Sunflower Ranch

By Kendra Walker

It started as a simple remodel…

Niki O’Connor recalls being recruited to help with a kitchen remodel for Erin and John Kiltz. “Michael Weil Custom Homes was the general contractor, and he brought me in. My first suggestion was to create a dormer in the kitchen,” she says. “Well, that dormer alone launched into completely changing the whole space. We began with the kitchen concept and layout, but as we started going from room to room, we realized we could update so much more. I think they started to see the value of going deeper into this remodel and saw the beauty of what this home could become.”

“So it ended up being a full home remodel,” O’Connor laughs. “But it launched an enjoyable project with this wonderful family.”

The remodel of the four-bed, six-bath home and accompanying three-bed, two-bath guest house in Moon Ridge took about two years to complete. “It was a pretty massive endeavor,” says O’Connor. 

She explains that the previous layout was full of wood, with a lot of pine interior and paneling. “The house had some unique lines and fun angles to work with. There were quite a few walls that we took down to change the layout slightly and move rooms around,” she says. “We changed the layout pretty significantly, but it was such a wonderful flow. We wanted to capture this new flavor and design essence of this couple. It speaks heavy volumes to what it transformed into.”

“The one piece they loved from the original space was the fireplace. So that remained mostly the same, but we changed the hearth and mantle to streamline the whole space and living room better.”

In the kitchen, O’Connor says she moved forward with her original idea for a gable and dormer to capture unencumbered views of Whetstone Mountain. “The window that was there before just cut off the mountain entirely. The new window frames Whetstone perfectly, and you can see the twinkling lights of town.”

They also added a custom kitchen banquette with cushions and leather seats. “It almost feels like a boat because of the curves,” says O’Connor, and they cut custom counters to match the seating curve. O’Connor worked with Slate River Marble & Granite for the counters and Peacock Designs on the cabinetry.

Erin and John named the property “Sunflower Ranch” in loving memory of their daughter Gracie, who passed away. “Gracie loved sunflowers, so they named it for her,” says O’Connor. Sunflower imagery can be found throughout the house, adding fresh pops of bright yellow in Gracie’s memory. Gracie’s memory also lives on through the nonprofit Erin and John started, called His Grace Foundation, after Gracie was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two. The organization provides physical, emotional and financial support to the patients and families of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Another prominent color throughout the house is Robin’s egg blue, “Erin’s happy color,” says O’Connor. “She is such a great soul, and such a happy color really speaks to that.” The light blue tone highlights little peak moments throughout the space—from the refrigerator to the kitchen range to a bold wallpaper in a bathroom to the wall of the butler pantry. 

“You rarely have a client who is bold enough to use those bright colors, especially in a space like the kitchen,” remarks O’Connor. “It’s different from other neutral tone palettes you typically see out there. But it’s fun to show how fun that element can be in a home.”

O’Connor appreciates how bold the Kiltz family was willing to go. “It’s always so subjective as a designer. You sometimes want to make these bold calls that you can’t go back on,” she says. “But they trusted me on a lot of big decisions. One thing they really had to trust me on was that there were quite a few old double-spur beams throughout the home. Our first thought was to do a whitewash, but it just wasn’t right. I decided to try an iron mountain color; we painted all the beams, trim and window mullions. It was a scary call where they had to trust me, and it turned out so amazing.”

Another example of boldness was the staircase. “The original staircase was framed with solid wood handrails, so we removed the walls to expose the staircase and put in metal rails,” she says. “It totally opens up that whole space so much more.”

O’Connor enjoyed working with Erin to capture a bold yet comfortable design aesthetic. “Erin was very comfortable mixing textiles and layers of texture,” says O’Connor. “She does not like matching things, so we have elements like mismatched bedside tables, and in the kitchen we have different knobs on the island. I’ve done homes before where everything matches, but not having everything match resonated with her, and it looked wonderful in the end.” 

O’Connor also added new textures, including shiplap and American clay walls. “It was such a beautiful anecdote. The textures and tones gave some rooms much more interest.”

O’Connor also loves the mosaic tile they added to the primary bathroom. “It is a bold tile, yet is still timeless. The tile detailing and attention to detail are phenomenal. It is a bold bathroom and shower, but it turned out so beautiful with all the finishes, and it ended up being Erin’s favorite part of the room.”

O’Connor worked with the carpenters from Michael Weil Custom Home to design the beds in the bunk room. “Creating the oak details and custom handrails was such a fun collaboration.”

O’Connor says she also loved working on the guesthouse. “The guesthouse was fun. They have a very large family and amazing friends who are always traveling with them, so it was really important to them to have a space for people to stay.”

She explains that the guesthouse kitchen and living room ceilings are very high, so she wanted to figure out a way to fill out the space. “We brought the color from the cabinets up across that whole ceiling. It’s one of my favorite details.” The hand-painted tile on the fireplace and customized ladders and railings in the bunk room were other favorite details in the guesthouse. 

O’Connor appreciates that John and Erin were pleased to support local businesses. “Many of the decor pieces and artwork are from local businesses. They want to support local artists,” she says. They ordered many custom pieces from Willow, used lighting from Mountain Colors, and custom upholstery from All Aspects Upholstery. Ben Eaton of Get Bent Blacksmithing also created a custom sunflower screen for the fireplace. 

Even though the project snowballed into something much bigger than anticipated, O’Connor reflects on a truly rewarding experience. “When I first started to see the scope of this, I had to surrender to the fact that it wouldn’t be a quick kitchen redo. But I enjoyed it so much. We had to integrate existing elements and help them make sense with this new palette. Seeing the before shots and how far we’ve come is really fantastic.”

She feels fortunate to have worked on a unique project with such special people. “You’re in a relationship with these people for many years, and you get to see how proud they are of the things they’ve created and the memories they hope to build. This is a very special place for them.”