The last 20 years have seen the lines blur somewhat when it comes to regional architectural styles. Home buyers are as likely to purchase a Spanish-style stucco home in southern Florida as they are in southern Illinois. But here's a look at five custom homes--one each from Utah, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, and two in Texas--that reflect the particular styles of their regions.

Beaty in the Rough A classic Texas Hill Country home reveals the sophisticated use of some basic--and time-honored--materials.

There's no mistaking the location of this Houston family's weekend retreat. It has all the classic design details of a Texas Hill Country house: pale limestone exterior, metal roof, wooden lintels, and a stair-stepped elevation that looks as if it's grown up over generations. "My clients wanted a place that reflected the hill country, where they could get away from the hustle and bustle of city life," says Tommy Kosarek, a principal in the Austin, Texas, firm of Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects. "But while they wanted regional vernacular, they also happen to have really nice taste so they were interested in a house that was really clean, with simple detailing and an honest use of materials. They didn't want a lot of fussiness and frou-frou."

There's certainly nothing fussy about the 5,000-square-foot house that Kosarek designed for the Houston family, located on the shores of Lake Travis in the Texas town of Spicewood. It's built around a central courtyard with its main spaces--living room, dining room, and master bedroom--oriented toward the lake. Galleries form an "L" around two sides of the courtyard, letting in light and glimpses of some of those classic Hill Country touches.

Click here to view the floor plans.

You can see the low overhang of the galvanized metal roof, which was etched to make the paint grip better and to give it the look of an old metal roof. There are galvanized metal railings, added as both a safety measure and to suggest the kind of fence posts and gates used on a cattle farm. And most prominent is the repeated use of sturdy cedar lintels and squared-off columns that were fashioned on site from huge cedar timbers.

The interplay of wood and metal and stone continues inside. Here the stone has been cut, not left rough, giving it a more finished appearance. In the living room, three different kinds of wood are used: There's long-leaf pine on the floor, aromatic East Texas cedar on the vaulted ceiling deck, and an impressive, bolted truss system made from Douglas fir. "The detail in that room is great," says the client. "Sometimes I sit there and say to myself, 'Wow, this is really cool.'"

Builder David Dalgleish sees the Spicewood home as typical of many upper-end houses his Austin company puts up. "Everybody likes the look of charming little homes full of architectural eye candy, but they have a lifestyle that won't fit into a quaint little cabin," says Dalgleish, who has built a number of houses designed by Barnes Gromatsky Kosarek. "What these sophisticated architects have done is to take these larger scale houses, break them down into these charming little pieces, then connect them all. You could take that same 4,000 square feet and build a big Georgian box, but you wouldn't have that interest and variety."

Location: Spicewood, Texas; Size: 5,000 square feet; Architect: Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects, Austin, Texas; Builder: Dalgleish Construction Co., Austin

Lakeside Charmer Carpenter Gothic details and a modern floor plan join forces to turn a Rhode Island home into a mellow, yellow retreat.

Architect Mary Dorsey Brewster's clients loved their overgrown, 1920s lakeside cottage in western Rhode Island, but they had tired of some of its less-than-endearing features. "It was built on a fieldstone foundation, and part of the basement was earthen," says the wife. "Every spring and fall a river ran through it, which meant visits by the plumber, termites, and lots of other critters." It's one thing to put up with those kinds of headaches in a summer cottage, but this couple was looking to make the house their permanent abode. A new home on the same site turned out to be the best way to go.

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"It was a charming, higgledy-piggledy, impossible-to-renovate place," says Brewster, principal of the Providence, R.I., architectural firm Brewster Thornton Rapp. "One of the things we did was to lift the new house up a little so that the river doesn't run through it anymore. They now have a dry basement, which is one of life's small pleasures."

They also have a 3,965-square-foot house that works for year-round living and entertaining, with a south-facing solarium that runs along the lakeside of the house, a finished basement with enough bedrooms for visiting children and grandchildren, an open kitchen with a large stacking pantry, and a study with room for husband-and-wife desks. But the smart design doesn't stop on the inside; there's plenty of interesting stuff going on with the exterior, too.

Brewster wanted to incorporate some of the Swedish influences from the original cottage, and to capture the feeling of the old family place in terms of massing and colors. "That idea of a Swedish vernacular lakeside house gave us a running start for our carpentry detailing," says Brewster.

Cedar clapboard might be the expected material for a waterfront New England house, but given her clients' desire to see much less of those termites, Brewster went with Hardiplank fiber-cement siding, painted a warm yellow (like the old house) with red detailing on the window sashes (another carry-over). "It was a learning curve for our builder," says Brewster. That's confirmed by the builder, Randy Gardner of Gardner Woodwrights in North Kingstown, R.I. He'd never worked with the manmade, fiber-cement material before, and now he needed to carve out details. The gable ends of the house were sheet stock; Gardner cut the notched bottom and applied batten strips to it to come up with the top-notch detailing that gives the exterior its understated punch.

