Building the Hill Country House


I feel that the building traditions of France transfer well to the landscape and climate of the Texas Hill Country. Here a small Dordogne Valley house serves as a nice model for a Hill Country house. The building is strictly natural and traditional, with just a few materials, and a permeable and flexible structure. Solid masonry structural load-bearing walls, 18" to 24" thick, of Texas limestone in lime mortar and quoin stone corners and openings. Slate or clay tile roof on timber rafters. Timber doors and inswing double casement windows. Stone and timber floors. Any plasters or renders are lime or clay, with natural earth pigments if desired. Timber is unfinished or with natural oils or waxes as described in the resources. Absolutely no bitumen, cement, plastic, fluorocarbon, paint, plywood, or damp-proof membranes.


The type of building and furnishing that I suggest is what I call « earthy elegant ». Always natural, with some of the roughness and ruggedness of nature, but also some of the delicacy and refinement of traditional craft. I believe this balance is necessary for truly elegant living and desirable, sustainable communities. Buildings and interiors should look as if they have always existed. There should be nothing in material, technique, or technology that could date the building -- if it didn't exist 150 years ago, then forget it.


Fireplaces in antique French 18th century carved marble. The Louis XV designs were made with ocean elements of curved forms of waves and foam and seashells. They were often made in marble with beautiful color and grain. At right, first is Bois Jourdan marble and second is Gris de Ardennes marble. Some of the simple designs in antique British 18th century carved marble fireplaces are also quite nice, like this in Frosterley marble and this in Bardiglio marble.


Hardware and plumbing fixtures are all in solid copper, bronze, and brass. Door handles and window espagnolettes from Vervloet in Brussels. Taps and mixers from À l'Épi d'Or in Paris. Traditional enamelled cooking range from Molteni in Saint Denis.


We can carry the French basis through to the furniture, as the pegged mortise and tenon and frame and panel construction of 18th century French furniture was among the best in the world. Here we only examine some chairs, but the well furnished house will also have a range of the case pieces, such as commode, buffet, bureau plat, and armoire.

The 18th century French chairs, whether a simple chaise, a fauteuil, or a bergere, were some of the most thoughtful and carefully considered in the history of furniture. All of the chair frames shown here are by Nicolas Quinibert Foliot, who I think was the best at the simple molded frames, and one of the makers for Louis XV himself. All of these chairs are in the « à la reine » style with the backs straight across their width, rather than curved in the cabriolet style, and they all have serpentine legs with volute feet.

These chairs would be upholstered using only natural materials, with a base of closely spaced interwoven webbing, with no gaps so that the filling could be placed directly on the webbing. The filling would be pure curled horse hair or cattle hair, but I wonder if wool could also work. No metal springs are used. Loose cushions would be feather and down. The most common covering material in the period was silk damask, but plain linen, hemp, or wool also work well. Brass nails were usually used, but they can also be combined with a braid, such as in the wider spaced brass nails over the braid on the chair shown here covered in red silk damask.

The main furniture woods in 18th century France were European walnut (Juglans regia) and European beech (Fagus sylvatica). I propose that reproductions of these chairs in the United States be made with Black walnut (Juglans nigra) and Black cherry (Prunus serotina). One could also consider American beech (Fagus grandifolia). I advise strongly against using any kind of wood stains, shiny polishes, or synthetic materials. I recommend the same type of natural wood finishes described in the resources.

Other styles

In addition to the 18th century French furniture, some pieces from the Medieval through the 18th century from France and Britain, as well as the Arts & Crafts period in Britain, could complement the furnishing. This could bring some pieces made in European oak (Quercus robur) and European chestnut (Castanea sativa), for which White oak (Quercus alba) could be a good option for reproduction in the United States, but the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is now quite rare.

«Lovers of beauty without having lost the taste for simplicity, and lovers of wisdom without loss of manly vigor.»