Pioneering the Perfect Getaway

The owner of this vacation home — a getaway cabin, really — wanted to relocate an existing structure to this site and call it a day. His budget, however, could not accommodate the expense. Plan B was to design and build a new 1850s-era pioneer-style home in Texas Hill Country, which is what happened.

Every effort was made to replicate not only the mid-19th-century style the owner wanted, but also the way families used the popular material of the day to expand their homes every few decades. This process resulted in homes consisting of multiple sections that while physically connected to each other don’t mesh stylistically; the result is mish-mosh to some, charming to others.

“We see homes with five or six different materials that were used at the time the work was done,” says Richard Laughlin, president, Laughlin Homes & Restoration in Fredericksburg, Texas. “And because we do 25 percent historic restoration work, we have a natural feel for the size and scale of buildings from that era.”

Conventional framing with OSB on interior and exterior walls was used to construct this retreat. The exterior is clad with 11/4-in. thick log siding to create the visual effect of a home built following different methods.

Salvaging materials

A big part of Laughlin’s success at replicating historic design is using salvaged material. A side benefit is the green aspect of this practice, which he is quick to bring to the attention of clients. “We’re after aesthetics predominantly, but it’s a bonus for the client,” he notes.

For example, the bead board siding on the staircase comes from homes torn down mostly in north Texas. Timbers came from old timber-frame barns in Wisconsin, and the floor boards for the loft and the ceiling in the dining/kitchen area were harvested from old cotton warehouses. “Also, the corrugated roofing for the second floor ceiling is salvaged. It looks like there’s no insulation, but that is a faux ceiling. The doors are salvaged at random; we buy them any time we get a chance, and end up with a lot of inventory,” says Laughlin, who credits lead carpenter Douglas Grona with much of the success on designs like this.

“The result you see is part of the reason we like design/build so much,” Laughlin proclaims. “A lot of the finish work is done by myself and the carpenters on the site. That’s really the ‘chrome’ on the house. We don’t do shop drawings on that. We work with salvaged materials we bring in. My salvage suppliers know what I expect, but I never know what I’ll be getting. And that’s why we love design/build, for the freedom of not having a stack of drawings 30 pages high. It gives us the flexibility to let a house like this evolve.”

Part of the evolution was the loft area which contributes to the home’s ability to comfortably sleep nine people with only one true bedroom, says Shayna Thompson, project manager. “By creating that loft we could keep all of the home’s rooms open, yet it still has a quaint feel. At the same time it blends together well and doesn’t make the home feel too small.”

Finishing touches

The owner incurred the expense of burying electric lines three-eighths of a mile to avoid the unsightly appearance of overhead wires. For a special splash of authenticity, Laughlin worked with the owner placing boulders around the property. “We went around the 113-acre property with a Bobcat and two guys and hauled boulders half a mile back to the site. We backfilled the foundation and brought in gravel and created a berm to blend the house in with its surroundings,” he explains.

All Laughlin projects are the result of teamwork. “When we meet a new client, we ask for a list of 10 things they want out of their home, whether that’s a view or a certain style or whatever it might be. We interview the client and Shayna starts sketching. By the time a client leaves, we have it laid out. Then we go back and forth and finalize everything together. We’ll sit with the owner for hours and brainstorm to pull ideas together.”

In the end, when it all comes together, it’s rewarding when not only the team at Laughlin Homes & Restoration appreciates what it created, but the owner or the people delivering appliances tell them how much they love it, Thompson says. “They want to bring their wives and friends out to see our work. That makes a house special when others can see what you’ve put into a design.”

Laughlin Homes & Restoration
Fredericksburg, Texas

Project name: Sandy Ranch Cabin
Project location: Fredericksburg, Texas
Square footage: 1,300
Total project cost (not land): $260,000

Siding: Texas Architectural Timbers/Perma-chink
Windows: Jeld-Wen
Doors: custom

Doors: salvaged
Flooring: stained concrete
Locks, Hardware: Van Dyke’s Restorers/House of Antique Hardware

Cabinets: Kingwood Cabinetry
Countertops: Granite
Sinks: Kohler
Faucets: Delta
Appliances: Frigidaire
Exhaust hood: Braun
Microwave: KitchenAid