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Outside the Austin City Limits

Three creative families find adventure and serenity in the wide-open spaces beyond the Capital City.

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Brent Humphreys + James Boone | Taylor, TX

Taylor, Texas, is more than just the location of world-famous Louie Mueller Barbecue. For photographer Brent Humphreys, it’s home: He shares the mid-century modern Zidell House (built in 1953 by Austin firm Lundgren & Maurer) and six acres of green lawns and shady woods with his fiancée, James Boone, and their dog, Blanche. Originally from Dallas, Brent Humphreys moved from Austin to Taylor in 2008 and travels the world shooting events like the Tour de France for magazines like Dwell and WIRED. Boone—who grew up near Friendswood, Texas, before living in New York for eight years—is co-founder of fashion shoelace brand Comb Collective and an instructor at the Austin School of Fashion Design. For them both, Taylor is a welcome respite from fast-paced careers.

“I’ve always wanted to live just outside of the action, have a place where I didn’t necessarily see the neighbor right there. Doing what I do for work, it’s great to come home to a place that’s traffic-free and tranquil,” Humphreys says.

The couple uses their land in Taylor, just 35 miles from downtown Austin, to raise chickens and bees, and they’re bettering the community through enthusiastic involvement with local organizations like the Taylor Main Street Board. Their land also provides plenty of space for Project LOOP, the nonprofit Humphreys founded in 2011 that partners creative professionals with impressionable young kids on projects from product branding to skateboard ramp building.

And while they enjoy Taylor’s slower pace, this city’s no snoozer. Taylor’s downtown is full of historic architecture, and its residents are a rousing group of folks who see the city’s future as an inspiring haven for creative artists and artisans. With a population just over 15,000, it’s a community offering room to spread out, affordable property, attractive incentives for business owners and opportunities to dive into a thriving city.

“Austin’s getting too crowded, too expensive. Taylor’s ripe. You can come out here for pennies on the dollar. I’m not trying to bring Austin to Taylor, but Austin is busting at the seams in every direction. This is the next frontier,” Humphreys says.

The Best of Taylor

  • Place to Eat | Ed’s Place
  • Best Taco | Ricoco’s Latin Grill
  • Local Color | The Taylor Cafe
  • Scenic Route | FM 973
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Brian + Andrea Nelson | Manor, TX

For those who harbor romantic notions of running away to the country to a charming old house, seeing Andrea and Bryan Nelson’s Manor, Texas, home will induce severe jealousy. In a small neighborhood off of Highway 290, their nearly 3,000-square-foot wooden historic house is tucked mysteriously behind overgrown foliage, painted an array of bold colors and situated on nearly a half acre of land.

It’s quite different from the East Austin life they recently left behind when they bought this 1906 house last August and after some renovations, moved in earlier this year. Andrea, a fine-artist and painter, and Bryan, a sound engineer and recording producer (and president of the Austin Facial Hair Club), first felt like moving out of Austin after the East 6th Street bar explosion (couples having arguments outside your bedroom window at 2am is as charming as it sounds) but made the plunge when their two kids, Olympia, 3 1/2, and Apollonia, 15 months, came along. Andrea’s interest in permaculture also fueled their desire for a little land to call their own. Now a few months moved in, kids and dogs gleefully run around the art-filled, all-wood rooms, and Andrea’s got a couple ofhugelkultur compost mounds going in the backyard.

Proximity to Austin means a growing population (just over 5,000) for the former cotton production center of Travis County, but Manor today lacks essentials like a grocery or hardware store, meaning the Nelsons stock up in Austin. There’s no denying Manor’s potential, though: It’s the perfect place for those looking to make an impact in a small community. Bryan’s kicking around the idea of starting up a coffee shop, and as a prolific typewriter collector has plans to open a typewriter museum in one of the ground-floor rooms of the house.

The kind of place where you might discover that the mayor is your neighbor (as did Bryan and Andrea), Manor is for those looking for a little distance from Austin, and a little space of their own.

“It takes a little bit of a leap of faith to sort of move out of the city and out of the conveniences. But it’s been such a positive transition so far. Worth the move,” Andrea says.

The Best of Manor

  • Place to Eat | Ramos Mexican Restaurant
  • Best Taco | Tacos El Borreguito
  • Local Color | Manor Farmers Market
  • Scenic Route | 969 East to 973 North
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The Gardners | Pflugerville, TX

Rene Gardner, originally from Mexico, is fully aware that Pflugerville isn’t considered the coolest city ever. When his job at advertising agency LatinWorks moved him and his family—wife Carol Espinoza and sons Ulysses, 10, and Victor, 5—from the Dallas area to the Austin area three years ago, Pflugerville with its low property taxes, comfy houses, quiet atmosphere and family-friendly schools seemed the perfect fit. The key to enjoying Pflugerville in Rene’s opinion? Not asking too much from the city.

In Pflugerville, located a half-hour commute from downtown Austin, the kids enjoy soccer leagues, and their colorful home is within walking distance to parks and school. Though growing—several food trailers have surfaced locally—it’s not Austin, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Pflugerville’s friendliness was immediately apparent for the Gardners: Five different neighbors greeted them on move-in day, and kids laugh and play around the neighborhood all evening long. And while the family definitely comes in to Austin to visit Zilker Park, favorite restaurants and festivals, Rene says the best part of living a little farther north is the ease in exploring the rest of Texas.

“The fact that we don’t live in Austin makes us try and find different things to do, so Austin is just an option. Sometimes we go to Zilker Park or to Banger’s Sausage House. But sometimes we find there is another thing going on in a place like Bastrop or we go find a historic dance hall to visit,” Gardner says.

Pflugerville is like any city: It is what you make it.

“I think it’s not fair to name a city boring. It depends on you. How you take advantage of a place. A small festival in downtown Pflugerville isn’t going to be as super-crowded as one in Austin, but that’s good. It’s not fast living like in Austin, but it’s still fun. It’s up to you to enjoy it.”

The Best of Pflugerville

  • Place to Eat | El Taquito
  • Best Taco | El Taquito
  • Local Color | Downtown. Try a snow cone or a banana split at JT’s.

Credits

Photography by Sandy Carson

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