special details. The ceiling is shiplap and slanted, there is a little offset window, and the light came from New York,” she says. “I also love the big hallway in our master wing.”
Randolph says he designed the latter space with small, high windows that provide privacy for the bedroom and bathroom (the bath is entered via a doorless, arched portal). “To my eye, this area has the look of the old Spanish Missions that dot the West,” he says.
But for Randolph, the success of the project doesn’t lie in its ability to recall the past. Rather, it is how it captures his clients in the here and now that makes it a triumph.
“The thing I really love about this project is the clear sense it gives you of who these people are. These are people who have a sense of contentment and serenity, but also of laughter and fun,” Randolph says. “To me, the house and the land it’s on have the same spirit. When a project seems to effortlessly represent a client, it makes an architect proud.”
The landscape designer is Jeff Neal.