A place to meditate, pray, or sit and enjoy nature—that's the agenda for quiet structures that stand alone in the midst of trees, sun, and sky. From urban lots to wooded acreages, it's the settings that drove the details for these places of repose.

CH060901008_cho-1(300)Texas Teahouse

A mostly retired couple with a spectacular but untamed backyard wanted to enjoy their exterior assets. Taking the advice of their landscape contractor, the homeowners worked with architect Gregory Thomas to design a teahouse like those they saw in Japan but in a style of that fit their Austin, Texas, home. Wood is a prime material in both places, so that choice was easy. Thomas employed careful proportions, tapered rafters, and graduated stiles on the railing to evoke Japanese construction. But the use of unfinished cedar and ipé and limestone pavers fits the Texas vernacular.

The teahouse perches on the edge of the lawn, where it offers a bird's-eye view of the river below. The sound of flowing water dampens traffic noise and adds to the calm atmosphere. Several circuitous paths lead to and from the screened enclosure and are “designed to slow you down and give you permission to pause and reflect,” says Thomas.

Builder: Trinity Builders, Austin, Texas; Architect: Gregory Thomas Architect, Austin; Landscape contractor: Fred Strauss, Austin; Photographer: Casey Dunn.


CH060901008_cho-3(300)Sticks and Stones

Marty Leonard loves her 3.5 acres of woodland so much that she had them designated as a wildlife preserve. She also wanted to make it clear how special the site is to her by building “a spiritual place to go to—something small and open.” Leonard called on Arkansas-based Maurice Jennings + David McKee Architects to design her chapel among the trees. “We did a circular crown to represent the circle of life and all of the other connotations of a circle,” Jennings says, “then we wanted these light and airy parts supporting it that seem treelike.” The structure fans out into an 11-foot diameter with stone pavers as flooring. Redwood beams holding up the metal crown will weather to the color of neighboring tree trunks. Jennings likes that “the structural system has a soothing effect through its meditative repetition.” All components were cut and built off site then brought in by hand.

CH060901008_cho-4(200)Builder: Larry Frymeyer, Ft. Worth, Texas; Architect: Maurice Jennings + David McKee Architects, Fayetteville, Ark.; Photographer: Greg Hursley.


  • Credit: Thomas Gene Allen

Something Old, Something New

How many tire rims does it take to make seven columns exactly 8 feet tall? Architect Susan May Allen went through 112 rims in order to get the right combination. Allen wanted to create a gazebo from unwanted scraps and also to make a statement. Living on a small farm in rural Indiana, she has an affinity for agricultural buildings, which led to the wire and metal top of a corn crib becoming the gazebo roof. Removing the corncrib cap exposes a hole in the gazebo's conical roof that prevents high winds from carrying it away. The opening came in handy during assembly. A neighbor stopped by with his old logging machine and helped Allen and her husband lift the roof into place by threading a logging chain around an old wagon wheel inside the hole.

Set in the middle of a field where horses graze, the gazebo's 8-foot-tall welded columns allow equine visitors to wander through without damage. For humans, it's a place to hang out in the countryside and enjoy panoramic views. “After a rough day, this is a thoughtful, peaceful place where I can lose myself,” says Allen.

Builder/Architect: Susan Allen, Architects, Morgantown, Ind.; Logger/Roof lifter: Chris Law; Photographer: Thomas Gene Allen, AIA


  • Credit: Charles Davis Smith

No Fly Zone

Once their new house was completed, these Dallas homeowners needed a place outside to enjoy the mild climate, preferably a haven free of flying insects. “The owners and I talked a lot about what that space should be,” says architect Dan Shipley. “We decided that it would be a destination.” After walking across the entire yard, visitors to the “bug shelter” are turned toward the house through a planned entry sequence. Shipley felt entering from the back of the screened building generated a sense of arrival. The almost cube (the roof angles down to help shed leaves) rests lightly on the ground. Four concrete pads hold up an angle iron frame filled with bronze screens sandwiched between 2x2 mahogany slats. Shipley selected bronze screens because “the quality changes throughout the day as light shines on it from different angles.” An asymmetrical framing pattern adds to the openness by drawing the eye in several directions. Even the roof is screened so all other elements except bugs—like rain and wind—can pass through.

  • Credit: Charles Davis Smith

Builder/Architect: Dan Shipley Architects, Dallas; Carpenter: Alan Scott, Dallas; Photographer: Charles Davis Smith