Inspired by Nature, Designed with Love

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My blog boss — my daughter, Alexandra — informs me that if I have a “Design” category on my blog, I need to put content in it. Since this post is my first design story, a caveat, disclaimer, or excuse is in order, before I launch into sharing a design project further down in this post.

I love design — whether objects, architecture or landscape.

I have no formal training in any of these categories.

In the morning when I reach for a coffee mug, I scrutinize its form, balance, and texture.


When I walk through the ranch house courtyard, my eye examines the color and spacing of the plants and then follows the line of rock that borders the garden bed as it points into the distance revealing the wildness of the ranch landscape and horizon beyond — after which I analyze the entire relationship.


When I look at a structure, be it a falling barn or modern building, I survey every inch — noting the range of materials, scale, and detailing — and then I pull back and observe how it sits in its place, how the light on it falls, and how the wind blows around it.


These are not long studies. They are just how I see. All the time.

A rhetorical theory major, I know better than to pull a quote out of context from Aristotle because he was a master at extended argument to support his thought so to do so robs of the true and deeper explanation. But here goes, I will do it anyway.

“The soul never thinks without a picture” (Aristotle).

This fits me.

My friends and family agonize over how long I take to move on a design project. To give you an idea, a few weeks ago I installed sconces in the kid’s ranch house bathroom and we built the house six years ago; I’m left with only two locations of exposed wiring waiting for lights.

It is not just that so many possibilities exist, but I’ve learned that most times where I start out on a project is not the direction I end up, and taking my time makes for a better result. Plus, the work is fun. In the working on it period, I think and observe and dream and detail the details. I like the longness of it.

For any Troutman family reading this (Troutman is my maiden name), you can attest that the Troutman’s are a creative bunch — artists, builders, and thinkers abound. Growing up, my passion was sports. I was convinced the creative gene skipped me entirely — my evidence always being I cannot draw beyond a stick figure. Half a century later (ugh), I understand creativity unfolds in countless ways, and I want to uncover my genetic heritage.

I have a personal style. Click here to visit my blog Pinterest to gain a sense of design style I am drawn to — simple, quiet, solid, classic and modern. I love a beautifully designed chair.

Nothing inspires me more than the catalog of design nature provides.

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Most of my design stories will feature the landscaping, house, or furniture and objects at the ranch — many made from or inspired by natural elements found at the ranch. I’ll throw in a few thoughts on the design of favorite products I use and love or dream about.

My style may not fit your home or life. Most of the things I design for the ranch wouldn’t be fitting in my own home in San Antonio; however, they fit the ranch sense of place. The beauty is in the process — putting yourself in the project for you and for your family — from imagining what is possible to realizing the final result.

I hope you find fun and pleasure looking at and learning about my design process. Maybe it will call you to consider design in your own world.


What’s by your bedside? When we moved in the ranch house, our master bedroom had a bed, an antique campaign chest, two chairs and a telescope (not aimed at the stars but at Jim’s deer feeder across the ridge). We needed bedside tables.


It was winter a few years ago when Jim, his sister (in town for a visit), and Jimmy, took on the project of cutting down a black walnut tree that had been standing dead for a couple years. We loaded the tree trunk on the trailer and hauled it to the mill in Comfort.

The result was a pile of wood cut in varying shapes and thicknesses and a beautiful, thick, live-edge walnut desk for my side of the bed. You can see a picture of the desk in the post “Take Comfort: My Blog Introduction.”


A blank space remained on Jim’s side.

Months after my bedside desk was in place, Jim declared he was growing impatient and would like a reading light on his side of the bed. I knew I would not find a purchased piece that would balance the style of the desk, not to mention the personal connection.

I told Jim I was looking, but secretly I was designing. Designing for someone I love is my favorite design process because I am thinking of the person throughout.

I thought of Jim and what he would like, and I also considered what materials and style would share the value but not exactly match the black walnut desk.

I stayed stumped until one morning sitting at my favorite local coffee shop, Local Coffee.

Raw Steel.

The ranch house shares a similar aesthetic to Local Coffee — reclaimed wood, slightly industrial although still warm, and a modern interior set in a structure representative of a time past. The black raw steel countertops of Local Coffee provided the solution.

Time spent determining dimensions and details preceded a trip to see Pete. A master woodworker, Pete is the person who listens to the crazy design ideas in my head and brings them to reality.


Having several pending projects waiting to be built at Pete’s shop, I am hesitant to promote his business, Old South Restoration & Wood Shop, but I have to recognize his talent and give credit where due.


Along with being a genuine, friendly, and kind person, Pete is an expert at his craft, he is diligent and committed to quality, and by applying a labor of love to his work he is wealthy from the mastery of it. If you seek him out for work, be ready to wait a year and know you are in line behind me!

I took Pete the plans for a metal box with three wood faced drawers. He would use the boards milled from the same black walnut as the desk, so the tree from our property flanked our bedsides.

Here is how the work proceeded:

Pete ordered the metal sheared in pieces and then he welded the cabinet into shape.


He constructed a wood box frame to hold the drawers and the entire wood unit slid into the metal cabinet.


The patterning of black walnut is wild — swirling grain of varying colors — so we studied how to best order the wood pieces for the drawer fronts.


Flipping boards to find a pleasing arrangement led to a design change. Instead of three shallow drawers, we planned one top drawer the full width of the board and a large lower drawer fronted by two boards glued together.

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Once the drawers were in place, I headed back to Pete’s shop to finalize plans for the cabinet legs and hardware.

We studied several leg options.

Walnut wood legs? No.


Steel legs? Yes, that was the choice.

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Now, to select the drawer hardware.

The original plan was for Pete to manufacture hardware out of steel to match the cabinet. None of the options seemed right.

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Staying true to my taking my time approach, I had Pete drill a hold for one centered pull on each drawer and left a final decision until I found the right hardware.

Meanwhile, Pete sanded and waxed the steel and wood, bringing to life the black steel and rich wood colors. Pete knows wood and is known for his skill in perfecting a finish. Whether wax, stain, paint, varnish or lacquer, Pete is the best at recommending and executing a finishing plan. No stain, paint or lacquer needed for this piece — black walnut comes alive with waxing only.

Delivery day came, and I still had not found hardware. Pete delivered the finished piece with lime green tape sticking through the drilled holes as a temporary solution to open the drawers. I hid the cabinet from Jim and continued working on a hardware selection.

Speaking of drawers, Jim is notorious for not closing them. True to customizing the piece for Jim, Pete used self-closing drawer hardware. What a nifty invention, I need to retrofit every drawer in our house!

I finally found hardware from an online retailer that fit my sense of design as outlined earlier in this post — simple, quiet, solid, classic and modern. The brass pull is a departure from matching, a pop of color, and a pretty shape. Perfect.


Deciding to have a large lower drawer presented another opportunity to personalize the project to Jim. Jim has an interest in Civil War history and his favorite movie is Glory, so what better blanket to go in his deep bedside drawer than a Fort Sumter Wool blanket from the Woolrich Civil War collection.

Blanket present wrapped and bedside table in place, Jim was completely surprised.





And yes, Jim now has a reading light by his bedside. The idea to make a light was tempting, but this time it was quicker to find a vintage style lamp from The Tiny Finch, one of my favorite stores in San Antonio.


Yes, it took longer — a journey from a pile of milled wood, to hours of thinking, to waiting for Pete’s schedule, to working through the details — but the satisfaction does not compare to a store bought purchase. Time, fun, skill, personal relationships, and love built Jim’s bedside table.

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