A Contemporary Barn Brings Dutch Coziness to Texas Hill Country

A Contemporary Barn Brings Dutch Coziness to Texas Hill Country

By Stacey McLachlan / Photos by Whit Preston and Paul Finkel
This multifamily vacation property outside of Austin perfectly embodies the “gezelligheid” spirit.

If a Dutch modernist had carte blanche to design their own personal summer camp, it might look a little something like Camp Frio. And that’s the way the homeowners like it.

The siting here is critical to the property’s sense of timelessness. "The whole compound is rotated 45 degrees relative to the street, so you’re not actually looking at the front face when you drive up—you’re looking at the courtyard of the compound," explains Kilpatrick.

One partner had lived for a time in Amsterdam, and when he and his wife saw architect Tim Cuppett’s home on an American Institute of Architects tour several years ago, they were struck by its familiar, cozy vibes: It was a place that embodied the Dutch concept of gezelligheid.

The freestanding garage also houses an art studio and meditation space.

So when it came time for the couple to build a warm and welcoming vacation property of their very own, they naturally turned to Tim Cuppett Architects to help them access those gezelligheid vibes in the heart of Texas Hill Country.

The resulting 3,600-square-foot, four-building compound by the Frio River (aka Camp Frio) offers an idyllic getaway for the homeowners, their two kids, and a rotating cast of guests. The main house is just one piece of a beautiful architectural puzzle plotted on the southeast corner of the sprawling, oak-tree-dotted lot: there’s also a pair of guest casitas, and a fourth building with a garage and art studio.

The guest house and main house are connected between the buildings—the kids are constantly running barefoot from space to space.

The breezeway acts as a big communal dining space, while the round table for six in the kitchen is for more casual family meals.

The crisp angles of all of the structures are thoroughly modern—they’re built from red cedar and corrugated steel—but surrounded as they are by the sweeping fields, there’s something almost barn-like about them. "We’re referencing rural and agrarian structures, loosely," says TCA partner David Kilpatrick. "We wanted the experience to be much more than a city house."

The simple finishes provide a backdrop for the homeowners’ collection of carefully curated furnishings, many of which are vintage (and, yes, cozy). One partner is a graphic designer, and she brought her own strong design sensibilities to the project. "She likes contrast, black and white, and bold color," says Cuppett.

In the dressing room, the ceiling is papered with Ellie Cashman Summer Squall in midnight blue—a little pop of pattern to peek at as you’re heading through to the back door.

The cedar cladding was coated with Eco-Stain, a reactive stain that pre-weathers the wood. "Our hope was that these buildings would instantly have some age and feel like they’d been there a long time," says Kilpatrick. 

The compound was built on one of the Frio Cañon homesites along the Frio River—a ranch that’s been divided up into lots and developed with utilities. So while it’s rural, it also avoids some of the typical headaches of a remote location.

While rooms are often designed to have islands of furniture, with a walking aisle around the perimeter, here the furniture is placed around the edges at a comfortable distance.

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A high-ceilinged breezeway at the heart of the main house, bookended by screened porches, is a bright and airy space outfitted with a long table perfect for group dinners—but the rest of the rooms are intimately cozy: pure gezelligheid.

"A big part of creating that feeling was getting that scale right," recalls Cuppett. "Even though they wanted to be able to accommodate several families, the scale that each of the spaces has is intimate." The two bedrooms, the bunk room with twin beds for the kids, the living room, and the kitchen are all neat little low-ceilinged compartments that offer a contrast from the wide-open Texas skies outside. 

The windows over the sink open right onto the screen porch. A wall of built-in shelving offers both storage and a clever way to separate the kitchen and living room.

Firebrick lines both the wall and floor so that the fire can be lit right on the ground for an ultra-cozy night in.

Lighting was a critical part of the coziness equation. "There’s not a downlight in this project," says Cuppett. "The goal was ‘moody.’" Every light source—including the oh-so Nordic electric-candle sconces from Circa—is a specific task light or a table lamp brought in by the homeowner. No overheads or track lighting allowed.

Each twin bed in the bunk room over the back porch gets its own Morgan Black sconce from Crate and Barrel. The rest of the furniture was sourced by the homeowners.

Because of the way the home is sited, breeze is drawn from one screened porch throught to the other. In the heat of the summer, the homeowners leave the windows open all day to pull in air that keeps the house cool through the evening.

That being said, cheery sunlight is more than welcome here. "Interior spaces are lit naturally from multiple sides: daylight is spread around the edges, so you get nice, natural, balanced light throughout the day," says Cuppett.

The railings in the casitas echo the details of the main house. The stair treads are painted the same dusty blue as the loft floor. These tiny bunkhouses are designed to sleep a family of four, and also house a little kitchenette and bathroom.

There’s not a speck of drywall to be found on the property. Poplar boards, painted a crisp white, line the walls. The exposed ceiling showcases the joists that support an attic form above; underfoot, wire-brushed Douglas fir floorboards from Sustainable Lumber Company add to the rustic flair. 

There are no upper cabinets in the kitchen, but a large walk-in pantry in the middle of the home—decked out in a cheery yellow paint and chicken-print wallpaper from Voutsa—provides ample storage.

In the en suite, a black Victoria + Albert tub (with matching black American Universal penny tile) makes the perfect spot to soak up the view—though the shower curtains that line the windows can be drawn for a little more privacy. A shower head is mounted off to the right.

The importance of this warm and welcoming space took on a new meaning when COVID-19 hit and things changed in Texas. The homeowners and visiting family hunkered down at Camp Frio for the long haul—a cozy situation indeed. "Thankfully, it was with people they like," Cuppett laughs.

Camp Frio is part of the virtual AIA Austin Home Tours, which run from October 16 to 19, 2020.

Because of the project’s rural nature, there was no cell service on-site. Communication with the local tradespeople had to be crystal clear from the outset, so there were just a handful of details used on the whole project, inside and out. "It was about keeping the vocabulary simple, so we were all on the same page," says Cuppett.

The rhythm of the slat wall (made from red cedar and stained to look prematurely weathered) is echoed in the shutter detailing on each window.

The meditation studio features a view of the property through black-stained slats.

A mirror directly across from the en suite’s massive window serves to double the view.

The three accommodation buildings face into a shared courtyard. The garage is further down the path.

"Many of the houses in the development aren’t too different from the city or suburbs," says Kilpatrick. "One of our goals was for this project to have a rural feel."

Every square inch was maximized in these compact vacation homes.

The house is rotated just so to access views of both the lot as well as the ends of the adjoining lot. It’s a smart optical illusion that makes the land seem that much larger than it is.

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