Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: Medina River Ranch, Medina, TX

Architect: Michael G. Imber, Architects, San Antonio, TX; Michael Imber, principal in charge; Mac White, associate; Roland Munoz, project manager

Landscape Architect: James Keeter Landscape Architect, Boerne, TX



Sympathetic Addition

Winner: Michael G. Imber Architects

Ranch Expansion

By Nancy E. Berry

When a young family with strong ties to the Lone Star State – in particular the Medina River Valley in south-central Texas – were looking to expand an original 1940s bunkhouse, they hired San Antonio-based Michael G. Imber Architects. Known as the J. H. Autry Ranch, the house was built by a New York set designer near what was once the home of the famous Texas rancher Big Foot Wallace. "The Medina River Valley is full of dude ranches – there is a real collection of them in this area," says Michael Imber, whose own father worked on a ranch as a young man.

In 1949, the local mason Hough Le Storgeon built an addition to the property, the Rock Ranch house, which is known for its distinctive stonework. Imber was commissioned to create a new 4,376-sq.ft. addition, which ultimately doubled the size of the existing buildings. First and foremost, Imber's aim was to respect the original buildings in terms of scale and placement so that any additions would appear seamless. Imber has an affinity for Texas – his father, an oilman by trade, would take him and his family on road trips to see all the ancient ruins of forts and missions that dot the dry landscape.

"The new house had to function as a home when it once was run as a ranch," says Imber, who notes that not only did he have to create spaces that functioned for a growing family, but he also had to break down the massing of the house into smaller elements. "We were essentially doubling the size of the house, but we were able to break this massing down by adding wings connected through hallways and breezeways." The additions were also buried in a portion of the hillside, which cut down on massing. What was once an existing office became a child's wing that includes a playroom, children's library, bedrooms and a bathroom. An outdoor play area – once the chicken yard – is accessed through a wisteria arbor.

A great room addition connects to the remodeled kitchen. Imber renovated the main portion of the existing house extensively; in fact much of the building is new. The original galley kitchen was gutted and today works for a growing family. Imber and his team, which included associate Mac White and project manager Roland Munoz, also modernized the spaces, bringing everything up to code. Upstairs from the kitchen is a master bedroom tucked into the roofline.

By creating a sense of arrival to the house, Imber addressed the incongruity between the structure and the surrounding property. Upon approaching the house, one is not overwhelmed by an overscaled large box. Rather, the relationship between the indoors and outdoors is blurred by a series of porches, breezeways and enclosed galleys that act as connectors for the different entities of the house.

To maintain the integrity of the existing buildings, Imber acquired the appropriate manmade materials while introducing new technologies and modern construction methods – none of which detract from the 1940s craftsmanship. Imber chose to harvest materials right from the site. "This project lends itself to real sustainability," he says. "Original settlers did not ship in materials to build their homes; they used the indigenous materials at hand: river stone, cedar timber, clay – these were all readily available to them." The construction crew sourced washed limestone from the river for the walls, and they also harvested cedar for support beams and purlins. "The new stone masons understood the vision of the original mason and the subtleties of working with the stone," says Imber, "such as the weight of each stone and how it might relate and connect to the earth. The masons were able to convey the original work beautifully."

Roof tile was supplied by the Roof Tile Slate Company of Carrollton, TX, windows were supplied by Hope's Windows of Jamestown, NY, and doors were supplied by Wooden Nickel Antiques of Cincinnati, OH, and lighting was supplied by Los Angeles, CA-based Rituals and San Antonio-based Lucifer Lighting. Other key suppliers included Danbury, CT-based Waterworks (plumbing fixtures), Anne Sacks Tile and Seattle, WA-based Art Tile.

Imber not only used sustainable materials for the exterior of the house, but he also used original or salvaged materials wherever he could throughout the interiors. "You can't beat the warm glow of 80-year-old varnish and we wanted that same glow to appear on all new wood as well," he says. In the end, Imber achieved his goal of producing an authentic Texas vernacular stone house that sits comfortably in its native setting.

Nancy E. Berry has written extensively about architecture and interior design for a variety of publications. She is also the author of Architectural Trim: Adding Wainscoting, Mantels, Built-ins, Baseboards, Cornices, Castings and Columns to Your Home (Rockport Publishers, 2007).



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