Thoughtful Architecture Brings Harmony to Hill Country Retreat
Story by Katricia Lang | Photos by Chuck Williams
Deep in the Texas Hill Country, within the luxurious Cordillera Ranch community in Boerne, Texas, Don and Kris Rymer’s home coils upon itself like a snake. But instead of the percussive tail of a rattler, its tip is a central courtyard. The house almost seems to arrange itself around it, says Jeffrey Dungan, the home’s architect.
Wrapped around the courtyard are two casitas, a great room, and a stone wall with a Roman arch and a contemporary outdoor fireplace carved into it.
Beauty and serenity are in abundance here: Texas limestone, a clay tile roof tailor-made for the arid climate, an infinity pool, and a stunning view of the Twin Sisters Mountains, whose cyan majesty could replace the purple mountains in “America the Beautiful.” But it’s the interior courtyard that is the crown jewel of the Rymer residence.
Dungan points to its three-dimensionality with views in several directions. The great room, a living room of massive proportions, sits at the rear of the courtyard and has transparent glass on both sides. So when you're in the great room, you’re outside as well, and vice versa.
“It’s an amazing space. It’s a very unique space. There’s not that many homes that you’ll see that will have it,” says Dungan. “I am very thankful that the Rymers went along with me on creating these outdoor spaces. It is a very different kind of home.”
Dungan met the Rymers in Florida years ago to help them conceptualize a beachside home. Eventually, the Rymers decided against building that Floridian retreat, but their collaboration with the award-winning architect was just beginning. When they called him about a piece of property they’d purchased in the Texas Hill Country, he gladly accepted the challenge. This was another chance to work with the couple and it would also be his first time designing a house in the great state of Texas.
“By practicing architecture in different environments and different regions, I learn things that I then get to apply to other houses and other regions that may be far away,” says Dungan. For example, the entryway to the private central courtyard, a zaguán, has its roots in sixteenth century Latin American architecture.
Styles, building traditions, and construction practices vary a great deal within and across countries, says Duncan. So he knew that his approach to the home had to be unique to the Lone Star State. And while he was inspired by a number of cultures and locations, he made sure to give the home that Texas flair, including using Texas marble from the Rymer family business, Materials Marketing™.
It was a no-brainer to go local. Texans have more state pride than anyone Dungan has ever encountered. “Any Texan will tell you; it’s not a state, it’s a republic,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve never met a group of people that were prouder of where they were from than Texans.”
Contrary to popular opinion, interior design is considered well before a home is finished. Too many architects disregard interior design in their drawings, leaving the designers to unravel the tangled web they’ve unwittingly woven. Dungan favors a more thoughtful approach to interior design and decoration. He calls it “interior architecture.” He works with designers and decorators in the early stages of his process. Together, he and the designers are able to create a building surround that is both gorgeous and pragmatic.
The Rymers have a living room so grand that it warrants the name great room: 16-foot ceilings, marble fireplace, French doors with accompanying transom windows, and marvelous chandeliers from Restoration Hardware’s Camino Vintage Filament collection. But the real show-stopper in the great room is the natural light streaming through the transom windows.
Natural light is essential to making emotionally impactful spaces, says Dungan. But it can also carry with it heat. This is especially problematic in an area so close to the drought-prone San Antonio region. “The roof overhangs, the materials I use, and the courtyard and its effects are all tools that help keep the sun at bay.”
Dungan’s design is driven by the natural environment of the land he’s building upon, its topography, its view, the way the sun bounces on and off its shapes and contours. “When I’m looking at topography, I’m trying to find the spot on the land that seems to be best accepting of an intervention by man,” says Dungan. “We’re looking at nature and how we best fit into it.”
“The house needs to be of the hill, not on the hill,” says Dungan, referencing Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous quote. “Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.”
Jeffrey Dungan Architects
1906 Cahaba Road
Mountain Brook, Alabama 35223
The Nature of Home: Creating Timeless Houses
By Jeff Dungan
(Architectural stone and tile)
120 West Josephine, San Antonio
1335 West Gray, Suite 100, Houston
28 Cordillera Trace, Boerne
Camino Vintage Filament Collection
Boerne Convention & Visitors Bureau
282 North Main, Boerne