THE LOOK, THE LAND, THE LANDSCAPE
Experts Share Tips on Rustic Ranch Style, Plus How to Get It and Landscape It
By Marsha Canright
Nowadays the spirit and style of the American West is reappearing in the interiors of expansive Texas ranch houses, country homes, upscale lodgings and even log cabins throughout the Lone Star State.
“It’s a style with a timeworn quality, a feeling of authenticity, and it continues to evolve,” says Katherine Snedeker, owner of The Arrangement stores in Dallas and Houston, who also designs and produces original furnishings.
“It’s midcentury meets ranch style with hints of modernism and Art Nouveau; it’s a bit like pairing a T-shirt and an Armani jacket. There's a balance between the casual and the elegant that makes you feel at home,” she says.
Snedeker recently orchestrated the design for a 50,000-square-foot country home with 30-foot ceilings and grandiose rooms on a sprawling acreage.
“You walk into these gigantic spaces and the challenge is: How do you make it feel warm and intimate with these castle proportions? How do you make each room sing?” she says.
For her, the answer is with superb craftsmanship and a director’s eye.
“We cast each room like a movie with stars and supporting players. It’s an art to get all the pieces to work together in harmony,” Snedeker says.
Rooted in the pragmatic life of the early West and Southwest, rustic design is the original homespun minimalism.
“The style is spare; I love that,” says Carol Hicks Bolton, owner of the eponymous Fredericksburg boutique that specializes in original furnishings, housewares, bedding, antiques and curiosities.
“For me, it’s big fat armchairs covered in old hemp rugs with piled-up pillows made of threadbare woven rugs. It’s flat, swept limestone floors and walls with rough-cut fir planks covered in painted cheesecloth,” she says.
Bolton uses a lush blend of natural fabrics, reclaimed wood, hammered copper, supple leather, found artifacts and just the right antiques.
Repurposed objects with interesting shapes figure prominently in her projects. To add texture and flair she suggests suspending a gargantuan tumbleweed on a heavy rope or mounting a goat skull with black wiggly horns on a clean white wall.
Bolton’s artisan bedsteads are created from windmill vanes, metal gates, chiseled ornamental woods and reclaimed shutters.
For a recent project she paired a cluster of old wire fencing with a bare bulb to create a handsome chandelier over a huge farm table and used primitive chopping blocks from Eastern Europe as end tables.
“These accents are both rustic and contemporary. They catch the eye and create a one-of-a-kind interior,” she says.
A blend of rustic styles with modern flair also can be found at Rustic Elegance, a Kerrville shop owned by Jan and Steve Lynch. Theirs is a novel mix of custom furnishings, artistic woven rugs and surprising pieces like an alpaca chair that keep customers coming back to see what’s next.
The couple has a prominent presence at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo where they design and furnish several suites and have a stadium showcase featuring western rustic design, mostly traditional, and some with more modern touches.
“We’re best known for custom furniture and our rugs: everything from tribal to traditional,” says Jan, who prefers an updated Western style but works with customers who want traditional rustic, contemporary, or even Tuscan design.
“I want every room to feel happy to the person who’s living there,” she says.
Jan recently designed a home at Boot Ranch, a master-planned community just north of Fredericksburg.
“We did a beautiful sectional in rust leather and added pillows made of cowhide, Tibetan materials and even a zebra pattern to blend,” she says.
Customers who have second homes are usually looking for a more laid back look. They already have a traditional home and they want something cozy and rustic without a lot of cows, says Jan.
But others are “all in” when it comes to cowboy style.
“We did the interior designs for a 33-year-old Houston man who had a new home and wanted no frills. We did it all: the lamps, the artwork, and he asked us to come back and decorate for Christmas — with antlers,” she says.
This year Jan noticed a lot of dusty rose and pinks as the hot featured colors at home markets.
“I don't think that's something the average cowboy is going to want to come home to so I'm staying with neutral tones along with woven rugs for color,” she says.
Sometimes home design is a negotiation, Jan says. “One of my favorite clients has a husband who is interested in interior design, which is great. The trouble is he likes brown, only brown, and his wife doesn’t want any more brown in the house,” she says.
“We were able to work out a compromise. He selected brown swivel chairs and she got a beautiful blue sofa. It all looked great together.”
Ranch style can be clean and crisp with a focus on natural and unrefined elements, but warm, earthy colors are also a staple.
“For us, the most requested accent color is our signature rustico, an antique red, and also a turquoise shabby chic finish,” says Liz Garcia of El Tapanco Rustic Furniture in Houston.
El Tapanco specializes in custom Mexican furniture including tables, beds, cabinets and mirrors that work well in rustic décor. Trending materials include copper in a traditional orange finish with hints of brown and leather furnishings that are honey-colored or dark brown.
“Hacienda style never changes but it’s becoming more versatile. I do see a mix of modern and farmhouse furniture along with industrial looking iron frames and bases of old natural wood,” says Garcia.
“Also shiplap continues to be popular and customers want furniture that serves a dual purpose, providing storage while bringing color and texture to an otherwise boring room,” adds Garcia.
Ingenuity and adaptive reuse runs deep in Western design, a product of its lineage.
One hundred and fifty years ago in Texas, supplies were slow to arrive and survival depended on being self-reliant and resourceful. Settlements throughout Texas were not easy to reach.
“There was a certain level of creativity due to circumstance. Imagine what it was like to get fabric from the East. When they didn’t have access to traditional materials to reupholster a Victorian couch they used cowhide or Rio Grande blankets. They figured it out and made it happen,” The Arrangement’s Snedeker says.
