It’s easy to forget that spring has not officially arrived as we travel the Texas highway between Austin and Fort Worth in early March. Leafless oaks are a quiet reminder of winter, but the heat heralds summer. As we speed past billboards for rifle shows and firework stands, architect M.J. Neal points out the low corrugated-metal outbuildings scattered across farms and pastures. "They sit on the land and they don’t take anything away from it," he says from the driver’s seat. "The form can handle the landscape and vice versa."
That was the kind of presence Neal was after when he designed the Farley Studio, a 2,430-square-foot live/work space in Cleburne, Texas. Though Neal’s Austin-based practice has a diverse portfolio, it’s fair to say that this project was an unusual one for him, situated as it is in the seat of rural Johnson County. Driving along the tangled roads that lead to the house, it seems you’re more likely to come across a meth lab than a street lamp.
Neal met Kyle Farley in a bar in Fort Worth when Neal and his wife, Viviane Vives, were teaching at the University of Texas at Arlington. Farley, an artist, was earning a living as a pro golfer and manager of a private course. He had recently lost his painting studio and much of his work in a fire. "I could tell he was going nuts without a place to paint," Neal recalls. They talked that night about building Farley a new studio, but time and money were in short supply. It was two years before Farley called Neal and said he was ready to realize the vision. The budget was still tight, but Neal had been struck by Farley’s talent, and building an art studio seemed less like a client request than a calling to do whatever it took to get Farley painting again.
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