360 West January 2017 : Page 40
Home Style Pitch Perfect At some point during the planning stages, one tent became three and a half. The pond is man-made; the stars are courtesy of Mother Nature. By Meda Kessler For the first five minutes after entering the home of Dave and Suzette Mun-String lights and hanging lanterns add to the ambience when the sun goes down. Photos by Aiden Franklin son, I’m thinking: “Wow, I am sitting in a tent.” After that, I pretty much forget about it. There’s a nice breeze slipping in through the open sliding glass doors on this late fall day, and the view is pastoral as hawks spiral overhead. The trees are a mixed palette of golds and reds, and the family dogs roll around in the grass surrounding a large pond. I sit back on a plush leather sofa, admiring the hardwood floors and concrete countertops in the kitchen. The wind kicks up a bit, and I hear the rustle of canvas and plastic as the 40 January 2017 360westmagazine.com
At some point during the planning stages, one tent became three and a half. The pond is man-made; the stars are courtesy of Mother Nature.
Despite rustling plastic windows, minimal closets and creepy crawlers for neighbors, this out-of-Africa compound is home sweet home for the Munson family. And the views-up and around- are amazing.
String lights and hanging lanterns add to the ambience when the sun goes down.
Photos by Aiden Franklin
For the first five minutes after entering the home of Dave and Suzette Munson, I’m thinking: “Wow, I am sitting in a tent.”
After that, I pretty much forget about it. There’s a nice breeze slipping in through the open sliding glass doors on this late fall day, and the view is pastoral as hawks spiral overhead. The trees are a mixed palette of golds and reds, and the family dogs roll around in the grass surrounding a large pond.
I sit back on a plush leather sofa, admiring the hardwood floors and concrete countertops in the kitchen.
The wind kicks up a bit, and I hear the rustle of canvas and plastic as the windows move. Then it hits me again: “Wow, I’m sitting in a tent.”
Dave, Suzette, Cross and Sela Munson along with ChiChi, the brown Lab, and Mongo, the most recent addition. The guest cabin, shown here, is the smallest of the family’s tents but features a spacious bedroom and bathroom. It also has the traditional zip-up flaps in the front. The deck also serves as a walkway to all the tents.
Photo by Ralph Lauer
A view from the kitchen into Dave’s office: Hardwood floors, oversize furniture and rugs almost help you forget that the sides and ceilings are canvas (no leaning, ever, onto a canvas wall). Curtains add a bit of insulation to the windows, which have exterior canvas flaps and plastic covers on the inside.
An old office chair, formerly upholstered in maroon leather, was re-covered at the Saddleback factory in Mexico. Leather products are everywhere including a roll-up chessboard hanging on the back of the chair and well-used bags.
Photos by Ralph Lauer
“The wind can be annoying,” says Suzette. “It’s just something we have to live with.”
These are not ordinary tents, and this is no ordinary family. Picture safari-lodge-style tents with custom amenities, and meet a couple who want to give their family an experience to remember.
Dave is from Oregon and Suzette from Michigan, and they eventually got together in Texas. Dave lived in southern Mexico doing volunteer work as an English teacher. Needing a book bag, he met a guy who worked with leather and drew fo him the design he had in mind.
Carrying or wearing a cool product is the best marketing for anything, and Dave got lots of compliments on his bag, especially when he came to the States. He returned to Mexico and had more bags made. Back in Portland, he sold them out of his Land Cruiser.
Cross, a voracious reader, hangs out in the living room while his sister studies in their adjacent bedroom. The tents are heated and cooled by wall-mounted units.
Cross, a voracious reader, hangs out in the living room while his sister studies in their adjacent bedroom. The tents are heated and cooled by wall-mounted units. Suzette opted for real doors to close off the bathroom and kids’ room. The photograph on the wall was taken at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, where the Munsons met some special guests during breakfast.
Another stint in Mexico gave Dave a chance to visit Leon, a city known for its leather crafts. There he found someone who could replicate and improve his original design. Dave moved to Juarez, where he could live very frugally and sent what money he made to Leon to have more bags made. He would then drive across the border to sell them. With little overhead and the help of his dad, a bona fide business was born.
Suzette had moved to Texas for school and to be near her sister, who lived in San Antonio. By the time she and Dave met in 2006 — via Myspace, a social media pioneer — he was moving full steam ahead with the growing business he called Saddleback Leather and ready to return to the states.
They married and had two kids, Sela and Cross, and they set out to make a home in San Antonio. “We didn’t want to live in the suburbs or a gated community,” says Dave.
The Munsons were adventurers, and they traveled the world with their young children. Normal didn’t suit them. They settled on a 1950s home in what Dave calls a dicey neighborhood. “But it was a really big house — 5,600 square feet — and we got a good deal on it.” Gang and criminal activity was commonplace, and to keep the house from getting vandalized and the cars broken into, they had to fence their property.
Suzette keeps a small but tidy office desk in the master bedroom.
Photos by Ralph Lauer
The kids’ bedroom also serves as a classroom as they are home-schooled.