Brewster is known for her attention to detail and proportion, and that spirit shows up throughout the house, both inside and out. Of course, it's one thing to draw the kinds of exterior shadow patterns, sawn details, and gingerbread ornamentation associated with Carpenter Gothic, a mid-19th-century style that was especially popular in coastal areas. Hand-fabricating those treatments goes well beyond the drawing board. "Randy really rose to the challenge," says Brewster. "He went that extra mile to give the house those extra touches. It's not called Carpenter Gothic for nothing."

Location: Western Rhode Island; Size: 3,965 square feet; Architect: Brewster Thornton Rapp Architects, Providence, R.I.; Builder: Gardner Woodwrights, North Kingstown, R.I.

Fitting Tribute A house that mixes Craftsman, Arts and Crafts, and Prairie features is right at home in historic Houston Heights.

Oscar Martin Carter, who founded Houston Heights in the 1890s, would no doubt approve of the house that Sue and Robert Burleson built in what was possibly Houston's first master planned community. Situated just four miles from downtown Houston, Carter envisioned a park-filled neighborhood where entrepreneurs and working-class families could live together, in gussied-up Victorians, humble Craftsman bungalows, and low-slung, Prairie-style homes. Like many close-in communities, though, Houston Heights suffered in the 1950s and 1960s as families flocked to the suburbs. It's been on the rebound since the 1970s, attracting families who were tired of cookie-cutter subdivisions and long commutes. In 1983 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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"Our whole goal was to have the house respect the historical character of the neighborhood, but still feel like it's a modern house for modern living," says architect Troy Campa of Newberry Campa Design Studio, an architectural firm in Houston Heights. "There are no historic restrictions here, but most people who move here do so because they like the charm of the community and want to continue that."

That was certainly the case with the Burlesons, empty-nesters who were looking to leave the suburbs behind. They bought a parcel in Houston Heights, had the small bungalow that was on it moved, and set out to find an architect and builder who could translate their ideas into a home. "Sue and I liked the Craftsman, Arts and Crafts, and Prairie styles," says Burleson. "We had admired some homes that [builder] John Galvin had done, and it turned out that he had worked with both Ken Newberry and Troy Campa, who also lived in the Heights. Troy is sort of a Craftsman specialist, so that settled it."

Looking from the sidewalk, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out whether the Burlesons' cream-colored clapboard house was turn-of-the-20th-century or turn-of-the-21st-century. Design details that Carter would recognize include gently pitched overhanging gable roofs, open eaves with exposed rafter tails, wood brackets, and squared stone columns supporting a front porch. Even the porte cochere is a feature that's fairly common in the historic Heights.

Inside, though, the 3,662-square-foot floor plan reflects life today. Downstairs there's a dining room/library off the entry hall and a great room and kitchen at the back of the house. Upstairs is a master suite along with two bedrooms, a sitting room, and a bathroom. "The dining room/ library combination is very traditional, and that part of it is very soul satisfying to us as far as aesthetics go," says Sue. "But in the real world, we have a large family that likes to eat and cook, so we wanted the convenience of a big modern kitchen that opens onto where the grandkids play and the dogs run. In actuality, there are just these two giant rooms that kind of divide themselves into areas that fit our lifestyle."

But there are enough Craftsman touches inside--built-in bookcases, tile-accented fireplace surrounds, a central stair, antique pine floors, and stained-glass windows--to further confuse visitors. "One of our biggest thrills is when someone comes in and compliments us on our renovation," says Sue. "We smile real big," adds her husband.

Location: Houston; Size: 3,662 square feet; Architect: Newberry Campa Design Studio, Houston; Builder: Kerry Galvin Homes, Houston

Suburban Surprise A sustainable, Salt Lake City home borrows mountainside motifs for its nature-loving look.

The surprising thing about Robert Plachta and Nancy Carlson-Gotts' Utah home is that it's in Salt Lake City, just miles from downtown, and not in the lofty mountain resort of Park City. Its strong horizontal lines of stained wood, expanses of glass, and terraced, multilevel design would look right at home nestled into a ski-in, Wasatch mountain-range site. Instead, it's tucked into a suburban neighborhood that includes everything from '70s ramblers to vintage bungalows.

Click here to view the floor plans.

