by Cowboys & Indians
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High school sweethearts, Rodney Bingham and his wife, Susan, long dreamed of owning a ranch. But it wasn't until their children were grown that they began looking in earnest. After months of searching, the couple stumbled upon an undeveloped 90-acre wooded parcel with two ponds and rolling countryside just minutes from the quaint town of La Grange, Texas. They immediately knew they had found their new home. Rodney and Susan envisioned a legacy ranch house with an expansive outdoor living area that could easily accommodate their grown children and grandchildren. Yet they also wanted a place that would be comfortable when they were home alone. To guide the project, the couple contacted architect Rick Burleson, whose impressive resume includes a host of refined homes in the Texas Hill Country." They brought me to a knoll between the ponds that overlooks a grove of trees and said, 'This is our favorite place on the ranch. We really want a place for our kids and grandkids to gather, and we want to build it here,'" Burleson says. Taking note, Burleson drafted plans for a home that would preserve and maximize the views. He also cleverly segmented it into three distinct yet connected spaces. The main house includes an open-concept great room, kitchen, and formal dining area along with a master suite. A second structure, called a casita, features two spacious bedrooms and baths for guests. Linking the two is an L-shaped dogtrot, or covered breezeway, that houses a spectacular outdoor kitchen and bar, fireplace, smoking pit, and big-screen TV. "It's like having a deluxe upgrade on a man cave," Rodney says with a smile. The three-part design serves an important function. "The separate living space gives the owners a more intimate home environment when they are alone, while the casita provides ample space and privacy for visiting family members or guests," Burleson notes. Critical to the plan was the design of each structure. In Texas, summer temperatures can be brutal. To lessen the intensity, Burleson oriented the main house and casita to take advantage of prevailing southeast winds. The elbow-shaped dogtrot links the two buildings, helping to wrap the living quarters around the expansive outdoor area, effectively protecting it from gusting winds while pulling cool breezes through the interior of the home. Even before entering the home, however, guests get the fist hint of Hill Country charm as they round the final bend and approach the driveway. Clad in locally quarried stone and reclaimed cypress, the home's exterior palette of rust, cream, sandstone, and aged timber reflects the muted landscape of post oak, live oak, and cedar trees that gently guide visitors past the inviting aquatic oasis to the "front" door." There's no front and back in Hill Country," Rodney says. "Visitors drive past the pool on their way to park on the other side of the home." OPPOSITE: In cooler months, an oversized stone fireplace warms the spacious great room, but during the summer, 8-foot sliding doors open to the outdoor living space. The open-concept chef's kitchen makes it easy for the owners to prep dinner while visiting with guests. THIS PAGE: A rock archway separates the great room from the dining room, which features an 18-foot-wide expanse of windows overlooking the grounds. A custom iron chandelier hangs in the main entry. Passing through the main door, guests enter a grand foyer that stretches from the front of the house to the back. With a 17-foot ceiling and custom iron chandelier, the spacious entry opens to the great room, evoking a sense of rustic elegance. The dark-stained mesquite floors contrast the rough-sawed fir beams and pine board ceiling. Reclaimed barn wood, custom sanded and refinished, adorns the walls. "We chose several different species of wood, but we were careful with the finish so that they all work beautifully together," Burleson says. The great room features an inviting sitting area furnished with pieces that are subtly reminiscent of historic Western lodges. In cooler seasons, the massive stone fireplace crackles with burning logs. Layered lighting and a hand-knit wool area rug soften the space, making it a perfect place to relax. OPPOSITE: The outdoor living space - with a pool, spa, and outdoor kitchen - is perfect for entertaining. Open to the great room, the kitchen is a chef's dream featuring a Sub-Zero refrigerator and a Wolf gas stovetop and double ovens. The custom cabinetry, made out of sinker cypress, was painted and hand-glazed to achieve a distressed finish. A large granite-topped island with leather fringed bar stools creates and inviting place for guests to sit and partake in the conversation while Rodney and Susan prepare dinner. Opposite the great room, a thick stone archway opens to the dining room, which features a 18-foot-wide expanse of windows overlooking a grove of trees and the pond. Back outside after the tour, Rodney takes a long, satisfied look around as his grandchildren splash and squeal in the pool. "Family is the most important thing to us," he says. "Look at our grandkids - we love having them here, letting them fish in the ponds, swim in the pool, and drive utility vehicles around. This is what the Nine O Ranch is all about."