Having outgrown their fixer-upper in a Dallas neighborhood they loved, Paul Field and his wife went looking for a site to build anew. Paul, who is a principal with the design/build firm Wernerfield, intended to design the house himself but, given his busy workload prior to 2020, he knew he would need another contractor to build it for them. Although they looked far and wide for nearly a year, they eventually reached the conclusion we all once learned from the Wizard of Oz: There’s no place like home.
“We looked all around Dallas to find a lot that would speak to us,” Paul recalls. “But anything we did like was out of our price range or too far out of Dallas. We finally realized we loved the property we had. We had put a lot of work into the land, and it made sense to preserve it.” There was another layer of nostalgia, too—Paul had started his firm in the old welding shed in the backyard.
The cottage they had remodeled over the years is located in a Dallas neighborhood known for its artistic and “funky” bent. “It’s called Little Forest Hills—and for a good reason,” he says. “Because there’s some topography to it. Our property drops 12 to 14 feet to a creek in back, and there’s a nice rural feel to it despite being in the city. And we’re near White Rock Lake. It was our first home as a couple. But what we were really drawn to was the property, and not so much the house.”
It’s rare to find an urban property that lives like a rural one—with immersion in nature a tantalizing possibility. When Paul and his wife set out to reimagine how they might live in their new house, taking advantage of these possibilities was paramount. The goal was not just to view nature from the prospect of the house, but to infuse it directly into the program. The result is a new building that follows the footprint of the original structure but is partially submerged to squeeze in more square footage and is slathered like the tiers of a wedding cake with multiple levels of planted roofs.
A swimming pool snugs right up against the house at the rear, its dark plaster and coping causing it to reflect its surroundings rather than compete with them. Indeed, the house will only recede farther over time, as climbing foliage thickens over trellises and fences. “A bright blue pool in the forest didn’t seem right—it should be more like a pond,” says Paul. “We wanted to make the house disappear on the site. That was our approach for our own home and it’s the firm’s approach—to create designs that are appropriate and understated. We like things that live, change over time, and rust.”
To that end, ¼-inch-thick carbon steel panels on the exterior are left untreated to age and patina; COR-TEN fascia and flashing will follow suit. On the interior, the steel panels are lightly coated in linseed oil to prevent rusting and stabilize the appearance. The application highlights the panels’ forging and rolling marks and lends an overall burnished look to the material.
In fact, Paul chose all the materials based on their character and patina, as well as their substance and durability: “There’s not a single sheet of Sheetrock in this house. And that was one of my goals. It’s a personal thing—I’m so tired of doing painted drywall.” Wood, steel, and concrete replace the dreaded drywall, and each is celebrated for its intrinsic beauty. “I like materials that have a brutal elegance to them,” he says.
Of course, sourcing and installing those materials—in particular, the board-formed concrete walls—added another layer of effort and complexity to the project. So it was a good thing Paul found a talented general contractor to take on the job of building this highly bespoke, handcrafted house—himself.
“We had planned on hiring someone else to build it,” he explains. “But because of COVID, business had slowed down at the firm and with the prices we were getting from other builders, we just could not afford it. It became apparent that I would need to design and build the house. I had planned on doing some of the work, but I ended up doing fourfold the amount I had planned on. Instead of taking the 12 months to build I thought it would, it ended up taking about 19 months. But that’s right in line with the 18 months we typically tell clients. We rented a house about two miles away, so it actually worked out great.”
The big downside to building a house of your own design is you don’t get much satisfaction in blaming the architect. “When I had to install 250 of those cantilevered dowels in the steel plates for the wine wall, I was definitely cussing the architect,” says Paul.
On the plus side, taking his time and working through design problems on site typically resulted in more satisying outcomes. Take, for instance, the kitchen island that morphs into the dining table. It has a straight edge on the kitchen side but reaches into the dining area with a sinuous live edge. “It’s made of two pieces of black walnut that I cut, sanded, and assembled myself,” says Paul. “It was nice to have it in place, take it down, work on it some more, eyeball it, and put it back.”