The home's close connection to nature helps give the house its mountain feel. It's on a one-acre site that boasts a trout-filled creek, mature trees, and plenty of wildlife. But it takes advantage of its natural surroundings much more than most of its conventional neighbors. That's because it was designed by Angela M. Dean, a Salt Lake City architect committed to "environmentally responsible architecture," and includes dozens of sustainable features. This 3,300-square-foot home was built to minimize construction waste and site impact, features passive heating and cooling strategies, and used salvaged and recycled materials. It's garnered an Energy Star rating of 5, the highest score possible.

"Robert and Nancy were very committed to doing things right," says Dean, founder of AMD Architecture in Salt Lake City and the author of Green by Design: Creating a Home for Sustainable Living (Gibbs Smith, 2003). "They found me through a link on [architect] Sarah Susanka's 'Not So Big House' Web site, and they'd become enamored with the idea of living in a reasonably sized, environmentally friendly house."

The couple had the original house torn down, but to reduce demolition waste and the need for new materials, the foundation and concrete masonry shell were incorporated into the new design, as were other materials such as decking, doors, and fixtures. An existing gravel parking area turned out to be the best place to locate the ground-source heat pump loops, a secondary source for the home's radiant heat (solar is number one). Wood salvaged from the Great Salt Lake is used on both the home's interior and exterior.

Even something as simple as the house's colors contribute to its environmentally sensitive nature. "The colors are playful, which you often see in mountaintop settings, and the textures of the reclaimed timbers give it a more rustic feel," says Dean. "Plus, the colors really tie it into the site."

Not every design touch has a purely practical side, though. Light, for example, streams through a strip of clerestory windows into the master bedroom, but that's not their primary function. They just happen to offer a view of Mount Olympus that is downright spectacular.

Location: Salt Lake City; Size: 3,300 square feet; Architect: AMD Architecture, Salt Lake City; Builder: McCarthy Custom Homes, Sandy, Utah

A multitude of windows and period details gives this Lake Geneva shingle-style house its quintessential cottage look.
Courtesy Vetter Window & Doors A multitude of windows and period details gives this Lake Geneva shingle-style house its quintessential cottage look.

View Finder For a shingle-style cottage on the shores of Lake Geneva, Wis., the design focus is all about seeing the sites.

When it comes to complaining about land scarcity, builders in California don't have anything on the folks who put up houses on Wisconsin's Lake Geneva. By the turn of the century--the 20th century--every bit of lakeshore property in that popular resort area had already been developed or preserved as parkland or public beaches. For more than 100 years now, the only way a new home gets built on the lake involves a teardown.

A simple beadboard ceiling, hardwood floors, sliding French doors, and more windows are all the decoration that this kitchen needs.
Courtesy Vetter Window & Doors A simple beadboard ceiling, hardwood floors, sliding French doors, and more windows are all the decoration that this kitchen needs.

That was the case with Greenridge, a 6,000-square-foot, shingle-style spec house that Engerman Contracting of Lake Geneva put up on the footprint of a neglected 1920s Dutch Colonial. The constraints involved in building the house were formidable. The 1.01-acre site was just over the one-acre cutoff for less restrictive zoning setbacks; it had to comply with a 30-foot, side-yard setback on a parcel of land that was just 95 feet wide. "The challenge was to build a 6,000-square-foot lake cottage that would be less than 35 feet wide but not look like a mobile home," says Jason Bernard, the McCormack + Etten/Architects' project manager who did the plans and elevations. Throw in the desire for as many lake views as possible and you get a real design puzzler.

Putting up the four-story, four-bedroom house during the winter of 2002, which saw 30-below wind chills, was no picnic either. That's one reason Engerman had the house panelized by Sterling Building Systems of Wausau, Wis. "What would have taken us three months took us 3 1/2 weeks," says Engerman, president and owner of Engerman Contracting. "In the field, we can't cut things as accurately as Sterling can get it to us."

Views are a major focus, so it's no surprise that the cottage-style, cedar-shingled house is full of windows. So many, in fact, and so expertly configured, that the house was recently named Best of Show for the 2003 Vetter Inspired Project Awards. "We kind of twisted the window shapes and configurations around to make it more of a cottage style," says Engerman.

"Given that the main floor of the house is no wider than 35 feet, getting a direct view of the lake through the great room was pretty difficult, but we were able to achieve that," says Bernard. "The 'wow' factor of seeing the lake is usually the main goal for these houses."

The great room has the requisite fireplace and entertainment center, but it's the view of Lake Geneva that really steals the show here.
Courtesy Vetter Window & Doors The great room has the requisite fireplace and entertainment center, but it's the view of Lake Geneva that really steals the show here.

Location: Lake Geneva, Wis.; Size: 6,000 square feet; Architect: McCormack + Etten/Architects, Lake Geneva; Builder: Engerman Contracting, Lake Geneva

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Houston, TX, Austin, TX, Salt Lake City, UT.