Dwell – A Rammed-Earth Home in Texas Echoes the Landscape in Mesmerizing Fashion

A Rammed-Earth Home in Texas Echoes the Landscape in Mesmerizing Fashion

By Stacey McLachlan / Photos by Casey Dunn and Casey Woods – August 27, 2020

The ombré hues of this earthen ranch house are taken directly from Texas Hill Country.

Many residential designs reference the surrounding landscape, but River Ranch by Jobe Corral Architects is literally made from the surrounding landscape.

The house is surrounded with rammed-earth walls, built by Austin construction services company Enabler via an ancient construction method that requires mixing, tamping, and creating a structure from the land itself.
On the north side, you’ll find the lap pool which runs 10 feet deep to accommodate one of the homeowners, who insists on entering the pool with a dive every time.

“Looking at the land itself, that’s where the idea of rammed earth came in,” explains principal Ada Corral of this 3,592-square-foot home in Texas’s rugged Hill Country, constructed with the help of Pilgrim Building Company, which features a striking outer wall made from compacted layers of decomposed granite, cement, sand and water. “The very first thing we found out was how much the homeowners loved the land. It’s harsh, and it’s beautiful.”

“If you had to quarantine, it’s the best place to do it,” says Jobe. “You have a connection to the outdoors, you’re comfortable with air and light. It’s impossible not to think about spaces in these terms now—how the places we’re living and working can keep us safe.”
Underneath the fire pit (surrounded by Barcelona Teak chairs from Via Terra), an underground concrete cistern holds rainwater, diverted from pipes on the roof that run through a filtration system in the garage. It services the whole house, save for the landscape irrigation, done off of a well. In a part of the country where water is scarce, it was important to think sustainably. The pool’s fully retractable cover prevents rapid evaporation in another water-friendly move.

It took five different prototypes for Corral and co-founder Camille Jobe to land on the right mix of aggregate for the wall (including locally sourced, decomposed granite) but the result is a gorgeous variegated surface, an ombré sunset of clay reds and earthy rust hues that wraps around three-quarters of the house, bridging nature and architecture. “It’s like a protective outline for the building,” says Corral.

The rammed-earth wall has beneficial thermal properties. As a passive insulating layer, it absorbs heat in the day and releases it at night. Jobe Corral worked with energy consultant firm Positive Energy to ensure the HVAC system would work in conjunction with the earth’s specific properties.
Slot windows in the thick rammed-earth walls allows natural light to stream in, while still keeping the home nice and cool.

Though one of the homeowners is very outdoorsy—a down-to-earth fly fisherwoman—her partner is a super-modernist who loves the city. To please both women, the ranch home’s interior design reflects modern principles (light, airy, clean lines aplenty) while remaining rooted in texture and, as Jobe puts it, “a feeling of how things are crafted and put together.”

A custom walnut-and-steel coffee table from Jobe Fabrications anchors the living room. Fenton and Fenton armchairs are paired with a Texas Leather Interiors sofa. Drophouse Design crafted the fireplace copper wrap, and Thomas Studio and Foundry treated the metal to create a unique copper patina that matches the kitchen hood fan. Limestone is part of the exterior landscaping, but makes its way into the home as well to act as the base of the fireplace. Each piece is seven feet long, and puzzles together.

In keeping with the aesthetic of the handmade walls (“The walls are the boss,” laughs Jobe), every piece of furniture or accessory adds a layer of tactility and warmth, from the copper hood vent to the custom leather headboard.

Cabinetry was designed with the help of custom millwork company Flitch, and features another smart design trick: hiding a full pantry behind a standard cabinet door, keeping the painted millwork looking seamless. “The details we love aren’t necessarily the ones that show up in the photo,” says Jobe.

The remainder of the building’s walls are glass, and face a courtyard partially covered by trellises—a nod to the shade-giving branches of the nearby oak trees. Here, a fire pit and 10-foot-deep lap pool await. “When you open up the giant sliding doors, the pool is essentially in the living room,” says Jobe. That living room is part of an open-concept common area—complete with a warm, welcoming kitchen and dining space—that links two distinct wings of the house.

A custom copper kitchen backsplash and vent hood, courtesy of metalwork artist Thomas Studio and Foundry, is a response to the rammed earth, nodding to the fiery oranges while infusing the space with a very different, satiny-metal texture. “It’s really a sculptural element,” says Corral.
The homeowners’ collection of artifacts from their travels, and ones collected during a parent’s military service, add an additional sense of history to the handcrafted home. An African shield, a Native American headdress, and a Navajo rug work beautifully with the newly commissioned custom pieces.
In the powder room, a Tom Dixon pendant dangles above a Ferguson Badeloft sink. Dreamy blue watercolor wallpaper from Black Crow Studios lines the walls.
The custom white oak-and-steel desk and cabinets are by Filtch, topped with a charcoal-finished white oak slab. Matching Fenton and Fenton desk chairs offer the homeowners the opportunity to work side by side.

There’s the homeowner’s bedroom (complete with an attached covered patio for sleeping outdoors) and a cozy office on the north side of the home. The east-west section of the home houses the guest wing, including a bathroom that connects to the pool for a quick cleanup post-dip.

The bedroom is one of the only spaces without a rammed-earth wall, so the architects wanted to focus this room around the view. “We had to wait for a glass factory to open to get a piece of glass that was the right size,” says Jobe. Now, the 15-foot window offers unobscured views down to the pool and towards the river. A screened porch lies off the bedroom: the perfect place to sleep en plein air on a hot Texas night.
In the homeowners’ ensuite, a Ferguson tub is surrounded by honed basaltina from Architectural Tile and Stone, while the flooring is limestone from Arcon. An inviting outdoor shower (surrounded by the rammed-earth walls and featuring plumbing fixtures by Signature Hardware) through the glass door offers an alternative opportunity for a spa-like experience under the Texas sky.
In the guest room, a West Elm Mod platform bed is flanked by custom raw-steel nightstands designed by the architects and fabricated by Enabler, each of which is topped by a Kaufamm White Oak Crane desk lamp.
The leather headboard and bed in the guest room were custom designs, a collaboration between Flitch and Enabler. A Brendan Ravenhill Gran Barrel pendant light illuminates the space.

But no matter when you are in the home, the stunning view awaits: through the sweeping sliding glass doors, or the clandestine slot windows built into the rammed-earth walls, which reveal an enticing sliver of the sky or a view of the fire pit or mighty oak tree. “Everywhere you are,” says Corral, “you’re connected.”

The skylight above the pool is an odd shape, one Corral describes as a “rectoculus.” It’s this spot, in a home full of beautiful moments, that she likes best. Above you is the sky. The rammed earth surrounds you, the view is in front of you, and the shadows of the trellis dance on the gentle waves of the turquoise pool. “It’s the place where you have all the connections,” says Corral.
A building with such a deep connection to the land deserves a landscape to match, so Jobe Corral brought in David Mahler of Environmental Survey Consulting for gardening and hardscaping that could step up to meet the rustic-modern architecture. “We wanted someone who was going to be able to stitch rural and modern together,” says Jobe.

Mahler, skilled in habitat restoration, brought in native species and avoided hard-edge lines, and even installed a small, creek-like water feature intended to look as if it had always been there. Mosquito Fish swim up and down the waterway.
An outdoor kitchen is the perfect spot for entertaining poolside. Here, black granite countertops are paired with stainless- steel cabinets; in place of a cooking range, there’s a a Wolf grill.

Dwell, “A Rammed-Earth Home in Texas Echoes the Landscape in Mesmerizing Fashion”, 2020