Michael Gerentine and his family always considered themselves to be beach people. Spending years near the coasts of Florida and North Carolina will do that. But when a marketing job moved them to Texas, away went the weekend beach trips. Michael and his wife, Patti, and daughters, Nicole and Amanda, sought new outdoor adventures.

What began as a quest to find an ideal hunting spot near their home turned into a whole-family effort to build a Texas-style barndominium, or a barn converted into a living space. Here’s how everyone’s ideas — and hard work — came together to become the family's favorite gathering spot.

IN SEARCH OF A PLACE TO GET AWAY

When your children get older — our daughters are 28 and 30 — there are only so many things you can do with your kids that'll keep them coming around. One thing that’s always brought us together has been our love of the outdoors.

Here in Texas, everyone owns ranches. I thought it would be a good investment to have more land, so we looked for our own property near our home in Austin. We wanted to create a nice hunting spot. I wanted the land to have character.

After years of searching, we finally found a place an hour north of our home: 40 acres of rolling hills with a stream. It’s woodsy but also has open fields.

Even though it was a big purchase, we had worked the goal into our financial plan. We aim to keep our portfolio diversified — in my case, that includes our real estate.

So, we bought the land. My daughters were especially excited, as well as my son-in-law Kyle, a true Texan from Comfort, Texas, who helped us scout out locations.

We went out there every chance we got, but because there were no facilities, we stuck to day trips. We’d grill over an open pit and enjoy the outdoors for the day. After a few trips, my daughters pointed out that if our ranch had working bathrooms, we could stay for longer stretches of time. Once we thought about adding a bathroom, it led to the question, “Why don’t we put in a bedroom so we can stay overnight?” Once we decided on one bedroom, the girls wanted a separate one for themselves. And then Patti chimed in: “If only we had a kitchen, I wouldn’t have to cook outside all the time.”

Before we knew it, we were basically building a second home. We decided to build a barndominium, plus a three-car garage for tractors and ATVs.

BUILDING OUR BARNDOMINIUM

We had a contractor build the barn itself. Then we got to work and are building the rest ourselves. Kyle and Nicole’s fiancé, Christopher, have helped me build interior walls, insulate the place, install barn doors and put in shiplap walls. It’s been a great learning experience for us all.

Patti and our daughters turned the land into a wildlife preserve by adding deer feeders, bird houses, duck houses, bat houses and other habitats for the wildlife that live alongside us. We also have several webcams set up so we can watch families of deer and turkeys roaming about. We once spotted an eight- or 10-point buck in our fields from the webcam, which was incredible to see.

ENJOYING OUR RETREAT

It’s been about three years since we bought the land, and the space is really becoming a great place to reconnect. We all go up at different times but try to spend at least one weekend a month together. We've got two bedrooms in there now, a full kitchen, a bathroom, a back porch and a living room for hanging out and playing games. We’ve also added a pond to the land, which we here in Texas call a tank.

It’s a great experience to have everybody out there together to have quality time as a family.

On a typical weekend, we spend a lot of time outside during the day practicing skeet shooting, working on the land or maintaining our wildlife feeders. By the time we come back in, we’ve built up a hearty appetite and will whip up steak or pasta for dinner. Then we might play games in the living room — we have a shuffleboard table, ping pong table and dominoes — or run around out back with our golden retriever, Mercedes, or Nicole’s dog, Stevie. After dark, we enjoy sitting around the firepit and telling stories under the stars.

We even had our family Thanksgiving dinner at the barn last year and plan to host more holiday gatherings in the years to come.

We don’t have internet, cable or Wi-Fi out there, so it’s just a great experience to have everybody out there together to have quality time as a family. I've never built anything this big, but it's been a fun journey so far. It’s great to see the results of our hard work and enjoy the space together.

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