Baskets come in handy for storing everything from art supplies to clothes.
Photo by Ralph Lauer
Meanwhile, Saddleback continued to do well. But a trip to Rwanda in 2010 changed their lives when they witnessed so many people living in dire conditions and extreme poverty. The Munsons are deeply devout, and they wanted to do more for those in need.
They looked inward and decided first to simplify their own lives by living with less stuff.
Dave was interested in moving his company to North Texas, and Fort Worth in particular (the goods are still made in Leon, where the company offers day care for children of employees at the manufacturing plant). With family in Keller, he was familiar with the area. He bought 84 acres in Azle, where they planned to live.
“We were going to build our dream house, but on one of our trips to Africa, we stayed in safari tents,” says Dave.
In Nairobi they met Rob Flowers, a former tour guide who went from spending a lot of time in tents to creating a business that specialized in improving the comfort of the timehonored shelter. He is now co-owner of the East African Canvas Company. “[He] makes tents for commercial and private use. We thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is so cool. It really fits us.’” Suzette chimed in with an affirmative, “Let’s do this.”
Work started in spring of 2015, and by August 2016, Dave and Suzette had moved in, along with their children, who are now 7 and 9, and two Labs, ChiChi and Mongo.
The tents are not visible from the property’s gate; you get to the Munsons’ place by an unpaved road flanked on either side by grassy fields. There are three and a half tents — with one used only for storage — in a large “bowl” surrounded by trees, a manmade pond and an undulating grassy lawn. The couple wanted the kids to have somewhere to play and to avoid giving snakes places to hide. Yes, snakes, skunks, chiggers, poison oak and ivy, extremes in temperature are all issues that they deal with, but they do so with humor.
“I like nice things, and I like things to look good,” says Suzette, who designs all the women’s goods, home products and a give-back line of leather goods for Saddleback. “We were not interested in primitive camping. There is regular plumbing, hot water, toilets, electricity.”
All the tents also have wood beams and floors (with plywood subfloors), with decking that connects them. Sturdy metal framing supports the canvas roofs and walls. Windows are built-in screens with canvas flaps on the exterior and heavy plastic covers that Velcro to the canvas on the inside. The Munsons chose sliding glass doors for their sleeping tent and the office/ kitchen tent. The guest tent features a traditional zip flap.
Interior wood walls were added to a few of the tents to provide structure and divisions between rooms. There’s approximately 2,000 square feet of living space, but room for storage is minimal. Suzette and Dave share one armoire in their bedroom for clothing and accessories. Dave says it’s all part of their simplification plan. “It makes you look at what you have and ask, ‘Does it bring joy and goodness into your life?’ ”
The bathrooms feature stylish sinks and fixtures, but the star is the shower outside the Munsons’ sleeping tent. It features two shower heads, wood decking and an oversize burnished copper tub. Surrounded by a floating fence on two sides and connected to the tent’s main bathroom by a wooden door, it’s used yearround.
Also in the main tent is the kids’ room. Suzette wanted the kids close by, so the tent maker designed a room that bumps out from the tent and can be closed off from the living area by wood doors. It comfortably holds bunk beds, a low table where the kids study and do their lessons and a bit of storage.
A narrow hallway between the living room and the master bedroom features custom cabinets and counter space. Suzette also keeps a coffee pot here so they don’t have to walk to the kitchen tent on a cold morning to get their first cup of Joe.
The kitchen tent features fullsize appliances, and there’s even a wall-mounted pot filler over the stove. Dave’s office, adjacent to the kitchen, includes a nice-size sitting area. Canvas “doors” are tied back to create an open space but can be closed to create two separate rooms. Another full-size bathroom with storage sits opposite the kitchen.
Sliding glasss doors are used in two of the tents for easy access. The Munsons opted for a small tent to use as storage.
Photo by Aiden Franklin
The two-room guest tent sits farthest away, offering privacy, yet is connected to the other tents by the wooden deck. String lights are hung on support poles, and lanterns line the edge of the deck, creating a magical look at night.
Civilization is not that far away, and Dave makes regular trips to the Saddleback warehouse. The kids are home-schooled, with plentiful field trips. The Munsons are active in community and church. But life on the ranch is peaceful and stimulating. They chose not to have television sets, instead relying on each other for conversation and entertainment. “The kids love learning about nature, and we love getting to know each other better as a family,” says Dave. “Is this our forever house? Probably not. But it’s home for now.”
The outdoor shower just off the master bedroom is plumbed for hot water and features a large copper tub in addition to two shower heads.
Photos by Ralph Lauer
The website offers online shopping — Dave still hopes to open a retail store one day — and lots of background and videos on the company and, yes, the tents. Love 41 is a secondary company run by Suzette. All proceeds from Love 41’s sales go to support their philanthropic work in Africa, Mexico and Texas. Check them out at saddlebackleather.com or follow Saddleback Leather Co. On Facebook.
Read the full article at http://digital.360westmagazine.com/article/Home+Style/2668538/369834/article.html.