In Terlingua, Far West Texas, just miles from the majestic Big Bend National Park, Willow House offers a rural refuge in the remotest of locations.
The Lone Star State’s vast desert is renowned for its indescribable magnificence. The rugged landscapes of the Chisos Mountain Range and Santa Elena Canyon dotted with pops of colour from the growing ocotillo create a scenic backdrop of beauty and tranquillity. This isn’t a place you’d expect to find a retreat with brutalist-cum-modernist simplicities at its very heart.
But a self-governing town with little more than 300 full-time residents, Terlingua is a setting that evokes visions of a utopian spaghetti Western, with its ‘ghost town’ reputation completed by dusty clay roads and motels. It’s a throwback to the Wild West era – a place to gaze out onto the endless desert frontier, a place to escape, a place to disconnect.
It’s the latter that made Willow House founder Lauren Werner choose here for her retreat. Neither a designer nor an architect, California-native Werner’s love for the desert made her mastermind Willow House in Far West Texas.
The new wave of desert modernism
Open since spring of 2019, Willow House is set on 287 acres opposite the Willow Mountain, at the basin of Big Bend National Park. The land was flat, buildable and offered breath-taking views across the desert – the ideal location for 12 concrete, single-storey casitas.
The cubic casitas may look brutalist-inspired, yet they’ve been designed with the landscape in mind with the minimalist straight lines and edges not wanting to distract from the desert surroundings.
Natural coloured concrete was used to help preserve the landscape. Willow House is about being at one with nature, rather than interrupting it, in fitting with Werner’s ethos of ‘respect, preservation and protect’. Any rocks or ocotillo which hindered the build were moved and relocated elsewhere in the surrounding area.
Imaginably, water is scarce within the desert but that was merely an obstacle to overcome at Willow House. It simply drilled its own well, using heavy duty pumps to filter the water and make it consumable through using solar power. The retreat itself even describes the feat as “a big moment for the project”.
The harsh Texan weather has also played its part during the design and build of Willow House. Summers in Big Bend National Park are notoriously brutal, with concentrated UV exposure and temperatures exceeding 100°F, whilst wind speeds reach upwards of 70 miles per hour and severe desert storms strike the area at other times of the year.
Werner’s solution was to insulate the casitas against the rougher weather, whilst open space on the patioed areas allow for easy airflow.
The pièce de résistance at Willow House is the main house, a 1,500 st ft standalone retreat with escape at front of mind. This communal oasis is for all guests to enjoy, featuring cooking facilities, fire pits and built-in benches, and creates a shared solitude experience for everyone, as if you’ve all been transported to a desolate land for a relaxation break. The oversized windows act as picture frames, capturing the beauty of the outward landscape.
Ranging in size, the casitas offer ample space away from the main house with patios allowing for that extra touch of privacy to enjoy the starry Texan evenings. Shaded spots have been created through using dead ocotillo leaves – a sustainable use of what the land offers.
A highlight of Willow House is the décor style used throughout. Werner was so keen to ensure she achieved the perfect hues and tones to complement the surrounding region, she carried a rock from the basin in her rucksack when looking for the interiors. Far West Texan influences spread to New York City and Los Angeles for features, whilst local companies and artwork appear in abundance – something key to Werner’s thoughts on how the casitas should look and feel.
Inside the rooms, a pallet of sand, coral and amber mixes with the light grey concrete to create an interior which seems uber-minimalist yet is welcoming and homely. Timeworn treasures from vintage hauls include lamps, rugs and seating only add to the luxurious simplicity of the hotel.
It’s been five years since Lauren Werner first fell in love with the magic of Big Bend National Park. At Willow House in Texas, she has used her passion for the land and masterminded something far greater than a hotel – it’s a meditative refuge surrounded by the pure beauty of the Lone Star State.