Architect Ignacio Salas-Humara has a portfolio rife with recently built houses that are based on Texas Hill Country vernacular style. As far as historical accuracy, one house consistently stands out, stopping admirers in their tracks when they learn it is new. This Texas German farmstead, located on a 500-acre ranch outside the historic town of Medina, Salas-Humara says, “has an amazing level of detail,” which is exemplified by the kitchen, where a commanding central fireplace is designed to look like a pioneer cooking hearth.
“The clients asked for a new house but wanted it to look 150 years old when finished,” says the architect, whose own house in the nearby town of Comfort is vintage 1880s. “They did not want the historic nature of the house to be only skin-deep. They wanted the interiors to feel historic as well.” Of-the-era accoutrements surrounding the fireplace include baking paddles, iron cookware, and pewter tableware—all antique. Salas-Humara says the level of detail went as far as “hiding all the registers and thermostats.”
In this corner of the world, local means limestone walls, pitched metal roofs, deep porches, wide overhangs, and ironwork accents. After studying the local nineteenth-century German Hill country vernacular architecture in Fredericksburg, Salas-Humara settled on the concept of a generational farmstead. The house was designed as a compound of attached buildings to produce the effect that each piece—the log cabin, the main house, the water tower, the carriage house—was built separately over time, added onto, and connected to the others over the last century and a half.
In the main house, the kitchen occupies a large rectangular space with a 14′ plaster ceiling supported by hand-hewn beams. It sits on one side of a classic center hall. “We probably went through 15 iterations to find just the right balance of modern and historical,” says the architect. The result, which architect Russell Versaci calls “a 21st-century version of the keeping room done Texas size,” is a veritable museum of the period. In addition to its antique cooking utensils, there are iron hooks and a hinged pot holder, both hand-forged locally, as was an overhead pot hanger.
According to Salas-Humara, one of very few concessions to contemporary living is that the design of the house “went slightly modern in combining spaces,” rather than duplicating a warren of smaller rooms. Eating, cooking, and casual living take place in this room. Sun streams in through a row of four large windows, yet the 18″-thick stone interior walls form an insulating layer that keeps the room cool even in the Texas heat. Dinner is served on an antique harvest table surrounded by reproduction Windsor chairs.
“We had the challenge of making it look historic and still be workable,” says Salas-Humara. Thus, the kitchen cabinetry was custom-made to hide modern appliances—the refrigerator is housed in an old wooden hutch—and the island is an antique pine counter salvaged from a clothing store. A modern stainless steel stove is tucked into a stone nook, with stacked stone overhead concealing a range hood. “[It is] not homogeneous like modern kitchens,” observes the architect.
Vintage wide pine planks, painted, comprise the wood fireplace surround and mantel. “The painter took great pains to distress the paint to look like many coats had been added over the years,” points out Salas-Humara, adding that the “worn” areas around the door and drawer handles are a result of the painter’s keen eye for detail. Similarly, the floors of sanded, rough-sawn wood cut from antique timbers were stained using three colors to give them age.
“The original owner went the full mile to build something historic,” says Salas-Humara. “This is like a movie set.”