Inside Laura and George W. Bush's Breezy Texas Ranch House

bush ranch exterior crawford texas
Wyman Meinzer, Architectural DigestBluebonnets and Indian paintbrush flowers brighten the grounds of Prairie Chapel Ranch, Laura and George W. Bush's residence in Crawford, Texas;
Bush Library
APLaura and George W. Bush
By Mitchell Owens

Central Texas, especially that sweet spot halfway between Dallas and Austin where small swaths of the legendary old prairies remain, is an earthly paradise. Blowsy live oaks spread their heavy limbs beneath cloud-spattered skies, while creeks and rivers -- most prominently the meandering Brazos -- ripple alongside gently rolling pastures gilded with waving grasses. These natural glories are precisely what led Laura and George W. Bush to choose the area for their Prairie Chapel Ranch, the retreat they completed in 2001, just after he became the 43rd president of the United States. Occupying some 1,600 acres near the flyspeck town of Crawford, about 25 miles west of Waco, the property is anchored by a strong but relatively modest home that quietly honors its location.

During the eight years Bush was in office, the ranch served as the Western White House and welcomed numerous heads of state -- from Russian president Vladimir Putin to Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz -- some of whom were coaxed to join the leader of the free world as he raced along the property's 40-mile network of bike trails. And, of course, there are the well-known stories of the president spending his vacations clearing brush, often in searing heat, sometimes encouraging aides to join him.

These days the Bushes live in Dallas, also home to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which opened last year on the campus of Southern Methodist University. But they regularly make the trip south to Crawford, where the former president is just as likely to be found handling a fishing rod or paintbrush as he is a chain saw. The ranch remains an essential getaway for the couple, a place to unwind and spend time with their daughters, Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, as well as Jenna's family, and to entertain close friends like Deedie and Rusty Rose, prominent cultural leaders in Dallas.

In fact, it was Deedie Rose who helped the Bushes find their architect, David Heymann, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin's School of Architecture. "Deedie and Rusty love the way David sites buildings," says Mrs. Bush, relaxing on a shady terrace that overlooks a shimmering lake where her husband often casts lines for bass. (The largest caught to date, the former president reports, was a 10-pounder.) "So when we bought this property, Deedie told me, 'I have your architect,' and, of course," she jokes, with a slightly arched eyebrow, "I always do what Deedie says." (Rose was a member of the committee that selected Robert A.M. Stern to design the Bush center.)

The former first lady notes that when she was growing up in Midland, Texas, her father built spec houses -- "one story and low to the ground, a style you saw a lot in the '50s and '60s." She and her husband had a similar type of residence in mind for Crawford, mainly, she explains, "because we wanted the house to fit into the landscape." And she means fit literally. Heymann's design carefully nestled a single-level, three-bedroom limestone structure and an adjacent two-suite guesthouse into an almost imperceptible rise amid an existing grove of live oaks and cedar elms.

Wrapped by deep roof overhangs -- some up to 10 feet wide -- that serve to deflect the region's broiling sunlight and torrential downpours, the dwelling features tall windows that add a romantic transparency to its unpretentious countenance. "We wanted to see and enjoy the beauty as much as possible," says the former president. To answer the couple's desire for indoor-outdoor living, many of the windows are also doors that open to covered terraces and walks, buffalo-grass lawns, and the tree-shaded swimming pool. When the doors are flung wide, the home becomes a veritable pavilion, capturing passing breezes and filled with birdsong. The configuration also reduces the need for internal corridors -- often the Bushes navigate the place by strolling out one door and in through another. "It's slightly motel-ish, but we love that," Laura Bush says lightheartedly.

The former first lady worked closely on the project with Heymann, who found her to be a highly perceptive accomplice. "She has a lot of experience from seeing the carefully organized houses that her dad built, and she has a very, very good eye," he says. Early in the construction process Laura Bush pointed out that the masons' work on the Texas Lueders limestone that clads the exterior (and some interior) walls of the residence was absolutely perfect -- and thoroughly wrong. The Bushes wanted to have a subtly rustic, handcrafted look, and Heymann had deliberately chosen to use the so-called rough-back pieces that were traditionally thrown away in the trimming process rather than smoothly finished blocks. "We had to take away their levels," the architect recalls, adding that the stone was relaid the old-fashioned, slightly irregular way, with taut string and appraising eyes.

An advocate of sustainable design, Heymann incorporated into the compound a number of green features, including a geothermal energy system for heating and cooling. Rainwater runs off the house's standing-seam metal roof and into a gravel-filled moat, where it filters into a 42,000-gallon cistern concealed beneath the rear terrace and is recycled to irrigate the lawns.

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Tour Laura and George W. Bush's magnificent Texas ranch.

Also see: Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen's Custom Chateau.

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Nice place, I'd be willing to bet some of the Secret Service guys don't mind staying behind to hold the fort down while the Bush's are back in Dallas. I know they can't talk about it, but I would love to know more about the security there. For instance, all those windows, are they bullet proof? High tech invisible lasers that when breached alert security? Hidden cameras. Is there a bomb/tornado shelter under the home? Things like that and more I'm sure, would be really interesting.

July 12 2014 at 11:36 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to walterrichardson26's comment
Dear MoonWolf

Yeah. I'll bet HE has better PROTECTION than the poor US soldiers who were sent to invade Iraq without properly IED-proofed armored tanks under LIES. You know, those soldiers who Bush's Rummy the Dummy said, "You go to war with what you HAVE, not what you NEED"? And he CERTAINLY has better protection than the THOUSANDS of MAIMED and MURDERED innocent Iraqis for whose deaths he is responsible.

