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Spread Oaks Ranch—named for the magnificent mottes of massive live oaks that predominate on the property—is the passion project of Forrest Wylie, who was born in Hobbs, New Mexico. His father worked in the oil fields, which meant the family relocated often. When Wylie was in elementary school, the family landed in Wharton, Texas, near the Colorado River and just north of where Spread Oaks Ranch is located.
During this time, he and his friends went hunting and fishing on “tennis-shoe” leases. “We were trespassing, essentially,” Wylie explains about the early-life escapades. “So we had to run like hell if the landowner showed up!”
When Wylie was in high school, the family moved to Rosenberg, Texas, closer to Houston and on the Brazos River. He worked on farms and cattle ranches before landing a gig in the oil fields like his dad. In his free time, he and his buddies would tie on their tennis shoes and hunt and fish on the Brazos.
“As I got older and started having a little bit of success, I thought it would be neat to go back where I came from, which is really between the Colorado and Brazos [rivers], and have a place where I didn’t have to wear tennis shoes!” Wylie says. So he started looking around for some productive land—land that could be farmed and ranched while supporting a wealth of wildlife.
About 10 years ago, Wylie bought the first of three parcels that would become Spread Oaks Ranch, which is located on the coastal prairie near Bay City, Texas, about an hour-and-half from Houston. Today, the 5,500-acre ranch supports a 500-head Brangus cattle operation, 2,500 acres of conventional and organic farming, and a waterfowl habitat system that is supported by the organic farming operation. The fields of organic corn, soybean and rice are flooded after harvest to create managed wetlands for migratory birds and waterfowl, including ducks, doves, geese and sandhill cranes. The integrated system, which also includes habitat for whitetail deer, dove and other native wildlife, is orchestrated by Ranch Manager Tim Soderquist, a former regional senior director for Ducks Unlimited.
“What we’re trying to do is show that you can integrate all three things successfully—the ranching, farming and wildlife habitat—and that it’s actually better for the land,” explains Wylie. Spread Oaks Ranch is part of the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program (TFRLCP), which supports responsible stewardship and conservation of working lands by protecting them from fragmentation and development. “They actually encouraged me to put a for-profit hunting lodge on the farm because they wanted people to see what you can do with the land,” Wylie explains.Wylie enlisted the help of residential designer Brandon Breaux, interior designer Ginger Barber and landscape architect Heath Thibodeaux to create the 14,300-square foot facility. Wylie had one request for the design team: that the dining room and wine cellar overlook a certain stand of spectacular spread oaks.
That’s where the footprint for the lodge was born. The compound includes a functional-yet-elegant main house, a quaint cowboy cabin with three guest casitas, a spacious garage with a bunk room/game room above, multiple outdoor areas, and a gorgeous greenhouse that supports the ranch’s field-to-table sensibility.
Huge windows in the great room showcase the six-acre lake—one of about 40 on the property, and the only one exclusively intended for “human habitat” rather than wildlife habitat. The lake is stocked with largemouth bass and several types of panfish. A specimen spread oak at the opposite end of the lake from the lodge is up-lit for a dramatic scene at night.
The materials palette—indigenous rock, metal, steel, hand-hewn cedar timbers, antique French oak, and limestone—fits into the ranch-style architecture, while making the new structure appear immediately aged. “We wanted to make it look like ruins; like it’s been there a hundred years and we built around structures that were already existing,” explains Breaux.
Take, for instance, the stone walls which are featured on both interior and exterior spaces—a technique that creates seamlessness between inside and outside. Stone walls often have a pattern, but that’s not the look Breaux wanted. “So we had the masons do a process where there were no scraps or waste,” he says. “If they had to chisel a stone to make it fit, I wanted them to keep all of rubble and use it to fill in. That’s what gave it a patinaed look automatically.”
Barber had the same goal with the interior design. “Everything had to feel strong and earthy,” she describes. “I also didn’t want anyone to have to worry about anything—I wanted everything to withstand a lot of wear and tear.” Thus, the use of sturdy leather furniture, elegant outdoor fabric on indoor dining chairs, ethnic flat-weave rugs, and antique furniture that will only get better with age. Barber’s love of mixing wood, stone, clay and texture—including wicker, leather, and faux hide—also played into the success of this project.
The ubiquitous oak trees cradle the main lodge and casitas, creating a “room” outdoors. “Akin to the inside of the house where you have four walls and a ceiling, the same thing happens with garden spaces, but it’s more diverse and dynamic,” Thibodeaux says. “These live oak trees really set the ceiling for the exterior garden space.” Other indigenous plantings—lantana, iris, Turks cap, Texas star hibiscus, butterfly bush, and more—add to the sense of place while supporting local pollinators.
The ranch, which is used for corporate retreats, meetings, and weddings in addition to hunting expeditions, rents for $10,000 per day for up to 10 people, inclusive of lodging, meals prepared by a renowned field-to-table chef, and guided hunting and fishing excursions on the property. There is so much demand that plans are already in the works to add additional guest quarters.
“I love it so much, so I’m not surprised other people love it,” says Wylie. “For me it’s a lot of fun. I don’t hunt like I used to. The people who come out here are the attraction now.”Architect Brandon Breaux, Principal, Brandon Breaux Design, LLC
Interior Designer Ginger Barber, Owner, Ginger Barber Design, Inc.
Landscape Architect Heath J. Thibodeaux, HJT Landscape Architects, LLC