Which is why the Dallas resident built his spectacular stone-and-glass ranch getaway on four acres high above Possum Kingdom Lake, “a small finger of the Texas Hill Country that is not,” he admits, “for the soft of heart.” Nevertheless, it won his. This rugged terrain, with its “soulfulness, evergreens, thunderstorms, masterful sunsets and serpentine lake meandering through the bottom of a canyon,” now boasts a house that offers sweeping views of that landscape, thanks to the home’s 10-by-40-foot glass wall facing the water. The cliff side, conversely—counteracting sun “that can beat you alive”—is near-solid Texas limestone whose eight-foot base stones “engage with the soil and hold on tight.” (Another imaginative nod to the heat, which can reach more than 110 degrees in August, is the home’s windowless, “deeply dark and frigid” cold room.)
“My wife, Sheila, and I wanted to create something for our family and friends that was more powerful than just a house,” explains DeSantis, “a place to cast a real shadow, build a life and memories.”
So they did—and big memories at that. Their grand, 4,700-square-foot, 15-room structure boasts not only celestial-height ceilings, a rough-hewn bunk room constructed of old cabin logs, and five oversize, Texas limestone fireplaces but also a 35-foot-tall overlook, allowing a 360-degree view of the surrounding thousand acres, a development called The Ranch on Possum Kingdom. Complete with cattle, a marina and an equestrian center, the working ranch, DeSantis says, is perfect “for the citified ranch owner. You ride your horse, and somebody else takes off the saddle.”
Of course, since this is Lone Star country, big is always the order of the day—starting in the chocolate-brown, 25-by-50-foot great room with its 18-foot ceilings, massive open-sided fireplace with a 12-by-six-foot hearth, and 10-seat dining area.
“We broke the space down to an inner sanctum with outer pathways,” DeSantis explains. “The columns create a walkway on each side of the room as well as an implied inside space that hugs up against the fireplace and dining area. The chandelier can also be lowered, so, though the room is big in scale, it’s small in the way we use it. You sit close to each other.”
The huge, heavy, hunk-of-wood dining table, meanwhile, triggered its own close call when it couldn’t be maneuvered into the already enclosed space. “The fireplace and glass wall were serious obstacles,” recalls DeSantis, “until someone finally suggested that the only space big enough to accommodate it was the fireplace opening. And we slid it right through.”
Making proportions of this scale more intimate, adds the architect, was a top priority. “My wife and I wanted every surface to feel as if it was touched by hand,” he says, pointing to the glow of the golden ocher-washed walls, the subtle hues realized by routing and staining the pine floors, the cozy surprise of a palomino-colored headboard in the master suite.
“The stone walls are actually art forms. Though the base stones are huge, moving up vertically, they’re formatted smaller. The gap between each large stone is chinked with smaller, broken rock forming patterns which, as the sun drapes the stone, creates this canvas of color.”
“My wife, Sheila, and I wanted to create something for our family and friends that was more powerful than just a house,” says DeSantis.
He pauses. “The limestone’s wonderful texture and strength remind me of my family, our feelings for each other,” muses DeSantis, who insisted on using materials from the natural landscape. “When people get to know Sheila and my two children, they embrace us, wrap their arms around us in warmth and protection—just like the stone.”
For an architect, “building your own home is the hardest thing you ever do, because in the final analysis it’s not a widget or screw, it’s work of your own. And suddenly there are no excuses. Do it for somebody else, you can go home at night; for yourself, well, it’s always whether or not you can meet your own expectations.”
And did he? “There are many things I’d do differently,” he admits, “but I believe I achieved what I was after: The space has integrity—makes no bones about what it is. It’s a clear and simple diagram; not one area is architectural. Every room is meant to be warm.
“And because each window looks out on a major view, it’s like a living painting. From every angle you can see birds flying, deer running. In the end, this house has no gymnastics. It’s just honest.”