The bunkhouse came first, a snug one-room apartment with bath attached to a four-stall barn. It was a charming weekend hideaway an hour west of Fort Worth, perfect for the two of them."All a man needs," he would crow, and she'd roll those blue eyes."Not all a woman wants," she would declare.Developer and luxury home builder Tom Struhs didn't have a chance. When the time came, his wife and business partner, Elizabeth Falconer, an award-winning designer, would have a shelter from the world and a sanctuary for their dreams every bit as cozy as that bunkhouse, but large enough to gather in family and friends, not to mention several dogs and cats.Never mind that Tom insisted on "no more than 2,500 square feet." The kids were all gone and it was, after all, the first house they'd built meant just for them.But since it will likely be their last house, too, Elizabeth wouldn't settle for less than "rooms proportioned to fit the use."And so they ended up with an aerie set high on a promontory 100 feet above a bend in the Brazos River, a unique 4,200-square-foot-home designed by architect Billy Williams with decidedly Southwestern influences. It is a place both casual and sophisticated, anchored in Western tradition and full of surprises."This house is us," says Elizabeth, who recently broke a foot while moving their three horses to the barn paddock.Their newest rescue dog, Baby, a pretty mixed breed that stands waist high, noses Elizabeth's hand, expecting a pat, while Binky, the older dog, curls up on the dining-room rug. Two cats also prowl the rooms, unconcerned about dogs or visitors.It's clear that this house with its grand views, multipurpose great room and stained concrete floors is meant for easy living. "I didn't want anyone to have to pull their boots off to come in," Elizabeth says.But it is also a treasure trove of unusual finds and keepsakes: front doors from a historic house on Fort Worth's Samuels Avenue, where the Struhs Companies have spearheaded redevelopment; a fireplace mantel from a family home; an antique safe rescued from an Alabama basement; family photos; old armoires "Texas gussified" by a late friend; a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans cookie jar plucked from a junk shop; an ancient tortilla press; and much more.Tom got his start as a homebuilder in south Arlington 30 years ago and is something of a pioneer in downtown condo development. He also has a number of commercial projects to his credit, including educational and healthcare facilities. So, of course, he built the house, which is divided into two wings.One holds the great room and two guest rooms, two baths and a utility room; the other is the master's retreat with a study, a large bedroom with bath and a second laundry room big enough to double as a craft room.The great room is all the public spaces rolled into one: spacious kitchen, generous sitting area, cozy breakfast nook and comfortable dining room.It's a place to put your feet up, a room that celebrates hair and hide and bone. It wears the ambience of the West as a cattleman wears a Stetson, with ease and pride of place.A handsome buffalo head hangs above a stone fireplace. The dining-room chairs are covered with Axis deer hide; the chandelier is made of antlers, as is a floor lamp. Elizabeth works with a supplier who is licensed to sell taxidermy collections, including those that feature endangered species, and it's clear that she likes the gleam of antler and wood.The guest rooms are welcoming havens, each with a private porch and antique mantels framing the fireplaces. One of the mantels is from a house on Samuels Avenue, one of Fort Worth's first residential streets.The other is from Elizabeth's great-grandparents' home. In a 1920s-era photo, her grandmother poses before the mantel on her wedding day.Elizabeth calls this room the "Annie Oakley room" and like a stage designer, she has created a nostalgic space with cankered tin ceiling and beadboard wainscoting.The "Annie Oakley bath" is an imaginative space featuring a re-enameled claw-foot tub and a surround of corrugated aluminum roofing material that she hopes will rust.But this Western motif was never Elizabeth's style before, she says. And then they sold their seven-acre Colleyville kingdom, moved to Cassidy Corner on Pecan Street, one of the city's first downtown condo developments, and built the bunkhouse in 1999 as a retreat from city life."The condo was very fussy," she says. Walls of glass in the wide-open entertainment space framed views of the city. Drapes were of heavy silk, walls were painted a dark taupe with black trim. It was slick and chic and ever so dramatic.But the bunkhouse is a friendly hideout separated from the rest of the world by a long road, three gates and several cattle guards. Decorating that single room was a departure from anything she'd done before, but as soon as she'd finished she landed a job outfitting the Lajitas Resort, a historic outpost on the Rio Grande near Terlingua, a place famous for its chili cook-offs.By the time that job was complete, Elizabeth had a new appreciation for the style that she calls "comfortable cattle baron."When someone wanted to buy the furnished condo just as it sat in 2005, Elizabeth and Tom couldn't say no. They signed the papers, packed up their clothes and the orchids that grew in the rooftop greenhouse, and moved to the ranch.By 2006, they were unpacking boxes in their new home. The orchids didn't survive -- the ranch water is too salty, she says. But Elizabeth has a greenhouse, and her pantry shelves are lined with homemade jellies and pickles.Tom and Elizabeth live busy lives made busier by the long commute to Cowtown, but they're not looking back.After all, life is full of tradeoffs, she says, and Elizabeth thinks the miles she and Tom drive to work each day are a fair exchange for sunsets and starlight in a house meant just for them.
Aunt Zibba's Pomegranate Jelly
Makes 6 8-ounce jars
3 1/2 cups pomegranate juice (I used to have to extract this
-- now readily available in grocery stores)
1/4 cup lime juice
1 package powdered pectin (1.75 ounces)
4 1/2 cups sugar
1. Prepare 6 8-ounce jelly jars for preserving.
2. In large kettle, combine pomegranate juice, lime juice and pectin. Over high heat, bring to rolling boil for one minute while stirring constantly.
3. Add sugar, and stir to blend. Once blended, increase heat and bring to SECOND rolling boil for EXACTLY two minutes. Follow directions on pectin package for sealing jars.
-- Elizabeth Falconer
From the Pantry Shelf
Elizabeth Falconer's pantry shelves are lined with homemade jellies and pickled vegetables. Indulge asked Elizabeth ("Aunt Zibba" to her family) to share one of her original jelly recipes. Of this recipe, she says, "When I lived in San Diego, I had a neighbor with pomegranate trees. Every year, the fruit would fall to the ground and rot. I finally made a deal with her -- I would provide the labor, she the fruit, and we'd split the cost of jars. I made plain pomegranate jelly for years, before creating other versions of this divine jelly. I have made it paired with juice from cactus and blackberries, but the best is with a kick added from Hatch chiles. My friends and neighbors all ask for the spicy version. My son in Houston says it makes the absolute best PB&J that you will ever put in your mouth! Either way, YUM!"