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High on a Feeling
By Helen Thompson | Photo: by Casey Dunn | October 2, 2018
A new house on a hilltop outside of Austin embodies its owners’ sense of belonging.
The peripatetic owners of a recently completed house by Austin architect David Shiflet have called many places home. “We’ve lived in Houston, Lake Jackson, Michigan and Latin America,” says the wife, rattling off just a few of the locales she and her husband have landed. She is a retired schoolteacher and he is a retired executive with a Fortune 50 company; for the last 40 years, traveling and relocating has been their norm. When the husband finally retired, though, the couple knew exactly where they wanted to live. “The Texas Hill Country,” says the wife, “is the place we knew we had to be.”
The couple was so eager to get established in the Hill Country that they bought a lot in 2011 but didn’t start building until a few years later. Even though the 6,400-square-foot Austin stone house would be brand-new, the wife had some specific ideas about how it shouldn’t look new. “I wanted the house to be a place that someone would drive by 10 years from now and not know when it was built,” she says. With that directive in mind, Shiflet and designer Julie Evans often opted for materials that had been repurposed from old structures—such as the reclaimed white oak used for the floors throughout the house and the reclaimed wood beams in the kitchen. The exterior’s limestone blocks, cut to reveal the pattern of the saw, have the rough patina that comes with age.
The floor plan, though, is thoroughly modern—entry is via a great room that opens onto the spectacular panoramic trifecta that includes downtown Austin, the University of Texas tower and Lake Austin. The hearth room, just off the kitchen, is the site of one of the residence’s four fireplaces. Although Texas’ climate is notoriously mild, a fireplace was one of several elements the couple deemed a must: “We have always had fireplaces,” says the wife, noting that she has a few secrets about how to make all the houses she, her husband and their two daughters have lived in always feel familiar, no matter how far-flung they are. “It’s all about continuity,” she says. Fireplaces are one of the factors that unfailingly confirm a sense of at-homeness.
Evans understood the emotional place her client was coming from. “She has moved around so much,” the designer explains. “Her memories of things she has loved were a driving force in this project.” Evans melded nostalgia and modernity for an energetic interpretation of “home,” starting with rockers on the front porch: “They were a way for my client to send a message to friends and neighbors walking by that they are always welcome.”
The designer mixed new pieces—such as the A. Rudin sofas anchored by an Oushak rug in the great room—with antiques and vintage items. In the dining room, a custom Hudson table and Maxine Snider chairs sit alongside a midcentury buffet by German designer and artist Tommi Parzinger. The master bedroom houses the wife’s grandmother’s desk and rush bottom chair, and features a beloved painting of the homeowners’ Michigan garden hanging above an elegant, up-to-date four-poster bed.
A sense of the arc of a loving family history pervades the house—and the homeowners are grateful to their architect and designer for accommodating their desire for a new home in both the physical and emotional senses. “Julie and David really listened to us,” says the wife. But she also knew exactly what was possible because she had done it so many times by herself. As usual, her system worked. “The minute my daughters walked in the house,” she says, “they both said, ‘Oh! This feels just like home!’”
Shiflet Group Architects
Reynolds Custom Homes
LandWest Design Group
Quality Custom Pools
Sofas in great room
David Alan Rugs
Vanity stool in master bath
Lounge chairs, Pearson sofa and ottoman in hearth room
Joyce Horn Antiques
Mirrors in master bath, dining table on patio
Buffet in dining room
Lanterns in gallery and great room
Unique Carpets Ltd.
Carpeting in three bedrooms
Visual Comfort & Co.
Sconces in great room and master bath