July 12 2014 at 11:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Dear MoonWolf's comment

You know I felt the same way about the damned Dems when Kennedy and Johnson got us into SE Asia on a bunch of lies. Didn't do much good then either. Pissin up the river, you are and Bush can't even come close to the death and mahem caused in Vietnam.

July 13 2014 at 12:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
Dear MoonWolf

To fewvmi:

That's why, when Bush Jr. INVADED Iraq under obvious LIES, I, myself, thought, "Holy cr_p. We've been Mac Namara'd by the military industrial complex azz kissers AGAIN."

This is NOT a contest to see which hawk sucks more.
I voted for Obama because he was analytical and independent enough to NOT be one of the SHEEPLE voting to get us Mac Namara'd again.

July 13 2014 at 12:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
In My Theory-Opinion

Who's going to punish both Bushes before their time?

They travelled on air Force One 747's excessively. Vacation time more than work time.

Raked up debt ceiling.

Invested Social Security in tghe stock market and got almost them all wiped out during a crash.

Both Bushes deserves a big punishment than honor.

In my opinion.

July 12 2014 at 11:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Why do people think he had his Texas ranch for a while? He didnt! He bought it the year before he became president (which was set up) and he sold it right after he left office. That ranch was a front. Fact!

July 12 2014 at 11:03 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to solnerb's comment

It was never sold. Try reading an article before blowing off at the mouth for a change.

July 12 2014 at 11:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

ryanbman You are such an idiot. Sadam did use those weapons against the Kurds. We all saw the dead women and children. Our intelligence agency said they had those weapons. All of Sadam's neighbors said he had them. Just before General Franks attacked he visited Egypt and Jordan and those leaders told Franks that Sadam had the weapons hence Why our forces had Bio suits. Why don't you get some education instead of spouting the Liberal Mantra. The problem this country is old Gridlock Obama who can't make a decision unless he spends weeks consulting with his socialist staff. GET A CLUE!

July 12 2014 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to rodesigner's comment

Rodesigner YOU need to get a clue! There is no proof what so ever Sadam had WMDs. The UN inspectors went in there and found NOTHING. This is a fact!

July 12 2014 at 11:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

go back to your coloring books rodesigner....

July 12 2014 at 11:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

One thing nice about Laura and George Bush house ranch is there are no neighbors too close so there is no need for privacy windows; such as multi-functional windows ie. you touch the glass once with your finger and the clear glass turns frosted for privacy yet allows light to go through, touch the glass again and it turns back to clear.

Another nice thing on the property, for convenience and safety, is their own bicycle trail and swimming pool.

Plus, they never have to worry too much about running out of water which gets reserved for the lawn before being drained. This reminds me of the country of Iceland; the homes there use water softener on their driveway and streets to melt the ice and snow off before it goes down into the drain, so the people there never have to own a snowblower or snow shovel.

July 12 2014 at 10:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Keep working on those finger paintings, a 12 year old could do better.
P.S. Is it true GWB can't travel overseas, as he would be tried for war crimes?

July 12 2014 at 10:53 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to grozbeek's comment
Dear MoonWolf

How nauseating it is to think the public put this evil, lying simpleton, who let his Saudi buddies bomb America, then said getting the responsible member of his Bin Laden family friends "wasn't important" - into office, falling for his "amber alert" scare tactics not ONCE, but TWICE. He then claimed GOD inspired him to bomb a sovereign country, that had NOTHING to do w the 9/11 attacks, under the pretense of LIES, LIES, LIES. He's responsible for the deaths and maiming of THOUSANDS and still has the audacity to show his face in public with that same, stupid Texas Village Idiot grin on his mug. The average American Sheeple is not capable of independent, analytical thought. Pathetic.

July 12 2014 at 10:57 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

A little depressing. This guy started the Iraq war on a whim and reading these comments you can't help wonder where these people were for those eight years. Obama is a disaster who will wreck the country before he leaves but The Bush is a close second.

July 12 2014 at 10:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If there is a liberal, politician story ie whether it is lavishing accolades on Barrack/Michelle or dishing out how fabulous Kerry Washington is (you know who she is...the Far left progressive Hollywood actress) readers are NOT allowed to comment on the story, BUT when it's a story about a republican the floodgates are wide open and readers can type away. So sad for this country. There is no fair reporting anymore.

As for President Bush's home, we don't give a crap about his Texas residence. We just wish he was STILL living in the WHITE HOUSE!

July 12 2014 at 10:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

MR PRESIDENT..... please! ...please accept my apologies for my fellow Americans. they all want to cast blame on the closest person they can find. My heart felt what your father felt when he cried out.."leave them alone" (to the left leaning liberal media). they blame a bad toilet flush on you.... in my heart, you and your father were two of the greatest president ever. I am sure there are more who feel the same way as I. I ask of you...please forgive the illiterate who criticize you...they know not what they speak.

July 12 2014 at 10:41 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I think George meant well as a human being and I think he did his best to be President. That is a tough job and very few if any do a very good job. Most of them call it like they see it. Too often the opportunity to do Monday quarterbacking is not available. I am glad he has a hobby that he likes and which allows him to unwind. It would have to be a horrible job to be on call 24 hours a days to the world's problems. I did not vote for him for President, but I would vote for him as a descent human being. I would like to have run with him when he was chasing skirts and was getting liquored up from time to time.

July 12 2014 at 10:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply