Peaceful, Easy Feeling
An artful collaboration mixes music, design and a spectacular setting for the relaxed home of Danneel and Jensen Ackles
by Anne Bruno
Family portrait by Jeff Wilson
Interior photographs by Douglas Friedman
Styling by Marcus Hersh
Successful collaborations of any kind are a lot like a musical jam session: Artists at the top of their game come together and let their creative juices flow. According to longtime Austin interior designer Fern Santini, the same is true with a good design project, and the home of Danneel and Jensen Ackles proves her point. When clients, architect and interior designer freely share ideas and each person’s perspective shines through the process, something unique comes into being.
The Ackleses, who have three children under the age of six, are both actors. Jensen, originally from Dallas, is now in his 14th season as star of the CW’s “Supernatural,” and Danneel, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, may be best known for recurring roles in the Harold & Kumar movies as well as for her stint as bad girl Rachel on “One Tree Hill.” After years in California, the Ackleses were ready to reclaim their geographic roots and chose Austin as their permanent home and the place to raise their young family.
“Danneel and Jensen really identify with Austin’s creative culture and have quickly become part of the community,” says Santini. “They’re bold and energetic people, friendly and informal — Austin is a natural fit for them.”
The Ackleses hired Santini and architect Paul Lamb (the two have worked together on numerous projects) to undertake the extensive renovation of the lakefront home they purchased four and a half years ago. Lamb, who hails from New Orleans, calls the completed transformation a reflection of the Ackleses’ free-spirited nature and describes the couple as part of “a new generation of Southern bohemian progressive thinkers who celebrate taking risks.”
At 7,500 square feet, with multiple living spaces to accommodate everything from dinner parties and adult gatherings around the bar to impromptu music-making to family football-watching Sundays, the Ackleses’ home is built for entertaining. Within the generous scale, an abundance of natural materials — wood and native stone play a prominent role inside and out — are featured, lending intimacy and warmth to every room. Imagine a cool young family who knows how to have a good time. Put them in a lakeside lodge and you’ve got the feel of the Ackleses’ digs.
Santini, who is based in Austin but travels internationally to source materials and work with clients, credits the successful multi-year project to an almost instant connection and continuous communication. “We all bonded pretty quickly,” Santini says of the relationship she and Lamb have with the couple. “When everyone has fun and gets into the flow of a true collaboration, that’s when the magic happens.
“I’ve never had just one particular style, and while Danneel loves rustic, they’re the same way,” Santini notes. “It’s much more of a feeling and a way of living that combines periods and materials. It’s hip and historic, current and vintage. That keeps a space feeling timeless and not dated.”
To wit, color and texture abound in artful layers throughout the home. Unique vintage finds from across the globe play off au courant pieces to create a setting that feels at once laid-back and energizing.
Music was a strong common denominator that inspired a number of design elements. “We share this love for the music and that whole vibe of Laurel Canyon in the late ’60s. It’s what I grew up on — still my favorite — and Danneel and Jensen actually lived there for a while. Sometimes Danneel and I felt like our inner hippies were meeting,” Santini says. “The music and art scene here is one reason I know they feel so at home in Austin.”
It’s much more of a feeling and a way of living that combines periods and materials. It’s hip and historic, current and vintage. That kind of mix is what keeps a space feeling timeless and not dated.”
Stories the Ackleses told Santini and Lamb about gatherings in their Laurel Canyon house — friends sitting on the floor, drinking wine, listening to music and playing guitar — informed the relax-and-get-comfortable energy that permeates the sunken living room. There, views of the lake are showcased along with Jensen’s guitars and pieces of art from the couple’s eclectic collection, which is growing with the work of local artists. Santini notes the “out in the open” aspect of the room’s handcrafted McIntosh stereo system; celebrating something she’s spent most of her career trying to hide for clients is definitely a welcome change.
Along with making the most of the waterfront site (the initial draw for the Ackleses), for Santini and Lamb authenticity was a key driver from the start. “The house as it was had no real architectural integrity or identity,” Santini explains. “We gutted the inside. Paul took out walls to bring in more natural light and brought in materials that are the real deal.” Post oak floors, hand-planed beams and barn wood ceilings in the master suite all attest to the duo’s “no props” mantra.
“I can honestly say that Danneel and Jensen are two of the biggest risk takers I’ve worked with,” Santini says. “It’s hard to describe how freeing — and fun — that is. Danneel and I would brainstorm on an out-there idea, and Jensen would say something like, ‘I don’t know if I get it, but you two just keep going.’”
If Danneel and Santini’s back-and-forth riffing on ideas sounds more like a mind meld than a brainstorm, it sometimes was. “We’d find ourselves emailing at two in the morning, thinking about exactly the same thing!” Santini says. For the Ackles, it’s that kind of creative collaboration that resulted in nothing short of a smash hit.
Music plays a part in Santini’s next venture, a limited number of one-of-a-kind, move-in-ready homes she’s calling the Fern Santini Collaborative. Each home’s public launch event will benefit an Austin nonprofit; the first home, now under construction, will partner with HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians).