Charles Todd Helton’s Residential Cathedral in Texas

In the Piney Woods of Eastern Texas, this one-story home utilizes some of the hallmarks of modern architecture but gives the cozy feeling of a national park lodge

Charles Todd Helton Architect Peponi Pine Lodge
Charles Todd Helton Architect's Peponi Pine Lodge Sketch

[Author’s Note: When our Modern Home Tour series had to be put on pause in early 2020, we transitioned to writing about (instead of showing) some fantastic projects from of some of our architect/designer/builder friends. While most of our features have highlighted homes that are modern inside and out, this home is quite different. To me, modern is both a design style and a theory. Sometimes a home is completely traditional in its style and interior design, but secretly holds a lot of modern design principles within its build. Despite showcasing and talking about modern architecture and design in my daily life, I am an owner of a 90-year-old Tudor-style house and have a vast personal collection of music media, instruments, movies, books, and collectibles (a.k.a. toys). An high energy-efficient and self-sustainable home with open spaces, lots of sunlight, and tons of built-in casework is the type of home I wish to live in. Please enjoy this personal pick of mine for the final Featured Home of 2020.]

This 4,300 square foot one-story residence has been dubbed “Peponi Pine Lodge.” The three-word moniker represents three distinct characteristics of the home. In Swahili, “Peponi” translates to paradise and/or sanctuary. The owners spent time living in Africa and wanted a word to describe the home and keep that connection to their former homeland. Pine because it sits in a national forest in the Piney Woods Ecosystem. And “Lodge,” rather than house or home, because the owners wanted the interior to have the feel of a warm and cozy national park lodge; imagine coming in from the cold after or during a hike to grab a cup of hot cocoa and sit by the fire.

The architect’s original concept sketch and the final floorplan.

The clients hired Charles Todd Helton Architect based on work they had seen in magazines and on the annual Houston Modern Home Tour; their requests were minimal and easy to meet. First and foremost, they are world travelers and have spent a lot of time in faraway lands collecting artwork and objects; they needed a home that could proudly display their fine collection of global souvenirs. They also liked the idea of open spaces but did not want the minimalist/modern art museum feel – in fact, quite the opposite, they wanted the welcoming feel of a lodge. Finally, because the home is located in a rural area, it needed to be self-sustainable and highly efficient in its water and energy use.

Charles Todd Helton went right to work to address the needs and requests at hand. The final product is incredibly self-sustainable and could one day be entirely off-the-grid. [Note: it is not yet, but ready to be when the owners are ready.] For water, the home employs a rainwater catchment and wastewater reclamation and recycling systems; a closed-loop geothermal heat pump system supplies both heating and cooling climate control. And for power, a massive southern-facing solar array eliminates a large amount of electrical costs.

Charles Todd Helton Architect Peponi Pine Lodge
Charles Todd Helton Architect's Peponi Pine Lodge

In addition to those two systems, the home uses several smart designs and passive techniques for the heating and cooling. The home is set on the property in a northern facing direction. Large windows at the front of the home (facing north) bring in the softer blue light all year round, while the southern facing windows allow for passive solar heating in the winter months. To help keep the home cool during the hot Texas summers, the galvalume metal roof has large overhangs and there are no large windows to the east or west. The home has also been given a white exterior to reflect even more solar rays, and the exterior walls are thicker-than-usual and filled with foam insulation.

The entryway and foyer, which welcomes guests into this incredibly warm and cozy lodge home.

As guests approach, the custom cement-fiber lapped siding comes sharply into view. The design of the siding in the entry porch is Helton’s. Stained pine soffits on the porch ceiling add color and set the tone for the interior’s warm and inviting feel, which comes immediately. A cement patio starts here and wraps around the whole home. Visitors enter the mahogany front door and step onto gorgeous hickory flooring in a parquet pattern. A bench is situated to the left for taking off shoes, and the gentleman of the home’s office is immediately to the right. A hallway runs east-west and separates the foyer from the next room. All the archways are cased in pine.

It’s worth reminding visitors that the owners are extensive world travelers. Many pieces of art, sculptures, books, maps, and collectibles from all over the globe can be seen in the pictures that follow. The collection, coupled with the wood-heavy design, gives the home a warm and inviting feeling while utilizing some of the hallmarks of modern architecture.

Charles Todd Helton Architect Living Room
The great living room has cathedral ceilings and plenty of natural light.

