Express News Article

Express News Article

Family ignores norms with space that’s all about the outdoors

By Tracy Hobson Lehmann
Express-News Home & Garden Editor

Web Posted : 06/21/2003 12:00 AM

Banish bricks and mortar. Forget fancy flooring and lavish light fixtures. Such traditional materials didn’t find a place in a Bulverde house Billy Johnson designed for his family.


He and wife Janette focused intently on practicality and ease of living as they planned the home where they would raise their 3-year-old triplets.

“Everything about this move was about them,” says Billy. The couple quickly outgrew a 1,000-square-foot house in Alamo Heights when the threesome arrived. As they considered space and lifestyle priorities, both realized the outdoors played a more important role for them than an extravagant indoor environment.

“I deal with so many clients whose kids stay in front of the TV or the computer,” says Billy, a project manager with Lake/Flato Architects. He couldn’t see creating huge suites for his sons that would encourage them to stay cooped up inside. “We wanted to live outdoors as much as we could.”

So in November, the family added an hour to its daily commute to and from downtown San Antonio offices — time they’ve come to value for conversation and planning — and moved north to a seven-acre spread without a neighbor in sight.

Nestled among live oaks, prickly pears and limestone, the house of corrugated metal defies convention. The rippled silver material gleams in the sunlight on the structure that looks part garage, part airplane hangar.

“We took our design cues from the buildings we see daily,” says Johnson. “Barns, rural silos and most other agricultural buildings in the area were all used as models for the house.”

From the south view, the house is a wedge, rising skyward like the surrounding hills. On the opposite side, expanses of windows in public rooms capture views of the unspoiled countryside.

A soaring screened porch serves as the home’s axis, dividing the two bedrooms from the open kitchen/living area.

“The floorplan is broken up into three breezeways like an old dogtrot scheme,” Billy says. The goal is for the family to use the 12-by-45-foot
breezeway, which is wired for speakers and lights, as an outdoor living and dining area. For now, it’s an open space where Jacob, Jordan and Joshua ride their tricycles, throw balls, paint and romp like all preschool boys.

“The screened porch makes sense with three kids,” says Janette. “It’s covered in rain, and if it’s too hot we have ceiling fans in here.”

Unstained concrete floors in the breezeway and throughout the 3,800-square-foot house have turned out to be as practical for maintenance as they were for the budget.

“It’s less hassle than carpet with muddy feet,” says Janette, adding that she just mops the floors with water to keep them clean. Area rugs warm the living room and master bedroom, and they used carpeting in the boys’ bedroom and the playroom loft above the kitchen.The public sector of the house is as wide open as the Hill Country skies above.

Billy built a bar-height table from vertical grain Douglas fir on legs of metal pipe to serve as a work area and dining table. Like other elements in the house, it fit the budget and the industrial-chic style set by the metal exterior. He used the same standard plumbing pipe for stair railings and for light fixtures in the living room and kitchen.

The spaciousness is accentuated by sunlight streaming in through sliding doors all around the house and walls painted a color that whispers green. Light maple cabinetry and trim complement the subtle scheme. As with color, furnishings and accessories are minimal, leaving the focus where intended: on the outdoors.

A large utility room positioned off the kitchen is the key to keeping the public spaces tidy, Billy says. That’s where dirty shoes land, along with the kids’ artwork and other miscellany that can clutter up a space. Utility room drawers collect the junk that can make a jumble of kitchen drawers.

The comfortably sized master bedroom sits across the breezeway from the kitchen. The room is sized to accommodate the bed and a computer desk, but not overscaled because, Billy explains, they don’t spend a lot of time there. A built-in dresser in the master bath, done in maple like all the custom-made cabinetry in the house, eliminates the need for extra furnishings in the bedroom.

With cabinets above and deep drawers below, the top of the dresser is the perfect place for Billy to pack his suitcase for frequent business trips, he says.

Blue tile in the generous shower conveys a sense of cool. If family members need a quick cool-down or cleanup after working or playing outside, they can enter from an exterior door. Another door on the opposite end of the bathroom opens into what eventually will be a courtyard to serve as a privacy screen for the air-jetted spa tub that is surrounded by large windows.

Large windows on either side of the boys’ bedroom upstairs create a treehouse effect for the youngsters. High ceilings will allow for vertical expansion as the boys grow, Billy says, explaining that he can replace the current bunkbeds with loft beds that have desks underneath when the kids need study space. In the boys’ bathroom, the architect put the toilet in a separate room, creating, in essence, two separate bathrooms.

Across the stairway landing from the bedroom is a flexible space that now serves as a playroom and guestroom. Because he envisions it as a homework space or gameroom when his sons are older, Billy wired the room for telephone and Internet access.
A large storage room behind the space is now filled with toys, keeping the children’s bedroom free of clutter. With easy access to plumbing from the laundry room below, the toy closet could be converted to a bathroom for guests, who now use the powder room adjacent to the kitchen.

Having lived in their new house for seven months, the family has settled in to the space and into new traditions. They watch rabbits and deer in the mornings and enjoy sunsets in the evenings. And when the moon is full, they bask in the glow of moonlight reflecting off their metal house.

With that, who needs brick?

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tlehmann@express-news.net

06/21/2003

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