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Urban Hill Country Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

The Urban Hill/Country home that Dan Shipley, AIA, designed and Steve McCombs built for Stan Shipley (Dan?s brother), Stan?s wife Cindy, and their three children, gets its style from the American rural communities.

?Usually, when someone talks about hill country style, they imagine buildings out in the hill country, isolated by themselves,? said Shipley. ?I think that a lot of the definitive hill country architecture exists in their relationship to other buildings in towns.? Often found behind small town squares are residences that appear more urban than rural because of their proximity to a street. While these houses occupy separate lots, the lots usually have multiple buildings or sheds on them. So, Shipley applied these relationships to the design, not only of the lot (adding small structures behind the main residence), but also to the house, itself.

Much of the home?s front lateral wall extremities are covered with Texas limestone, and in the middle of the fa?ade is a section of glass and steel?the shotgun (see-through) area of the home. Ceiling to floor glass windows in the living room and behind the dining room allow a visual channel through the house into the back patio, where can be seen vaguely a shed behind a low limestone wall and from the wall one simple spigot fountain with water running into the swimming pool. The overall impression of the architecture from the street view is of two buildings separated by a glassed-in breezeway. That impression gains credibility once inside the home, where the three corresponding areas, function as three distinct interiors.

On one side of the house is the guest suite, complete with bedroom, hallway, study, and bath, all accessed through a doorway off the living/dining area. On the opposite side of the house is the entire family space?the kitchen/breakfast area, the mudroom, the family room, and the stairs to the second/third floors?all accessed from either the dining room or going through a portal from the front foyer off the living room. In the center of all this is the glassed-in living/dining, really the heart of the home, according to Shipley. For this room, besides serving as a beautiful interior breezeway between the guest suite and the family quarters, functions as the formal living/dining area.

?It gives them a room to have meetings and groups of people to come over, and it gives the house a public room,? Shipley said. ?The fact that they were willing to do this one long space that had all the so called formal elements?the living room and the dining room together, one space like that really adds up to something useful.? A 3-piece seating group centered along the front window delineates the living room, and the dining room table defines the dining area. Because the table needed the right scale and combination of weight and lightness at the same time, Shipley himself designed the 12-foot piece out of reclaimed pine that he also used to make the door to the mudroom and the double front entry doors.

The design concept took several years to develop. The family actually lived at the location for eight years before they took down the original house, a post World War II 2-story structure that began to squeeze them when the children grew older. Rather than move, the family decided to build because (1) they had already moved once from an earlier residence on Marquette and (2) they loved the neighborhood. So, Cindy came up with a 3-page list of everything she wanted, and much of the Urban Hill/Country style includes these details. Indeed, Urban Hill/Country reflects family history. For instance, there are influences in the home from the three years that Cindy and Stan lived in Singapore as well as Cindy?s growing up years in Mason, a German hill country town north of San Antonio, where her Dad built the house, himself, along with her mom and one carpenter. In fact, Cindy?s father built furniture for the house, like the buffet adjacent to the dining room.

?I like lots of wood, because when we lived on Marquette, we scraped paint off the garage ourselves, ? Cindy said. ?I really don?t want to scrape paint the rest of my life. So, that?s why we had a concept puzzle to put together because I wanted so much wood in the house. He (Shipley) had to figure out a way to make all these woods work because I didn?t want painted baseboards.?

?For an architect that does modern, contemporary work, that?s kind of difficult because there is a real tendency for all those wood grains to bog everything down and for it to end up?visually, just very muddy,? Shipley said. ?So, instead of using wood grains that were matching, which can turn into being a very dreary thing, all the woods we used have the very vertical grain to it?the parallel grain. It doesn?t have a wild open grain. Almost all the wood of the different species is pretty tight and it doesn?t have that kind of detail, which actually adds too much visual texture to the surfaces. Of course, with the wood, we used lots of glass, huge windows, and a lot of stainless steel and simple painted jip board surfaces to fight all that to keep it from becoming a real mess.?

However, one large old wood beam of long leaf pine from a grain mill built in 1880 in Waco was added conspicuously to the family room for structural support.

?Normally I would have used a steel beam,? Shipley said. ?But I saw them (beams) and tried to figure out a way that we could use them.? Long leaf pine was a type of tree that used to grow in east Texas. A beautiful wood with a tight grain, it was at the heart of new construction around the turn of the century until all the trees were cut down. So, the family brought the beams back to Dallas in the back of a truck.

This Urban Hill/Country home is very personal residence with many stories; for instance, the glass top coffee table in the living room came from a southern yellow pine on Stan?s parents? home in east Texas. After the pine tree was struck by lightening, the wood was cut for the coffee table.

Quality of space is the first thing you perceive, according to Shipley, and that came from the architectural relationships in rural communities, simplified into something sleek and urban.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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