At home with Sara and Billy Jack Brawner III in Canton, Texas
To get to the Dwell-worthy home of Sara and Billy Jack Brawner III, you drive for miles down narrow country roads, cow pastures, modest farmhouses and fields filled with rainbows of Texas wildflowers. When you turn down their driveway, all one can do is gasp; there it sits, a beautiful modern black brick home with a contemporary cinderblock fence. Although it is one-of-kind, it doesn’t feel out of place or overly precious. It's comfortable and inviting, just like the people who built and reside in it. Sara and Billy decided to leave their city lives in Austin when Sara found out she was pregnant, and a piece of property adjacent to Billy’s parents place in rural West Texas came on the market.
The house on the property had recently burned down and they were selling the land for a song. Billy jumped at the opportunity to build/design a house for Sara and their growing family. Billy works as a custom homebuilder, designer and photographer and Sara does social media marketing, photography, interior design and volunteer work. Sara, who’s the first to admit that the only job she has ever wanted is to be a mom, was elated at their growing family, their new home and the life they were building in the country.
Horrible tragedy struck at the end of her pregnancy and the couple lost their little girl, Willa Rose. During this very difficult time, Sara and Billy began to question their move away from their friends and the hustle and bustle of the city. They yearned for distraction from the grief they felt living in the home they had built for themselves and their daughter. Several more miscarriages followed after Willa but instead of throwing in the towel and being consumed by sadness, this incredible couple decided that fostering children would be a wonderful way to carry on Willa’s legacy and fill their home and hearts with love and laughter again.
Sara and Billy, strong in their beliefs and their love for one another, have been able to surmount devastating tragedy and turn their sorrow into hope. Following our visit, four children were placed with Sara and Billy Jack; a sibling set of two girls and a boy and a 2-year-old boy. While in the process of adopting their four foster children Sara found out she was pregnant again. They welcomed their newest son Jones into the world and went from being a family of two to a family of seven seemingly overnight.
Just a short while later, Billy Jack was discovered by Joanna Gaines from Magnolia and HGTV. He was offered a creative director position at Magnolia magazine which required the family to move from Canton to Waco, Texas. With many more mouths to feed, they decided to leave Canton and move to Waco so Billy Jack could have his dream job. Now Sara stays at home with their little ones - filling their lives with love, art projects, dancing and tea parties. Although they miss the pond next to their house that they used to swim in every night at dusk, they make frequent trips back to Canton to visit Billy Jack's parents so they can remind their kids how wonderful it is to run around free and barefoot in the grassy fields in the country.
Q & A
How did you two meet?
We met during undergrad in Colorado. We're both from Texas, but happened to go to school in Denver. Texans gotta stick together, I guess.
What inspired you to move to the country?
We were living in downtown Austin, working odd jobs, and expecting a baby. It became tough to find a place that met all of our criteria: space, aesthetics, location, affordability. Meanwhile, way out in the country near Billy's parents' place, a house was burning down and its owner would soon be selling the rubble along with the land for dirt cheap. We bought the land with dreams of building a house, raising kids, and enjoying the countryside. We liked the idea of slowing down as well as having the space to build and grow as a family. We also were very excited (and still are) about our kids growing up next door to their grandparents.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
We have a pretty incredible group of friends back in Austin. It was really tough to leave them. And that's still the hardest part about living out here. That and really slow internet and zero cell phone service.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
We like the quietness out here. We like the slow mornings. We like living near Billy's parents. We like being able to offer our city friends a weekend retreat out to the country. We also feel far less pressure to keep up with the Joneses, and we like that a lot.
What do you miss most about the city?
We miss good coffee and good restaurants. We miss being able to walk to get groceries. We miss our friends.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Yes, but only if the ideal job and the ideal place to live opened up. We're city folks at heart, but our family life matters more to us than our location does; and, currently, the country best suits our family.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about leaving the city?
Don't do it alone. It might sound sexy and Thoreau-ish to get out to the middle of nowhere—and that's good for a weekend, but life is meant to be spent with people. Move to a place where you can share life in community.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Build a house. Build a house without having to worry about building permits, or codes, or HOAs.
Do you have advice for people considering fostering or adopting children?
Do it. The first step is the hardest part and you will always be able to find an excuse not to do it. On paper it looks and feels insurmountable (and it almost is), but it's so worth it. We sat on the fence for too long. There are too many children who need loving homes for us to sit on the fence. If you're even halfway considering it then you may as well jump over the fence because you are needed. You life is meant to be spent and not saved.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
I think people automatically assume that life will slow down when you move to the country, but it doesn't. The country offers the framework for a slower life, but slowing down is always a daily discipline.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
We're currently fostering four children and, if they become available, we would love to adopt each of them. We also have a long list of landscaping goals, so we plan on chiseling away at that.