Traditional Building Portfolio



Ranch Revival

A new ranch in Texas Hill Country looks to the west coast for inspiration.

Project: Currie Ranch residence, Fischer Store, TX

Architects: Michael G. Imber, Architect, PLLC, San Antonio, TX; Michael G. Imber, AIA, principal; Armando Juarez, project manager

General Contractor: G. W. Mitchell & Sons Inc., San Antonio, TX

By Hadiya Strasberg

When clients are interested in building a house that speaks to their interests and passions – someplace they can call home – finding an appropriate architect can be an extensive project in and of itself. But for the owners of the Currie Ranch in Fischer Store, TX, a rural crossroads between Austin and San Antonio, the process was cut short when the owners entered Michael G. Imber, Architect’s San Antonio office in 2001, located just across the street from their now-former residence.

"Walk-ins are quite rare in this business," says Michael G. Imber, AIA, principal of the firm. "But it was a great match. [The clients] saw that we designed ranch houses, liked our style and signed on. What they wanted is what we do."

The couple chose a ranch home in homage to their ancestry; they are descendants of an old Texas ranching family that includes President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president John "Catcus Jack" Garner. However, they were looking for something unique for that area of Texas. While most ranches in hill country had been influenced by German settlers, Imber looked to 1920s California Mediterranean Revival buildings for inspiration. "The clients were looking for a ranch house that spoke of Texas," explains Imber, "but one that had Californian, and hence more refined Mediterranean, references."

The façades of the one-story house, which overlooks woods and plains, as well as much of the 6,200-sq.ft. interior, borrow from the architecture of Spain. For a "vernacular, rugged feel," as Imber describes it, he chose Cordova cream solid Texas limestone exterior walls. Other walls are wood-frame construction with a plaster finish.

Seemingly in opposition to the organic elements and materials of those façades are the more refined features of the main façade – a Roman arch supported by Tuscan columns, an entablature, a pediment and an oculus, all made of stone. "For the main entrance," says Imber, "the clients wanted to retain the use of natural materials – hence the plaster walls – but also wanted something sophisticated and refined." The walls, the color scheme and the arch are repeated in the arcade, the loggia and throughout the interior, reinforcing a relationship between the interior and exterior and the formal and vernacular architecture.

As for the materials, Imber says that the owners did not want to see any natural distressing to the plaster walls. "We varied the coloration to get more depth and then mottled the color to give it more of a natural effect, more luminosity," he says.

The limestone used for the walls was cut by a Vermeer saw. "We used soft cuts to give the surface stone texture," says Imber. "The rough stone reflects the landscape, something most of the rest of the building retreats from."

One of the challenges Imber faced during the design phase was the relationship between the house and nature. "This house, unlike most of the ranch houses we have designed, is somewhat in opposition to the landscape," Imber says. "Rather than building over the Blanco River, which the property incorporates, at the owners’ request we built the house on a flat, wooded plain far from the river. We had to change our thinking of how one develops a home in the country." Imber is referring to the "compound mentality" of this structure. The motor court is protected from snakes and other wildlife by a 4- to 8-ft.-tall "organic" sloping curved wall. Similarly, the interior spaces don’t feature picture windows that frame the river. Instead, the entry area focuses on the forecourt, and the other rooms wrap around an inner courtyard.

The residence includes a library, keeping room, guest suite and master bedroom suite. At the main entrance, two cut-limestone steps lead to a small foyer. "I find it’s a little jarring to walk straight into a large space," Imber explains. "It’s good to have an intermediate space that prepares you to move into the larger, primary rooms of a house."

The foyer opens into the great room, which functions both as a living and dining room. Directly across from the foyer are three large arched doors with arched transoms that open into the courtyard. A cut-limestone fireplace – "it’s the same Cordova cream limestone that was used on the exterior," says Imber – is the highlight of the room. Beyond the next room to the east, a kitchen, is a keeping room and, off that, a dining loggia.

On the opposite side of the great room a hallway leads to two guest rooms complete with full private baths. A library, with French doors that open to the central courtyard, is just beyond that. "The couple wanted a library because they have a large collection of artifacts, books and photographs from their travels around the world," says Imber. The room has a 20-ft.-tall ceiling dome, which creates a signpost on the ranch. "It anchors the house on its site," explains Imber.

The master bedroom suite, at 1,640 sq.ft., includes a bath and two closets. Other features are a fireplace and a small courtyard. The central courtyard offers the possibility of being opened to the surrounding landscape through a connecting loggia.

As with the exterior, the clients did not want the interior to be rustic Texan, so Imber designed mostly in the Mediterranean Revival style. "In the vernacular architecture," explains Imber, "there is a tendency to see more trusses, but in this case, we showed that only in the breakfast room, which is a relaxed room." The vaulted and domed ceilings and the walls are plastered in stark white and the doors and passageways are arched. "This style extends to the detailing of the fireplaces," adds Imber, "but becomes somewhat overt." The flooring in the living room is Jerusalem stone and the master bedroom suite floors are made of Brazilian cherry. The windows in each room have solid-cherry shutters.

Though construction ran long due to the remoteness of the house, it was completed in September 2004, surpassing expectations. "Though the design of the Currie home presented many challenges due to the location," says Imber, "everyone is pleased with the outcome."  

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