Straight ahead from the foyer, visitors see large prairie-style wooden windows and door on the rear/southern wall of the home, bringing in all that soft blue sunlight; the door provides access to the rear patio. This great room is set in the direct center of the very symmetrical home. The floors shift from parquet to planks here, still that beautiful hickory, and run throughout the home. The cathedral ceilings in this room start at 12’ and rise to a peak of 16’. Tongue and groove pine [continues] from the soffits outside to the ceiling inside. Purlins come down from the ceilings and run into the pilaster columns on the wall. A comfortable couch and chair provide seating, artwork and sculptures adorn the room. The right wall has a classic stone laden gas fireplace, which provides heat in the winter without producing particulates into the air.

The inner window allows views between the kitchen and living room.

To the left is the dividing wall between the living room and the kitchen. The wall allows passage on either side, but also has a large interior window cut out. So, while the kitchen and living room are not one large shared space, between passage on each side of the wall and the large inner window, the connection between both spaces is great and visibility is open. One final convenient placement: the television is on the far wall across from the kitchen’s inner window, making watching TV while cooking easy.

A gallery of the kitchen and dining room.

Moving into the kitchen, this section of the home ties three areas together; the breakfast nook, kitchen, and dining room run in succession from the south to the north and are separated by half-height walls that provide counterspace but allow visibility between all. The kitchen has 12’ ceilings and porcelain tile floors. Rather than a kitchen island, this space has two walls that hold all appliances and lots of gorgeous stained oak cabinetry (with display space above). Countertops are all quartz, and the chefs cook on a gloriously large Viking oven/range. The dining room fills in the southern portion of this space, separated from the kitchen by the east-west hallway.

The library is completely covered in maple.

A doorway next to the breakfast nook leads to the library. This southwest-corner room was modeled after libraries found in old manor homes in England. The standout feature of the room is the full wall of built-in shelves and its surrounding wood paneling, all made of maple. The room has tons of artwork, artifacts, and sculptures, and has a gas fireplace. It even has its own powder room behind a maple paneled door. The ceilings are 15’ and coffered, again meeting pilasters that run down the walls. It is very decorative but so incredibly welcoming and warm with plenty of light coming in from the southern window wall. 

Charles Todd Helton Architect Guest Room
A view from one of the two guest rooms. The cathedral ceilings are painted pine.

The northwestern part of the home, adjacent to the dining room, has a few spaces to explore. First, at the end of the east-west hallway is one of two guest bedrooms, complete with its own full bathroom. From the kitchen, a small hallway brings guests past the walk-in pantry, mudroom, and closet, through a door and out to the six-car garage via covered walkway. This is the family’s primary entrance.

Charles Todd Helton Architect office
A beautiful office for the lady of the house has plenty of storage and counterspace.

Back through to the other half of the home, walking down the east-west hall, guests find a powder room, a second guest room, and an office for the lady of the home in the corner. The entire southeast quadrant of the home is reserved for the master suite and gym.

The home gym and master bedroom. Since this photo was taken, the bedroom has been adorned with artwork.

The workout room is off the main hall. It provides immediate access to the master bathroom and to the wrap-around porch outside. A short hallway leads to the master bedroom, which has coffered ceilings like the library, and walls filled with figurative realism paintings. The bed and furniture are antique. The bedroom does have access to the living room at the opposite corner of the hallway entrance.

The master bathroom tub and separate vanities

The master bathroom has porcelain tile floors and his and hers vanities located adjacently in separate spaces; hers has a little more room. Next to his, a door provides access to the large walk-in closet. But the real star of the bathroom is the large soaking tub with porcelain deck and large window above, facing the woods to the south. A large shower is right next to the tub; either one is excellent for both bathing and relaxing. The layout is simple, and the space is modest, but it is no less perfect and comforting.

This is truly a different home than most we showcase here. The interior design is ornate and more like that of a national park’s lodge, rather than a study in clean lines and minimalist interiors. The rooms are well divided, rather than sharing an open concept, though, through creative use of an inner kitchen window and lots of wide doorways, all the spaces feel connected and together. Yes, this home is certainly more traditional in feel, but it makes use of several modern design hallmarks, like the connection between spaces, use of natural light, high efficiency, and self-sustainability. It’s a home that this author would jump at the chance to live in.

Charles Todd Helton Architect Back Patio
Peponi Pine Lodge's back patio

Charles Todd Helton Architect
Based in: Houston, TX

Photo Credit: Jerry B. Smith Photography

Project Neighborhood:
Number of Bedrooms: 3
Number of Bathrooms: 3½
Approximate Square Footage: 8,500
New build – Year Built: 2017


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