From Texas to New Mexico to California, folks are making it their mission to rejuvenate the places that represent their roots.
Editor's Note: Real Stories is a three-part series from our January 2020 design feature depicting real transformations of historic havens in the American West.
“I believe that what I do is an act of redemption,” Terry Browder says as he cruises through Abilene’s Sayles Boulevard Historic District. It’s a sun-soaked August afternoon in West Texas, and Browder is pointing out the properties that make up his Sayles Ranch Guesthouses.
He started his redemptive journey 16 years ago when he purchased a neglected house in the neighborhood and transformed it into a Western-themed guest home bedecked with custom mesquite beds and heavy doses of “hides, horns, and hats,” Browder says. The space now rents for $595 a night and is almost always occupied.
Over the years, nine more houses followed, each with a different theme and a new story of redemption. Inside all the houses — which range from a Mad Men-inspired property filled with midcentury décor to a cottage that pays tribute to Native American history — you’ll find secondhand gems Browder has picked up at local antique stores (“They love me,” he says with a laugh) or found on his road trips through small-town Texas for his day job as a title researcher. In one house, a vintage sofa has been turned into a headboard. In another, handwritten deeds from the 1880s paper the walls. “I have a great taste for things that have a history and a soul,” the 65-year-old Oklahoma native says. “Most of the things in my houses are scratched or scarred or chipped. And that’s OK because it’s about history and about story and about giving them a new life.”
Browder’s love for discarded treasures is well-known throughout Abilene, where he has lived since his days studying art at Abilene Christian University in the 1970s. Community members have even taken to bequeathing him items to use in his projects. “People leave chandeliers and punch bowls on my front porch,” Browder says. “I don’t even know where they all come from.” The innkeeper’s biggest windfall came courtesy of a 100-year-old local law firm that gifted him its entire law library. It ended up being 3,000 books in all, and it took Browder a week to haul them out of the law office. The covers of the books now line every wall of his newest property, a Downton Abbey-themed house whose tufted furnishings and gilt-framed paintings call to mind an old English library.
Some of Browder’s houses also feature his original artwork, which represents a return to a creative endeavor he abandoned nearly four decades ago. “After I graduated from college and went to work, I didn’t paint for almost 40 years,” he says. “I started again last January.” Since then, Browder has completed eight large paintings, some of them part of a series honoring the Comanches who once inhabited this part of the state. “I sold four of the paintings,” he says, “and those four sold for enough that I could have paid my dad back for my bachelor of fine arts.”
Asked if he’s planning to add more guest homes to his stable, Browder pauses. “I’m going to paint the rest of my life,” he says finally. “That’s where I’m going to spend more of my creative energy.”
More from our design feature
Photography: Courtesy Terry Browder
From our January 2020 issue.