The Trails - Burleson Design Group, the Hill Country Architect


By Sue-Ella Mueller.

Photography by Daniel Nadelbach.

When John and Nancy Loftis decided to retire for good to their home in Durango, Colorado, they were looking forward to enjoying their horses, the beautiful surrounding landscaping, and the many friends they had made there each summer over the past 19 years.

What they soon learned, however, was that winters in Colorado were a bit different than the summers and were usually filled with snow, snow and more snow.

"In January, I looked at Nancy and said, this is not my idea of the golden years," laughs Loftis, a retired Houston oil and gas exploration man.  So, the couple packed up the farm so to speak, and, along with their two Tennessee Walkers, headed for warmer weather hoping to find the perfect retirement retreat.

"We rented a condo on Lake LBJ in Horseshoe Bay and started looking at houses.  But after looking at more than 25 houses, our realtor suggested building and said she knew the perfect architect," said Loftis.

The Loftises met Wimberley architect Rick Burleson of Burleson Design Group at a site he had just completed.  After looking at his work and spending a little time with him, the Loftises soon realized that not only had they found the right architect, but they had found one with a sense of humor as well.  "When we first met him, he commented on the UT (University of Texas) jacket I was wearing.  he told me he was an Aggie, but that if I talked real slow he could understand me and that he'd be doing all his drawings in crayon," says Loftis.

With the partnership set up, the first step was finding the right property.  Burleson accompanied the Loftises on their hunt through the Trails of Horseshoe Bay which has an equestrian center and riding trails.  They soon agreed on the perfect spot.  "The home site is about an acre and a quarter with a little creek running right behind it.  The good thing was it had a lot of trees to work with.  The challenge would be to mitigate the northwest solar exposure at the back of the house," says Burleson, who believes, "one of the greenest things you can do is plan the house specific to the site and address the orientation aspects such as where the windows and overhangs will be."

Leaving his crayons behind, Burleson set to work designing the optimal home in order to overcome the orientation complexity and save as many as he could of the 15 mature oak trees that were located in the building envelope of the lot.  "It was almost magical.  The open spaces were in just the right spots and the trees were exactly where we needed them.  We were actually able to save all of them," he says.  "And the orientation drove us to the idea of creating a front courtyard facing southeast.  We routed the house around the courtyard.  Both the great room and the study open up to the courtyard that has a beautiful stone path running through it."

Another trick of the trade Burleson took in the design was creating a dogtrot home, two separate living areas connected by a large breezeway.  "A lot of settlers in the south had dogtrots.  They knew it was a great way to enhance the breezes.  Fortunately, John and Nancy had a rustic style in mind and were very much on board with the idea," says Burleson.  "It was an opportunity for us to take the old and bump it into a modern house."

The dogtrot design would allow for natural ventilation for the Loftises.  Burleson also strategically placed windows in the great room and the master on opposing walls that would allow the couple to open the windows for a nice cross breeze.

"The basic floor plan was driven by a sustainable principle," says Burleson.  The plan included using cool, concrete flooring throughout most of the house.  Not an unusual concept, until you consider the way it was incorporated in this particular home."

"The morning they poured our foundation, we had a hell of a storm.  There were oak leaf prints everywhere," says Loftis.  While most would be upset wit this turn of events, Burleson and the Loftises turned it into a custom design.

"It was a great surprise and added to the 'rustic-ness' they were trying to achieve.  In some places though, there were just too many leaf imprints.  So we honed the floors (a method of grinding off the top layer of concrete) and then stained them.  It created an earthy look and made if look old," says Burleson.  As if Mother Nature wasn't satisfied enough with having had her hands in things, they day they laid the concrete for the outside porch, a rare Texas hail storm hit, creating yet another unique texture.  Burleson added his own touch by having it stamped and stained as well.

With the foundation laid, the home site began to take shape.  One side of the dogtrot serves as the main house.  Inside the 2,200 square foot area is the great room, master bedroom and bathroom, a half bath, a kitchen with two islands, a study and a small art niche.  The guest side of the dogtrot which is about 1,400 square feet, includes two bedrooms, a kitchenette, two full bathrooms, a TV area, and an enclosed sleeping porch.

"We love entertaining and enjoy having overnight house guests. We all congregate in the main house, but we wanted our guests to be able to have their privacy too.  This way, if they want to stay up until three in the morning they can.  We call it our bunk house," says Loftis.

Adds Burleson, "We fashioned the sleeping porch to look like it was originally an outdoor porch that the owners had decided to close in with windows.  The interior wall of the room is actually the same stone that we used on the outside of the house and the ceiling is a reclaimed tin roof.  It's very cool space."

Each side of the dogtrot has its own operating air conditioning unit so that when there are no guests, the Loftises can close off that portion of the home.  The design principles are carried over in both sides of the house.

"We used a great deal of reclaimed wood for the walls and the ceilings; three different kinds actually," says Burleson.  "On a few walls we used a wood that was painted red at one time but has since faded.  For the ceiling, we used a warm, brown wood that came from the inside of a barn that was never exposed to the outside.  And then we have a gray wood that was on the outside of a barn and was exposed for years to the elements."

The ironic tale, or at least poignant to the Loftises, is that most of the reclaimed wood came from an old barn in North Dakota.  "Nancy grew up on a farm in North Dakota and, well, there aren't a whole hell of a lot of people from North Dakota," Loftis jokes.

While the reclaimed wood hailing from Nancy's home state was a happy coincidence, the Loftises did come to the table with a few pieces of their own they wanted in the design of the house.  Among those was a barn window Nancy brought from her family farm after the barn was torn down.  Burleson asked if she would be able to get two more windows; he had the perfect setting for the old panes.  The three windows are now housed in the gable above the kitchen and when backlit, allow shafts of light to filter through, highlighting the beautiful exposed trussed of the sloping cathedral ceilings.

"The clients came to us with cool stuff like the barn windows and the light fixture above the dining are which is actually a joke for oxen," says Burleson.  "With the yoke, though, I have to admit, when John first came up with the idea, I was a bit skeptical about using it as a chandelier, but it turned out great.  Things like this add to the character of the house which is just an extension of their personalities."

Loftis also met with a bit of skepticism from his wife and architect on the idea of adding limestone pillars to the side walls of the master shower.  But once again, his idea proved to fit the home to a T.  "I love the feeling of wood and limestone in a house.  It blended well in our master bedroom and I couldn't be happier with the results," he says.

But just because you walk through the front door of the main house, don't expect to see the master living or bath area unless you specifically ask for a tour.  One of Burleson's architectural trademarks is to lend a sense of privacy to homeowners.

"The great room is designed to convey the idea of a rustic lodge.  It's open on all four sides with the kitchen at one end, a fireplace at the other and windows along the southeast and northwest walls.  You're not able to see down hallways or see the other rooms.  There's just a sense of getting away from a typical house if you can't perceive the other rooms," he says.

What a guest can perceive with very little effort, however, is the attention to detail that both Burleson and the Loftises took in finishing the home.  From the dusty red granite kitchen countertops that Nancy wanted to use from a local quarry to the widened alcove area Burleson designed specifically to showcase John's collection of western art and on down to the primitive furniture the couple had scoured the state to find, it all seems to flow and fit just right.

"We both have a passion for primitive furniture and we have a great collection of some really neat, old stuff," says Loftis.  "The net effect it has made on our home is that it's very livable.  I can walk in here with road apples on my boots and it's not going to make any difference.  It's just that comfortable."

All that, at least for the Loftises, is what the golden years are all about.

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