Twenty Steps to Bliss
Escape means heading for the backyard
We all crave it. That dream retreat, our escape from the daily rat race of traffic, work and chock-full calendars. A place to unplug. Breathe.
Lucky West University residents Mike and Janell Rogers needn’t endure the expense and hassle of a trip to follow their bliss. Nirvana is just outside their back door, a few paces across a lush, tree-lined lawn. Here sits a charming, open-air, gray cedar-shingled cottage that plays host to all manner of mind-clearing activities.
For the past 10 years, it’s been the perfect at-home getaway for the couple and their sons, Billy, now a Rice University student, and Charles, a St. John’s School senior.
“Yeah, I have friends who have vacation homes they never use. I get to use mine every day,” quips Mike of their cupola-topped hideaway, fondly named Casa Dos.
The family’s deep roots with a grand oak tree planted the seed for this staycation project.
“About 10 years ago our neighbor next door was selling her cottage and property with beautiful oak trees on it,” explains Janell. “I thought if we don’t buy that lot, we’d just have to move because someone will buy it and remove that beautiful huge oak tree and build some mammoth house. We just couldn’t let that happen. We’ve enjoyed that tree for years!”
Her lawyer husband heartily agreed. They bought the property, saved the tree and went about building the perfect Rogers retreat, but not without first touring the former owner’s 1930s cottage, slated for demolition.
Charles, a kindergartener at the time, was perplexed. “He turned to his brother and said, ‘I can’t believe we’re moving into that little house just so mommy can save the trees,’” recalls Janell, laughing. “He thought we were moving into the former resident’s place next door.”
Any concerns Charles had quickly disappeared when the family’s recreational getaway took shape. Houston architect Dillon Kyle followed simple instructions. It had to be simple, low-maintenance and outdoorsy. “I grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains, so I wanted something that felt peaceful and rustic,” says Janell.
The retreat follows the footprint of the original cottage, sitting further back on the lot for privacy. Beautiful flagstone paths and gardens surround it, including crossbred daylilies planted by the structure’s first owner, a world-class horticulturist.
“In past years, we’ve had Little League parties here, then high school football team dinners and lacrosse dinners… you name it,” says Janell of their backyard haven. “Imagine setting up tables for 40 guys in the backyard. It’s been fun.”
Their respite also includes a half-length basketball court and pool. At one point there was a zip line from the mammoth oak tree to a pecan across the way. And a whirligig, the four-seated cousin of the teeter-totter, elicits laughs every time someone gets on it. “Yes, adults too,” says Mike.
Mike adores basketball, thus the sports court. And it’s been a hit with son Billy, who played on his high school team. It has improvised as a badminton court as well. And Mike recently took to hitting whiffle golf balls from it. “Just lay out my mat there and shoot ’em,” he says. “We’ve found lots of uses for the sports court.”
The cottage has a cubby full of refreshing sodas, a bathroom and separate shower so no one need enter the main house after rigorous activity. “It’s full service out here,” says Mike.
It also includes a screened-in dining area, but the main space is open air with a big-screen television and stone fireplace to accommodate cold weather. “We opted for no screens at all, kind of a pavilion look in the main part of the cottage because we didn’t want it closed in. We wanted that back and forth feel, to encourage taking part in everything out here,” says Janell. “A place to chill.”
Yep, casual is key here. The Rogers have been known to throw a tablecloth on the ping-pong table for Thanksgiving gatherings.
And football season is always popular at Casa Dos.
“We might have 20 kids in here, all watching the Texans game,” says Mike.
“Just picture it. A cold night in January, the fire is on and a ton of guys are out there all huddled in winter gear with their sleeping bags and drinking hot chocolate. It’s quite a scene, so fun,” says Janell.
So fun that the Rogers happily dropped their Texans football tickets.
“What can I say? They have a blast watching it out here,” she says. “And you don’t fight traffic getting home.”
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