One of her unusual requests was for an exterior cigar room. Snedeker built three teepees to serve as smoking areas because the owners didn’t want guests to smoke on their wide front porch.
“They were made by the Teepee Canvas Company and I had artists paint them so they have a weathered, antique look. The stonemason came and put in fire pits; we built chairs from mesquite wood. The final touch was stringing colorful flags that blew in the wind,” she says.
Her goal is to always give the owner something completely unique. “When it’s finished I want to see their eyes come alive,” she says.
Her mission now is to make heirlooms by designing “small batch” handcrafted furnishings — only so many of a kind.
As for current materials, she likes copper reclaimed from copper wiring. “We face beds and drawers with it. We do a mix of wood and copper table tops that are beautiful and durable; it will last forever,” she says.
Snedeker takes inspiration from the products of the past. “I look at a 100-year-old saddle and see the remarkable craftsmanship. People took enormous pride in what they made. To me, that’s stunning and it still resonates.”
HOW TO FIND AND FINANCE YOUR OWN TEXAS RANCH
If you’re in the market for Texas ranch land — small or large — Kent Savage, vice president of Capital Farm Credit, has five quick tips for easing the process. Capital Farm Credit is one of the state’s eight farm banks, which specialize in rural properties such as farms, ranches and recreational land.
1. Pre-approval and Down Payment. Almost all banks will require at least 20 percent down on property along with good credit and financials that show the ability to repay the new debt. It’s good to know before you start looking what your budget will be. Getting a conditional commitment letter from your lender will speed up the process once you find a property you want to purchase.
2. Find a good reputable real estate agent. If you’re buying a small tract of land from ten to 50 acres or a sizable one with thousands of acres, it’s important to find a reputable agent. There are brokers that specialize in different size tracts of land. Savage recommends that people visit the websites of Land Broker Co-Op or Lands of Texas, part of the Lands of America Network. Look at what individual agents are listing. A good agent can set you on the right path with the least amount of work on your part.
3. Take your time. Go look at the property. First impressions are good. If you like what you see, arrange a second visit. On subsequent visits, you will see more things, good and bad. Remember, if you don’t love the property, you aren’t going to want to spend time there. Consider these questions: How remote is this property? How close to a town? Who are the neighbors? A good agent can help out with much of this and should provide a past history of the property. Talk to others who have purchased property in the area.
4. Be aware of flood zones and any history of flooding on the land. Check out the topography. Also be aware of mineral rights and surface rights that may or may not be conveyed with the sale of the property. This can affect land values; another reason it’s important to have a seasoned farm and ranch real estate broker/agent.
5. Financing improvements. Keep in mind that any raw property will likely need improvements, and plan for those. Roads, fences, a water well and a septic system may or may not be present. All of this can be financed but it’s important to know what necessities will be part of the equation so you aren’t caught off guard.
Savage says that farm credit banks were established in 1916 by the Federal Farm Loan Act to make sure farmers and ranchers had a reliable source of agricultural credit such as rural property improvements and construction, livestock and equipment, operating loans and farm and ranch property.
LANDSCAPING YOUR OWN TEXAS RANCH
Now that you’ve found and decorated your own Texas ranch hacienda, it’s time to look toward the great outdoors. These properties, oftentimes with expansive acreage, can be both a joy and a challenge when it comes to landscaping. Lucas Stroech knows his way around native landscapes. He and his wife ChrisAnn own Washington County Landscapes, a landscape architect and contracting company based out of Washington County.
“We deal with all kinds of projects — many ranches and second homes — some with a Southwestern design, even log cabins,” says Lucas.
When it comes to selecting appropriate landscaping, some clients want a little, some want a lot, but minimal maintenance is always a popular option.
Because native plants and grasses are stylish, hardy and drought tolerant, they are the go-to selections for arid climates.
“We also use sages, salvias and lantana because they grow, they flourish, they almost always work well,” he says.
In a Southwestern style home, he might recommend a display of agave or yucca.
Rocks also can add shape and texture. Found objects and farm implements are often incorporated in his overall design. “There are usually some existing elements, like ponds and trees, that we accent. When there is a lot of acreage I find that less is more but it all depends on what the client wants,” says Lucas.
Log cabins are an interesting challenge to Lucas because, he says, they need a more traditional landscape; a softer line against the roughhewn wood.
“Antique climbing roses, certain varieties of day lilies and dwarf bottlebrush all work well for cabins; they can frame it in blooms even when the weather is hot,” he says.
The nearby Antique Rose Emporium also offers selections for every terrain.
Stroech recently completed a landscaping project for a large ranch house in central Texas. It has river rock mulch with sparse plantings and a line of Texas mountain laurels, truly a minimalistic design.
“It looks very nice. The owners wanted to let the house speak for itself with some well-placed native accents.”
1721 Post Oak Boulevard
13710 Dallas Parkway, Dallas
Carol Hicks Bolton Antiqüités Laboratøire de Design
301 South Lincoln, Fredericksburg, TX
El Tapanco Rustic Furniture
411 Junction Highway, Kerrville, TX
FINDING AND FINANCING
Capital Farm Credit
26611 Southwest Freeway, Rosenberg
1260 Pin Oak, Katy
1801 West White Oak Terrace, Conroe
Land Broker Co-op
15602 Singapore Lane, Jersey Village, TX
Lands of America Network
Lands of Texas
The Antique Rose Emporium
9300 Lueckemeyer, Brenham
10000 FM 50, Brenham
Washington County Landscapes
4579 Highway 290 West, Brenham