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Shelter from the Storm

A floating roof offers protection from the rains and the harsh Texas sun

Texas Retreat Majuly 1
Photos by Dror Baldinger, FAIA

In the rough-hewn country between Houston and Austin, weekend retreats have begun to be carved out of the landscape, and this lake retreat home near Ledbetter, Texas, truly seems to be one with the countryside. Its low-slung and strong base matches the surrounding environment, while a metal roof appears to almost float above it. The Metal Architecture Design Award judges all remarked on the delicate, floating roofing and recognized it is an essential and defining characteristic of a wonderfully achieved design. So, they selected it as the metal roofing category winner.

Mark Schatz, AIA, and his wife, Anne Eamon, AIA, are the principals of m+a architecture studio, Houston. They have a philosophy of design that Schatz expresses by saying, “We try to practice Swiss Army knife design. If you can do one gesture and it does five things for you, that’s way better than doing a series of one-off things.” That philosophy becomes abundantly clear in the execution of the Texas Lake Retreat House.

A Plan and a Proper Site

The retreat comprises two structures, a main house and a guest house, that sit on either side of a marsh area and are connected by a wooden walkway. “You get to walk through the trees from one building to the other,” says Schatz. “The idea is that it allows the owners to have guests and entertain and have people over when they’re not there. And the guest house can be totally used independently. You have a real sense of privacy because you’re detached from the main house.”

The retreat fits perfectly into the surrounding environment and captures much of the area’s agricultural influence, especially as evoked by the ribbed metal roof. But it also offers much more design presence than that. “The design inspiration comes from this idea of trying to blend the regional, vernacular agricultural buildings, and what becomes a high-end modern art collector’s house,” Schatz says.

Emerging from the Landscape

The area surrounding the retreat features primarily Post oak and cedar, and Schatz notes the canopy peaks out at about 30 feet. The overall effect gives the area a very horizontal feel. Schatz and Eamon used horizontal cedar siding to give the structures a heaviness and low-slung look that fits the environment. Combining one-by and two-by material created depth and shadows on the siding. The overall effect is a very heavy massing.

After touring the area during the conceptual phase, Schatz and Eamon picked up on the strong agricultural influences. “In the agricultural communities, shelter is really an important consideration both literally and metaphorically,” Schatz says. “You have the whole idea with the pouring down rainstorms and you’re trying to protect the livestock. You have that predominance of that big sheltering roof and the secretive idea of the big sheltering roof that is the shade structure that’s going to get the livestock out of the beating down, ominous West Texas sun. That huge cantilever that goes all the way around the building. Basically, you just make a hat.”

Approaching the main house on the gravel road gives visitors a strong impression of solidity. The breezeway represents the entryway, and is surrounded by the two, heavy, cedar-clad forms on either side. But on the lake side, the house opens up with soaring windows and lightness.

Gossamer Wings

The 7.2 ribbed metal roof is from Houston-based MBCI, and the ribbing pattern matches the reveals on the cedar siding. It has a Galvalume coating on both sides. “We selected the finish for a couple of reasons,” Schatz says. “One is getting it to match the regional, vernacular barns and shelters on these kind of mini-cattle ranches that surround it. The other is that we like to do some degree of green building.”

Choosing a ribbed instead of a flat panel roof picked up on the agricultural influence, but it also had a utilitarian reason. The roof framing is made of tube purlins welded to rafter beams. The ribbed panel “allowed us to do a pretty reasonable span between supports,” says Schatz. “You get this visual quality of having a very delicate framework that’s holding up the roof.”

In addition to the cedar siding, charcoal gray steel frame and Galvalume roof finish, the home has Corten steel panels around the fireplaces. The natural colors of those materials also fit the local landscape. Schatz adds, “We like to say that as the building ages, it will age gracefully and it will pick up colors and tones of the landscape. As the cedar silvers out, it will pick up the silver tones of the bark on the Post oak. As the Corten rusts and becomes more orange it will pick up the sedge grass that goes around the pond.”