The cooktop burners emerge from the wood on a platform of Dekton, a hardy, heat-resistant material often used in outdoor kitchens. That’s appropriate here, because the kitchen and dining area open to the rear pool and yard with a window wall system, further blurring the distinction between indoors and out.
Paul devised a floor plan with as few walls as possible, so all key rooms can benefit from that connection. The main floor is completely open, except for a central furniture-like core that contains the kitchen cabinetry on one side, the living room built-in on the other, and a powder room and pantry at each end in between—all clad in walnut. “We try to keep a simple palette. Not every room is a different theme; the project is the theme,” he says. “We want to make it about the space, and the light and feel.”
Excavating allowed him to capture the extra square footage his family pined for—a lower-level family room, an en-suite bedroom for his teenage daughter, and another en-suite bedroom for guests. Leaving the steel structure and framing exposed in places allowed some areas of the lower level to reach 11 feet high. “Typically, this neighborhood allows for 30 feet of height. With the basement being submerged, we were just able to get underneath the height requirement. We have 9-foot ceilings on the first level; 8-foot on the top level,” says Paul. “But with all the transparency of the glass, it’s really about looking out from inside the house and into the foliage.”
Located on the top floor, the primary bedroom suite takes full advantage of the treetop views at the rear, while remaining shielded from the streetside western exposure by a windowless dressing room. The bedroom connects directly to an east-facing patio adjacent to the planted roof. Multiple steel-lined skylights—over the circular stair, over the vanities in the primary bath, in the dressing room, and over the bed—bring in natural light and eventually leafy views from the top tier garden. “Once the vines fill in, we’ll be looking up to vines and flowers,” says Paul.
Off the primary bathroom is an outdoor shower—a special request by Paul’s wife. It occupies a private niche, protected from view by a metal mesh curtain and a copious canopy of trees. Nearby is a metal ladder to the upper roof garden. Here, Paul designed an irrigation system for the planters. The water trickles down through roof drains to a water cistern on the lower roof, where it’s used to irrigate additional plantings. Eventually, the remainder works its way to the ground, percolating back to the creek.
The Sounds of Silence
At every turn, Casa Campo works with nature to capture and restore its benefits. The house will eventually merge into its site visually, but it also attempts to minimize the impact on other senses. Those beefy, steel-clad wall assemblies combine with board-formed concrete walls, polished concrete floors, and geothermal climate control to make a very quiet house. You might actually hear that water trickling down from the roof gardens.
“The board-formed concrete was a big splurge, and I wrestled with it,” says Paul. “But I’m very glad we did it. Inside the house, there’s a very different feel and sound. It’s so quiet—even with all the glass. And with the geothermal system, we eliminated an eyesore and even more noise. You do not notice it turning on and off. I hated the idea of noisy condensing units.”
Indeed, experiencing nature is as much about listening to its music and breathing in its fragrances as about observing its beauty. Casa Campo is like the best camping trip you ever dreamed of: full immersion in restorative nature, while drifting off blissfully to sleep in your own bed at night.
Architect: Paul Field, Wernerfield, Dallas
Builder: Wernerfield, Dallas
Interior Designer: Wernerfield
Landscape Architect: John Armstrong, Armstrong Berger, Dallas
Pool/Patio: AquaTerra Outdoor Environments
Project Size: 3,111 square feet
Site Size: 0.22 acre
Construction Cost: Withheld
Photography: Robert Tsai
Cladding: Carbon Steel Panels
Cooking Ventilation: Zephyr
Entry Doors/Door Hardware: Emtek
Faucets: Hansgrohe, COCOON
HVAC: Excel Geothermal
Ovens/Dishwasher/Specialty Appliances: Bosch
Roofing: Concrete + Traffic topping (level 1); TPO (level 2)
Sinks: Miseno (kitchen and utility), Kohler (secondary)
Steel Fabrication: Firefly Metal Works
Thermal/Moisture Barriers: Carlisle
Wine Cooling Unit: WhisperKOOL
Windows/Window Wall Systems: Quantum Windows & Doors
Skylights: Birdview Skylights
Spiral Stair: Enzie