April 18, 2024


Comfortable residential structure

Country drive for bluebonnets inspires a new life and home for Houston couple

Rob Rosenbaum and Linda O’Neal’s 20 acres in Washington County hold their full-time home, a chapel-inspired guesthouse, a barn-turned-guesthouse and an olive-tree grove.

It all started in 2007. He was a chiropractor in Crosby, and she was a registered nurse at a Houston plastic surgery practice when one day they decided to go for a country drive.

They headed out U.S. 290 to look at bluebonnets and other wildflowers, and to stop for lunch at Royer’s Round Top Cafe. In the car on rural roads, Rosenbaum noticed a sign with directions to the small town of Burton, where a friend had told them about a cute house that was for sale.

After a fair amount of wandering, they found the house. No one was home, but the Realtor was willing to drop by to show the place. They made an offer and suddenly had a small weekend place in the country.

Weekends became a relaxing time with fresh air, peace and quiet. They made their way into Round Top and became friends with others who had second homes in the area. It didn’t take long for Rosenbaum to feel like their small place on 2 acres wasn’t going to be enough.

“We go for a drive, turn down a road, and we saw a for-sale sign. So we jumped a fence, and there was absolutely nothing here. I said ‘I love it,’” Rosenbaum said.

“And I said, ‘I hate it, it’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,’” O’Neal said. “It was bare, with no trees except for some scrub trees in a ditch, and there was a gully full of old washing machines and tires. Really?”

The Burton, Texas, home of Linda and Rob Rosenbaum.

The Burton, Texas, home of Linda and Rob Rosenbaum.

Courtesy of Rob Rosenbaum

Of course, Rosenbaum bought it, and pretty soon their weekends in Washington County turned into weekends during which she was at their small home by herself while he worked clearing out their new land so they could build a bigger house there.

Rosenbaum collects antique tools, so he wanted a nice barn where they could be displayed, too.

He has three children who all live outside of Texas, and O’Neal has two sons, both of whom live in Houston.

When Rosenbaum has a little time on his hands, he gets an itch for a new project. They’d always wanted to buy an old church and turn it into a home, but moving an old building can be tricky, and contractors filled them with dread about the cost and all of the work.

So they found a builder who could create a guesthouse that looks a lot like an old chapel, arched windows and all.

The couple shopped the spring and fall Round Top antiques shows to fill their main home and now the guesthouse with antique French country furniture and architectural antiques.

Instead of traditional cabinets in the bathroom, they found an old buffet that could be converted. A damaged clawfoot bathtub was refurbished, and a second buffet in the bedroom holds a small refrigerator and microwave.

They found old window frames that were transformed into mirrors and stained-glass panels that provide a more authentic church atmosphere. A pair of processional lamps were mounted as sconces inside the front door.

The Burton, Texas, home of Linda and Rob Rosenbaum.

The Burton, Texas, home of Linda and Rob Rosenbaum.

Courtesy of Rob Rosenbaum

The work came in handy when their children and grandchildren visit because there’s a little more room for everyone to spread out. They also figured they could rent it out to out-of-town shoppers visiting the county during the semiannual antiques shows.

Around the same time, they decided that the barn was too nice to just hold tools, so they converted it into a three-bedroom guest house that has a loft that O’Neal, an accomplished painter, uses as her art studio.

That’s how the White House on the Hill was born, a complex that includes the couple’s home and their two guesthouses. It’s large enough for small weddings but also works as girlfriend getaways or small group retreats. They’ve rented it out for a teachers’ planning weekend, a yoga retreat and Bible journaling event.

Not long ago, a man rented the barn for an engagement getaway, filling it with candles and rose petals to surprise his intended fiancee. (She said “yes.”)

Coincidentally, plenty of people call the couple after googling “White House” — looking for the president — and finding their site “The White House on the Hill.

“I wish we could put all the messages on a big loop. They’re really funny,” O’Neal said, referencing the calls that usually start with someone saying, “I know you’re really busy, but …” and ending with a complaint about government or question about their stimulus check.

Rosenbaum, 70, and O’Neal, 66, got married here, too, just a couple of years ago. They’d been a couple for nearly 20 years when they decided to tie the knot. In fact, when some of their friends received their wedding invitation, they were shocked — they thought they already were married.

Though others get married in front of the chapel and have receptions in the barn, Rosenbaum and O’Neal got married in front of their main house with 160 guests.

They’ve got large windows that let in lots of natural light and give a grand view of the sunrise from the primary bedroom.