The Story pool house, on a grassy plateau overlooking Texas Hill Country, is a dreamy getaway with a stunning backdrop. Designed by Lake Flato Architects, San Antonio, on a site about a mile away from the homeowner’s main house, the simple pavilion blends vernacular style with modern building technology and low-key comfort. At its heart is a series of amenities fueled by propane, from the pool heater and domestic water heater to the grill and cooktop. “Ed Story is a passionate cook, and meal preparation and fine dining are an integral part of how they live and entertain,” says principal Karla Greer. “Most cooks want the level of control offered by gas and would not cook any other way.”
The remote pool and entertaining pavilion is just one example of how propane helps architects design and deliver the unique experiences their patrons often request. In a practice that attracts many ranch-owning families, Lake Flato is known for building environmentally smart homes and outbuildings that frame outdoor views, collect breezes, and are part and parcel of the surrounding landscape. Often those far-flung sites have protected views in all directions, as was the case here.
These scenic but remote locations also generally lack access to natural gas. So builder Glen Duecker, Duecker Construction, Stonewall, Texas, says clean-burning propane was a natural choice for the project, as it is for many homes he builds. “Basically, we try to use propane on all rural projects for cooktops, water heaters, and for heating due to the cost of getting electrical primary to remote sites,” he says. “Generally there is one propane tank per project, sized accordingly, and it is buried so it is not a visual deterrence to the site.”
On the Story property, Lake Flato had designed a ranch house and series of outbuildings that spin around a limestone tank. The main house also uses propane, primarily to fuel the six-burner/two-oven range. When it came time to add the pool/entertaining area, “the clients liked their privacy at the main house and didn’t want anything too close,” Greer says.
Lake Flato devised a light, steel-frame superstructure that was erected like Tinkertoys in a single day. Its roof — galvanized standing seam metal on top and Douglas fir on the underside — tips up toward the south to capture the low-angle winter sun while deflecting the powerful summertime rays. The covered ipe decking is organized like an outdoor living room, entered between two honey-colored walls made of Texas limestone. Along one wall, slatted western red cedar doors fold back to reveal a full working kitchen — propane barbecue grill, oven, dishwasher, sink, and fridge — and a television. A perpendicular wall organizes a laundry area, storage room, and indoor/outdoor bath.
In the mild climate, “it evolved as this little guest house, minus the glass windows and doors,” Greer says. Just behind the pavilion, a vintage Airstream trailer, smartly remodeled and set under an enormous oak, provides cozy sleeping quarters. When the clients are in town, they decompress here nearly every day, Greer says. “The pool house is used extensively, whether it is just the owners spending the day swimming, reading, and dining, or the entire family getting together for a full banquet.” She adds, “The lap pool is used year-round, and the highly efficient propane pool heaters heat the water rapidly.” When the pool is not in use, an automated pool cover conserves the heat.
In this distant oasis, the custom pool and cooking facilities serve the clients’ recreational lifestyle while keeping the landscape front and center. “The structure is pulled back from the edge of the hill,” Greer says. “On misty mornings, the mist comes just below the top of the plateau, so it feels like you’re floating on clouds.”