Meda Kessler 2017-08-30 05:05:05
Two years in the making, the Fort Worth home of Lou Lambert creates a quiet but personal statement. The River House Old-growth trees and a new wooden fence frame a multilevel house on the Trinity River. Both partially block the views of walkers, joggers and cyclists who use the adjacent paved trails, but there’s plenty to pique their curiosity: a stucco wall with tantalizing eye-level cutouts; a glimpse of a Galvalume barrel roof; the mashup of glass, wood and metal on a wraparound porch. This curious and unusual home, dubbed “Fish Camp” by owners Lou Lambert and James Smith, has been the subject of much speculation during construction and a lot of admiration following its completion last December. To Lou, James and their four dogs, it’s just home. While Lou has settled down in Fort Worth, the native Texan’s past lies in other parts of the state, including Odessa, where he grew up, and Port Arthur, the coastal home of his paternal grandparents and origin of the fish-camp moniker. Other places that have left an imprint — and vice versa — are Austin, where the culinary-school-trained chef made a name for himself with his eponymous barbecue restaurant. Liz Lambert, Lou’s sister and one of the hottest hoteliers in the country, created the popular Hotel San José and Hotel Saint Cecilia, both in Austin, and the Vogue-worthy Hotel San Cristóbal in Baja, Mexico. Liz turns to Lou to consult on dining options for her properties and, most likely, other details, as the siblings share the same visionary genes. The Lamberts’ West Texas roots extend to Marfa, home to more family ranchland and where Lou guest chefs and hosts cooking classes at El Cosmico, the 18-acre campground he and Liz created. You also can count San Francisco — where he worked and met his husband, James, an accomplished pastry chef — and Mexico, a spot frequented for work and pleasure, as influences on Lou’s aesthetic. “You’ll see a little bit of everywhere I’ve lived, of family, of craftsmen we admire, in this house,” says Lou. Too, one see his handiwork, as Lou is accomplished both with a chef’s knife and carpentry tools. Lou and James moved to Fort Worth in 2006 (both Lou and his father attended TCU, and Lou had lived in Cowtown to help Reata get up and running), settling in a rambling two-story Craftsman with a wide porch. They moved back to Austin only to return to Fort Worth, where Lou opened a second Lambert’s as well as Dutch’s Hamburgers near the TCU campus. He added author to his resume with the release of his Big Ranch, Big City cookbook. Despite the closing of the Fort Worth Lambert’s in 2012, Lou didn’t lack for things to do — the beauty and the curse of an inveterate “doer.” In addition to consulting work and chef gigs, Lou and James invested in a run-down warehouse on Fort Worth’s sleepy South Main Street. With their flair for interesting design and understated cool, they turned the cavernous spot into the ultimate man cave as well as the home of the fictitious Hunt & Fish Social Club. Aside from working on their motorcycles and cars, the couple hosted seasonal parties — fish fries, barbecues — for friends and for philanthropic events. But a special spot on the Trinity River led Lou to his biggest project yet. “While riding my bike on the trails, I always noticed this strange piece of property. I was drawn to the corner spot under a bunch of live oaks. When a ‘for sale’ sign went up, I called, but it was pretty pricey, plus they didn’t want to break up the lot.” Eventually, Bill Bostelmann, owner of Flowers on the Square and a good friend of Lou’s, bought the land off of White Settlement Road to build the new location of his business/home. “Bill called me to come look at this property he had just bought, as he hoped to sell part of it,” says Lou. “It was the exact spot I had wanted.” While tranquil looking, the hilly site posed a challenge for the home Lou had in mind. He called on Dallas-based architect Richard Smith, who works primarily on commercial projects. Richard was familiar with the Lambert family as well as the property, having looked at it for commercial development at one time. They had another serendipitous connection, too. “I found out that he designed the Odessa house I grew up in, plus he knew my twin brother through Fort Worth designer Tonny Foy.” Lou laid out his priorities to Richard: Capitalize on the river views and be sure to save the trees. His vision for the home itself was anything but conventional. Using a progression in design and materials, the compound was to consist of a more modern main house with smooth stucco walls on the exterior nearest the river, an open courtyard in the middle featuring stone retaining walls, and less-formal wood-clad guesthouses in the back of the property. A spacious garage was a must, but it had to fit into the design puzzle; the result has a Quonset-hut-style roofline and is fabricated in coated sheet steel. “This is a highly personal project, and Richard really embraced what we wanted to do. He also understood that plans were likely to change during the building process,” says Lou. “We’ve all been in the business of creating special buildings for a long time, but we still occasionally laid out sticks, string and boxes to figure out how things would look.” Due to the elevated lot, the house was