On an oxbow of the Colorado River in Columbus, Texas, about 90 minutes west of Houston, an old allée of sycamore and pecan trees stretches toward a small bluff overlooking the water. Michael G. Imber, principal architect and founder of San Antonio based Michael G. Imber, Architects, worked for a client who used to swim in those waters as a boy and who later acquired that property, seeking to build a home for his growing family there.
After all, Columbus is a historic town with homes ranging from mission-inspired to Victorian to Greek Revival.
“It’s an interesting, historic little town because it was an important ferry crossing over the Colorado River,” Imber says. Eventually the family settled on building a classic ranch-style farmhouse that speaks to its Texas location and traditions. “This is definitely farm country,” Imber says, a place that’s verdant with rolling green hills and weekend farms.
The result is a beautiful home that takes stunning advantage of the unique property. Imber says the allée created a wonderful opportunity to create focused views between the trees. Situating the house up on the bluff allowed them to capture both views of the river bend and the cool breezes that are so important to people living in the hot and humid Texas climate.
“The siting of the house is very important . . . in terms of taking advantage of the southeast breezes coming up from Galveston Bay,” Imber says. The clients toyed with many ideas and architectural styles for their home.
A Very Texas Exterior
Clad in wood and stone, this river ranch house fits its Texas environment perfectly, and that extends to its outdoor spaces. The same custom sandstone blend used on the exterior veneer of the main house was also used on the exterior veneer of the retaining walls, the walls the surrounding motor court, the columns in outdoor kitchen area, and on the outdoor fireplace.
The pool deck is elevated by a retaining wall that runs the length of the bluff side of the house, which not only elevates the area above the view but also helps to contain the children, Imber says.
“The wide verandas are something very specific to this area of Texas, in farm and ranch houses,” Imber says.
There’s also a pool house, two separate pool baths, and a changing room, and a number of other outbuildings, including an equipment shed, pump house for the well, and a slatted structure that allows air flow for pool equipment.
Aesthetically, the home has a “nice, clean, classical farmhouse look” that relies on such materials as a custom sandstone blend used for the exterior veneer and cedar for the roof, making the house look like it might have grown up from the land itself.
“We wanted a look that was in keeping with earlier homes with the wood shingle roof that helps soften it into the landscape,” Imber says. “One of the important aspects was getting the building to react with the natural environment the way traditional buildings should have a relationship with their environment.
”The environment also called for a wealth of shaded outdoor spaces, which both shield the home from intense sunlight and also create also wide, livable spots for outdoor living. “
The wide porches are a common feature to Texas farmhouses and are an important part of comfortable living,” Imber says. Because all that shade has the potential to darken the interior of the house, they opted for all-white interiors to create a lot of reflective light. The post oak floors give the space a rustic “beautiful blonde heartwood effect.”
“It’s really quite lovely, the luminosity of the interior of the house,” Imber says.
Inside benefits from cooling, too, since it was important to the owner that the house accommodate natural airflow. There are high, vaulted ceilings and operable transoms over exterior and bedroom doors that let air to flow continually through the house. “
With the slender bars, we’re allowing air to move through all of the spaces,” Imber says. “It’s a way to have the house act as traditional houses always did, in being naturally cooled and ventilated.”
The home design also takes into account the client himself: He is 6'7" and has a lot of young children, so there needed to be plenty of room to maneuver and play comfortably. “The plan was gracious in terms of having space between furnishings and being able to move about,” Imber says.
The home’s main living space is pushed out toward the river and includes a living room and a casually elegant eat-in kitchen with a scullery area and baking center. Honed Taj Mahal quartzite countertops on the island and perimeter and white clay paper ceramic field tile on the backsplash add to the space’s airy luminosity.
Offset from that space is a long family wing, which includes all the children’s bedrooms and playrooms and that is terminated by the master suite, which allows for both close proximity to the kids and privacy. A deep soaking tub in the bathroom and a private own screened-in porch give the master suite an added sense of serenity. Elsewhere is also a carport, office, and guest suite.
French doors provide a continuous view outside to the pool and play area outside from the kitchen and living room, allowing for a watchful eye to be on the kids at all times. The very active children also are the reason the walls are clad in wood instead of drywall, in order to protect the walls.
In fact, the home is imbued with a sense of the family who lives there throughout its design, making its features all the more beautiful and poignant.
"The kids are growing up in it,” Imber says.