A Home with a Camping Spirit

The vision of the Craig McMahon Architects team came alive under the open skies of Texas when homeowners allowed them to run wild with their ideas for a camping-inspired retreat.

Craig McMahon Architects is known for   creating unique, honest designs that feel at one with the landscape. So, Craig McMahon and his team were thrilled when approached to design a home along a bluff of the Lampasas River where the homeowners allowed them to interject their ideas and vision into every aspect of the design. The project brief was simple — design whatever you think will work best on this beautiful riverfront property. The owners’ only wish was for a retreat that would be different from their current city home and engage with “the spirit of camping on the land.”

The Lampasas River Ranch house, however, was not free from its own set of unique challenges — the first being massive project delays due to the Great Recession. “We started the initial design process in 2008 and immediately had to halt work as the uncertainty of the recession crept in,” recounts McMahon. “I was certain this would be the end of our project at the time.” The family opted to remodel an existing small cabin on the property, which now serves as added guest quarters. Almost five years after the initial design consult, Craig received a phone call:

“The project was back on, and our team was so excited to once again start work on the camping-inspired retreat we’d been dreaming up.” 

The building challenges didn’t end there. The three-bedroom, three-bath home is situated on a five-acre lot in the alluvial floodplains of the Lampasas River. These plains flood seasonally and during the dry season are currently used as horse grounds. The team welcomed the challenge. “We really wanted the house to feel like it had always been there,” explains McMahon. The final build site of the home is located on a limestone bluff rising 30 feet into the treeline and above the seasonal floodwaters. The strategic position became an asset. It offers treehouse-like views, captures the prevailing breeze and provides the opportunity for unique terracing, which draws the outdoor areas down to the river.

The home’s overall design is inspired by camping tents, German-Texan Hill Country architecture and connectivity to the land. “To connect the home to the outdoors, we made sure every room has access to more than one natural light source,” adds McMahon. Deep roof overhangs protect and shade the home from the elements, allowing windows to remain open and catch cool breezes.

The floor plan is designated into three distinct living areas, allowing the owners, children and guests to have private quarters off of a central hub. The main living room opens to wide porches on both sides, engaging an ever-present connection to the outside. However, the owners’ wing offers the most dramatic design. This all-glass bedroom is elevated above the floodplains on the edge of the bluff and evokes the feeling of sleeping outdoors under the stars. With a cabin-like feel, the lines between bedroom and porch blur, creating a stunning result.

Despite multiple outdoor living spaces, oversized windows and bounties of natural light, McMahon explains that “the key to establishing an indoor-outdoor connection lies in carrying the same materials from the exterior to the interior.” In many cases, the connections of a design struggle because homeowners have set expectations for specific finishes, especially on the interior. For this home, the owners trusted the architecture team to deliver a beautiful space with their choices — and that they did.

The homeowners reached out to contractor MF Construction, who had completed a modern mid-century home that the homeowners had experienced and knew of the unique details that this new home would require. Oddly, the contractor was located right around the bend of the property and was able to directly connect with the construction daily to ensure its success.

The two primary materials used throughout the design are Douglas fir and Texas Hill Country limestone. Using the same two materials, paired with other palette-complementing selections, gives the property a consistent feel that flows effortlessly from the outside to the inside.

Yellow-tinted limestone from a local quarry wraps most of the home exterior. It is accented with a gray Lueders limestone on roof caps, sills and headers to balance the natural look of the stone with elements of uniform geometry. The limestone carries inside to the fireplace, and complementing travertine is used on the floors, backsplashes and bathroom wet areas.

Rich, rust-colored Douglas fir becomes the star of the show, uniting the exterior and interior spaces. A clear-sealed Douglas fir is used for the beams, exposed rafters, trim and doors. A Douglas fir plywood is applied to all built-in cabinetry and the ceilings, offering practical design with a luxury feel. The beautiful wood is paired with a durable HardiPlank siding and a rusted steel arbor on the front exterior to carry the color palette while ensuring durability in the Texas elements.

“Projects where we are entrusted fully with the design process from the exterior to interior to material selections are so fun and successful because it allows our team to create a true indoor-outdoor connection,” explains McMahon. The success shows. This beautiful home has been recognized in the 2018 Parade of Homes, 2019 Best in American Living and 2020 Aurora Awards.

This peaceful retreat is an inviting connection back to the outdoors and life’s simple pleasures. Who else is ready to dip their toes in the river and roast marshmallows for s’mores?


Craig McMahon Architects
210-710-3874 | cmarchtx.com

MF Construction
254-947-8988  |  mfconst.com