Each one of his 10 properties, located in Abilene’s oldest and best neighborhoods, offers some of the most creative decor and first-class amenities this West Central Texas city has to offer. Repurposed antiques, brand name bedding, decor themes and a flare for the dramatic punctuate each property.
“I kind of let the architecture of our houses send us in a direction,” said Browder, who operates Sayles Ranch Guesthouses along with his wife, Laura.
The guest home they named Falling Star, for example, is decorated with Native American pieces. Cottage Clare, a 1930s doll house of a home named after their daughter, is a sea of pale gray walls and delicate shades of turquoise and French blue. All of the Sayles Ranch guest homes have names and themes, and Terry has personally decorated every inch.
In fact, it was a desire to use his art background that first interested Browder in the idea of operating guest homes.
About nine years ago, the Browders bought the house next door to them on historic Sayles Boulevard. The couple had experience owning traditional rental property, but they had something else in mind for their new purchase.
At about the same time, the city of Abilene was making plans to open Frontier Texas!, a virtual museum downtown that celebrates the area’s Old West history. Terry knew the museum would attract visitors, and he wanted to offer them an upscale place with an authentic Abilene feel.
After doing some research, the Browders decided to rent the house next door to them as a “guest home,” a place people can rent for a weekend getaway and cook their own meals if they choose and enjoy privacy. Also, a “whole house rental,” unlike a bed and breakfast, means people are not renting a room in the same building as strangers. They have the place to themselves, and Terry said that’s why many people seek their guest homes out.
The Sayles Ranch Guesthouses are billed as an “unexpected alternative” for people looking for a bed and breakfast.
“Private, modern, comfortable and stylish, the offering of guest homes always receive rave reviews from guests and journalists,” said Nanci Liles, executive director of the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I am in awe with Terry’s talented decorating techniques, and overnight guests can’t wait to return.”
The Browders discovered an untapped market, and business has taken off.
“People are used to this all over the world, but not in Abilene,” he said of the concept of guest homes.
Now, clients include wedding parties, friends gathered for school homecomings, or even folks flying into Abilene just to eat at the famous Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap.
The artist’s touch
The most enjoyable part for Terry, who has a bachelor’s degree in painting and a master’s in art education, is creating the dramatic decor at each home that gives them the wow factor.
The first home, next door to the Browders, is the original “Sayles Ranch” guest home. The home is described as “John Wayne meets Starbucks” with limestone walls, hardwood floors, mesquite furniture and Ralph Lauren towels.
The Browders’ next guest home was on their own property. They transformed the carriage house behind them into a getaway they call “Cabin Fever.” The house is 800 square feet and sleeps four. It rents for $250 a night plus tax.
Everything in Cabin Fever has a story.
The kitchen cabinets, for example, came from a Victorian home in Brownwood. The leather couch is from Neiman Marcus. And several items, from the 100-year-old tin kitchen ceiling to a vintage bathroom light fixture, are from Terry’s tiny hometown of Gould, Okla. One of the bedrooms in the old carriage house once stored a Model T.
The property’s biggest claim to fame is actress Joan Crawford’s father was one of the original contractors on the home when it was built in 1923.
Terry said most of the antiques he buys are from stores in the 30-county area around Abilene he travels to for his day job as a title researcher. He’s found some of the most interesting antiques right here in the Big Country, such as a Belgian street light in a Colorado City store that he repurposed into a chandelier.
Two guest homes are located on Amarillo Street just behind Sayles Boulevard. One of the homes, Cottage Clare, has an enormous Mexican chandelier in the living room as you enter. Terry commissioned an artisan to add delicate aqua blue beads for a soft, feminine touch.
Just below the chandelier are four modified leather wingback chairs in an unusual shade of teal. They were the first items Terry bought for the home, and he said it was challenging but fun to decorate the rest of the house around them.
Other eye-catching items Terry decorated the home with include a huge French tile mural above a bench from a Cincinnati railroad station with its original green paint, an 1840s Irish china hutch pickled with the same pale gray paint as the walls and a 17th century Jacobean tilt top table from Germany. One bedroom decoration includes a 100-year-old lightning rod from a Missouri homestead.
Terry found the home’s wood floors too orange, so he painted large, muted teal and gray diamonds over them and covered the design with three coats of polyurethane.
“It gave the house a contemporary appeal,” he said.
The Irish china hutch has a shelf full of books with various shades of teal and aqua, matching the rest of the home’s colors. Terry likes decorating with books, and he often raids the Friends of the Abilene Public Library annual book sale on the last day, when he can buy a bag of books (in any color!) for only $6.
They purchased the historic Sayles family home at 642 Sayles Blvd. two years ago and are transforming the interior and exterior into what Terry says will be the most upscale bed and breakfast of its kind between Fort Worth and El Paso. Terry said the home will be a “boutique hotel alternative” offering luxury amenities without traditional bed-and-breakfast services because he believes people value privacy over services.
Unlike his other guest homes, the six bedrooms he is creating at Sayles Landmark will be for rent individually.
Terry is preserving the 1889 home’s Victorian moldings and character while adding his usual flair for drama and history. The oak floors will be painted with a white diamond design. The furnishings will be part Victorian, part Western and part Hollywood Regency. The color scheme is white, gray and black.
The living room will include a black and white houndstooth chair, antique sofa upholstered in black velvet and a pair of 1920s Kandinsky chrome and leather slingback chairs. Above them will hang a black and white picture of the Sayles home in its derelict days before it was saved in the 1970s by Richard and Kay Dillard.
“We’re using all kinds of things from the past,” Terry said of the decor.
He may add a library from his collection of antique law books, a nod to the Sayles family patriarch, Henry, a judge who raised 10 children in the house.
The 3,500-square-foot home has an addition on the back that the family closed off and rented to Camp Barkeley soldiers during World War II. Terry opened up the space to the main house to improve the flow. He also decided to expose the main house’s original gray clapboard wood siding on one wall.
“It’s funky, but we’re going to clean it up and seal it,” he said.
The home will have designer bedding and towels, flat screen televisions, an upscale kitchen and other luxury amenities clients would expect to find at the Sayles Ranch Guesthouses.
Outside, Laura Browder added lush landscaping and antique roses. Wisteria that former owner Frances Sayles planted decades ago popped up last spring.
“We didn’t know it was here,” Terry said.
The Browders are adding a swimming pool and remodeling the home’s carriage house. They hope the property will become a wedding and event destination.
The two years Terry has spent working on the home with his crew is longer than he originally anticipated. He hopes to have it completed in 2013.
But, he adds, “It will be done when it’s done!”
The entire project has been an enormous undertaking, but one Terry said they’ve enjoyed.
“It’s so fun to work on a house that’s been here not just 50 or 75 years,” he said. “It’s been here 123 years!”
Read more about the Sayles Ranch in Texas Monthly.