built from back to front. Site preparation was slow, as excavation turned up a lot of debris, including an old pickup truck. When workers unexpectedly unearthed a natural spring located where the courtyard now sits, water had to be rerouted. Plans were made for cisterns to help irrigate the property, which includes a small apple orchard. The property also adjoins a rapidly growing commercial and housing development called The River District. “Tall fences make sure everyone has their privacy,” says Lou. Unless you are on the trail, it’s almost impossible to get an overall view of the home, which sits on a little more than an acre and a half. But the beauty really is in the details, from the stone columns landscaped with cactus at the driveway’s entrance to a secret front door. “We grew up entering our houses through a side yard or through the kitchen. This house has both,” says Lou. “Inside and out, it invites you to explore and discover.” With walls of glass, the large rooms in the main house feel even bigger. The kitchen is spacious but truly functional, with an oversize pantry with its own oven and plenty of storage. Counter stools at the large granite-top-and-concrete island make it a fine place to read the paper (there’s a built-in sofa adjacent to the island that serves the same purpose). It’s also perfect for setting up a buffet, big or small. “We like it because it’s easy to clean and keep clutter free,” says Lou. Adjacent to the kitchen, a large library-office featuring built-in shelving packed with books has its own personality. An antique writing desk found in New Orleans complements two Chesterfield leather sofas, favorite perches of the couple’s Decker terriers. A round table backs up to banquette seating, which is strewn with pillows covered with sheepskin and kilim rugs. Wood blinds pull shut, giving the room a cozy feel. The polished concrete floors of the kitchen give way to light maple in the great room. A long cypress dining table built by Lou, who salvaged the wood for such a purpose, is surrounded by reupholstered chairs that belonged to his mother. A surprise feature is the built-in woodburning grill that also serves as a fireplace across from the dining table. An Italian leather sofa is strewn with collected vintage blankets. Nearby, a whitewashed wood bench holds plants and books. It’s all part of the mix-andmatch decor. Carefully collected art hangs throughout, and a large painting bought in San Miguel de Allende before the house was built adorns the feature wall facing the sofa. James installed a projector system, along with much of the audio, for movie nights. French doors lead to the main courtyard, which is surrounded by a wood-plank walkway. Decomposed granite and vintage brick Lou sourced from one of the suppliers on a past hotel project make it easy to maintain. James tends a koi pond that gurgles pleasantly and adds to the cool feel of the outdoor space. A central dining table was built by friend and musician Dan Dyer using oil-field pipes from West Texas for the base. A built-on-site outdoor kitchen — complete with commercial-grade oven and a large rotisserie — is covered for year-round use but opens up wide thanks to hinged steel-framed windows. At night, special lighting installed in the trees gives the courtyard a magical feel. A wedge-shaped hallway off the living room was purposefully designed to hold Lou’s unexpected collection of paintings, most of them landscapes, many inherited from his mother and grandfather. The hallway leads to the master bedroom as well as James’ office, which doubles as the dogs’ playroom. The cozy master bedroom opens up onto a private courtyard, as does the shower in the master bath. “This is our private space,” says Lou, noting that the landscaping in the courtyard is a little more haphazard on purpose to give it a lush feel. The spacious walk-through closet contains a washer and dryer and a lot of taxidermy. From here and from the courtyard, stairs lead to the second level, a stone-walled gym and the garage. Another set of stairs leads to the guest quarters, a simple two-room space with a large screened porch filled with well-loved leather furniture. The bedroom features a custom bed made of reclaimed Texas pecan by Austin-based Texas Rover Co. The living room contains a small wine fridge and coffee maker. Another guest room and a “corral” for the couple’s motorcycles sits adjacent to the screened porch. Parking on this level gives guests an easily-accessed private getaway. While the summer heat has been intense, the pool on the ground level has been an oasis. The surrounding wall offers privacy while glassless “windows” allow for views of the river; heatfriendly plants line the inside of the wall. A patio under the overhang features built-in seating and is designed for small gatherings. Lou and James keep the look neat with built-in lights in the overhang rather than ubiquitous string lights. Outside the pool area, a patio filled with Adirondack chairs stretches along the exterior of the living room and master bedroom and offers a spectacular view of the river. “Mornings out here are special,” says Lou. “You see the river, the migrating birds, the freshly mowed fields. When I’ve been away from home, this is where I come to reconnect.”
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