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Pure Texas

A metal-clad ranch house in the Texas hill country emulates the hard landscape

Ranger Ranch Dec17 5
Photos: Craig McMahon, AIA

On 700 acres of rough-hewn Texas hill country, a San Antonio family wanted to carve out a weekend retreat that would include a main residence in the valley near a 4-acre lake they would develop. To do it, they needed to stage the site so they could work the land and prepare it for construction. Primarily, that included a barn for storage. They turned to architect Craig McMahon, AIA, Craig McMahon Architects, San Antonio, to help them conceptualize the initial building.

When McMahon first saw the land near Boerne, Texas, he was enthralled. “I’ve been in Texas my whole life, and I was blown away by the amount of terrain,” he says, noting the hills that fell away to valleys. “They had a significant drop down to some amazing property.”

Establish a Foothold

There was also a lot of work to be done on the property before a lake could be formed and a main residence constructed. “There were a lot of invasive trees that really eat up the land,” McMahon says. “It takes a lot to clear a ranch, so they needed a barn right away. They also needed a place to store the family motor home, which required the right siting.” Fleetwood motor homes aren’t known for their four-wheeling capabilities, so the barn needed to be sited appropriately. In other words, down in the valley with the main residence wasn’t an option.

"The land is so big the building looks small."

Craig McMahon, AIA

The clients had already worked out much of that detail with another architect, but when they asked McMahon to take a look at the land, he suggested an alternative that would get them on the property sooner. “There’s a trend in the Houston market called the ‘Barndominium.’ It’s a living quarters within a barn,” he says. “That would allow them to get out on the ranch sooner and start enjoying the land.”

Expand the Presence

The idea is to build a small living quarters in the barn for the family to use while they clear the property, develop the lake and prepare for construction. From that idea, the project grew. Because they were focused on saving costs, they were always looking at inexpensive building materials. A natural choice was a steel frame construction clad in metal wall and roof panels.

McMahon says, “We got into separating the two structures and expanding the scope. We kept getting more equipment in the barn and since it was designed to fit a Fleetwood motor home, we had to work with that scale.”

The result was an L-shaped structure with the barn on one leg and a residence on the other. The structures are separated by a breezeway. One of the issues, though, was keeping the residential side in scale with the large barn.

Provide a Home

“I selected the shed roof so it had a low-sloping drop-off,” McMahon says. “That way we could slide more program into the other structure because of the height.” The residence features a central great room that encompasses a living area, kitchen and dining area. The space is two-stories tall, and along one wall a bridge connects the second-floor bedrooms in the wings on opposite sides of the great room. Below those rooms are additional bedrooms.

A large, covered patio surrounds the house on two sides, and breaks the barrier between the indoors and outdoors. “Because the residence faced south and southwest, we had to have deep overhangs,” McMahon says. “We carved off and set back the porches, and left the steel framing exposed.”

To offer more shade during those months when the sun was low in the sky, McMahon cantilevered louvers along one side of the building. In keeping with the both the Texas motif and the focus on controlling construction costs, the louvers were custom fabricated using oil-field sucker rods.

Fit in the Country

The structure sits on top of a hill overlooking the valley in which the main residence will be built. Viewing from across the acreage, it blends with the terrain. Simple, ribbed 20-gauge Corten wall and roof panels by Western States Metal Roofing, Phoenix, give it a deep red color and a texture that speaks the roughness of a hill-country ranch house. “We wanted to blend with the dominant color of the land,” McMahon says. “The Corten siding is going to get darker and darker. It changes with the seasons, and is orange during the day and when the sun goes down, it gets dark brown.”

As often happens, the clients like the residence so much, they’re delaying construction of the main house and focusing on adding other features such as a pool and a guest house. “They have lots of extended family,” McMahon says. “People are there every weekend and are filling up the house. It’s like going to a private retreat. There are so many people coming, they have to block out weekends so they can enjoy it by themselves.”