When we went searching for a place to build this year's Cooking Light FitHouse, Spanish Oaks, a low-density development in the Texas Hill Country, just 15 minutes from downtown Austin, seemed like a great, well, fit. The community is adjacent to 15,000 acres of nature preserve and offers recreational trails amid groves of Spanish Oak and Texas Mandrone. Environmental fitness was key in the site selection, construction, and design of the 3,500-square-foot house, built by the development's master builder. We also strove to enhance mental and spiritual health by making the interior tranquil, organized, and comfortable.
Whether you're remodeling or simply looking for great ideas, this year's FitHouse is full of products and techniques you can use to make your home more healthful and beautiful.
The expansive dining room window offers views of an outdoor meditation deck and garden. The solid walnut table is ringed by six upholstered chairs comfortable enough for extended dinner parties. A patterned wool rug softens the hardwood floor and offers a bit of soundproofing. The native stone in the fireplace surround contrasts with the mantel's display of locally produced art. In the corner, a floor lamp made from coconut shells complements the recessed spotlights and overhead fixtures for a mix of directional and mood lighting.
Whether you're in the mood to curl up with a book or simply relax after a long day, the living room's comfortable sofa and plush chairs beckon. The small club chair is filled with Inego fiber, a sustainable material produced from corn. The dog's pillow is made from fabric once used in the tents and bedding of nomadic Turkish tribes. The side table nestled next to the armchair is a stump reclaimed from the bottom of a local river. Tucked beneath the square-legged console table, a pair of ottomans provides storage for throws or games; their tops flip open to reveal built-in trays.
Having ample room to maneuver, as well as storage and counter space, is every cook's wish for a dream kitchen. This one boasts 35 cabinets, 18 drawers, and nine open shelves―all in an efficient 175-square-foot space. The heat-, stain-, and scratch-resistant countertops are made of a natural quartz aggregate. The recycled glass tile backsplash adds an eye-catching iridescent focal point to the room and ties in the kitchen’s color scheme. A glass-fronted upper level was added to the dark-stained maple wall cabinets to lend height to the already spacious room and provide display space for antique glassware or flea market finds. Lights above and below the cabinets, plus recessed and overhead lighting, ensure that a cook never has to strain to see a spice or a spatula.
Sleek and hardworking, the appliances in this kitchen are energy efficient. A near-silent, generous-capacity dishwasher sits next to a built-in refrigerator that features adjustable shelves and a temperature management system, which keeps foods fresh for a longer period of time. The highlight of the microwave/electric oven combination is a patented convection system that offers six settings for precise baking and browning. In addition to being comfortable to stand on and easy to clean, hardwood flooring adds warmth and literally underscores the natural feel of the room.
Rise and Shine
Two Austin furniture designers created the ringed pedestal dining table and saffron-colored chairs in this sunny breakfast nook adjoining the kitchen. The maple sideboard has plenty of space to keep table linens and dinnerware handy. On the wall of the niche above it hangs a pair of abstract paintings by another local artist. Ample windows here and in the rest of the home have a "low-e" coating to mitigate heat from the sun.
Soothing colors and quieting materials line the posh master bedroom suite on the second floor. The bed features organic, Irish linens, which coordinate with curtains made of the same fabric. The firm mattress has an allergen-resistant top that can easily be removed for washing. Asian-inspired trunks make great nightstands, and they're deep enough to hold extra blankets and pillows. Over the nightstands, Britt opted to mount pendant lights from the ceiling. "The result is targeted light that's perfect for reading in bed," Britt says. And since the lights are on dimmers, one person can read without waking a sleeping partner. The square mirror reflects light from the window, which overlooks the garden.
An integral part of the suite, the master bath continues the restful theme. Slip into the air-jetted tub, and enjoy the benefits of chromatherapy―the use of color to change your mood―via a digital dial that controls lights lining the tub. Inside the shower stall, body jets provide massaging action that duplicates the spa experience, and a handheld showerhead makes rinsing off and cleaning the shower easy. White porcelain gleams against the dark wood cabinetry.
In Good Company
One wall of the guestroom is hung with lined, organic silk curtains. "They're heavy enough to quiet the room and block sound from the adjoining rooms, and they lend a rich, luxurious quality to the space," Britt says. And the silk's subtle gleam is a rich-looking backdrop for the wood-framed bed. A flight of pillows in silk and other high-touch materials keep that bed looking beautiful between visitors. A pair of wood-and-metal nightstands can easily be transported to other rooms of the house and pressed into duty as side tables whenever they're needed.
The highlight of the guest bathroom is a sink made of Texas mesquite with a copper dome that gives water a cascading effect. The base is hand-forged from recycled wrought iron. The wall color mimics the copper. "Duplicating colors creates visual continuity and helps to move your eye though the room," Britt says. Open shelving makes towels accessible and provides display space. The slate-tiled shower walls turn a quick rinse into a closer-to-nature experience.
The views through two walls of windows in the second-floor exercise room take in the Verde Trails on one side, the backyard and meditation space on the other. Codesigned by Britt and Cooking Light fitness expert Gin Miller, this suite features a range of equipment, including a recumbent bike and a weight-training system with electronic resistance that adjusts in one-pound increments to accommodate various fitness levels. A mat in the center of the room stretches out for yoga, pilates, and other floorwork. The stair-step design of the wood storage unit is inspired by traditional Japanese tansu cabinetry and maximizes space without clutter. It easily accommodates weights, jump ropes, fitness dvds, a cooling fan, and other must-haves for any home gym, Miller says.
Whether the goal is backyard bird-watching or enjoying a golden sunset, this loggia provides a prime vantage point. Natural rattan chairs made from banana leaves are wide enough to stretch out on while enjoying a Texas-sized iced tea. "Today's patio furniture is made to look and feel as comfortable as indoor options," Britt says. Recycled steel planters hold sedum and agave, plants that require little watering and maintenance.
The deck in the outdoor meditation space is made from reclaimed wood and plastic. Native plants in the landscape sweeten the air. The stylish folding chairs and side table are reclaimed, too, made from the staves of old oak wine barrels.