Owning an entire floor at the Four Seasons in downtown Austin definitely has its advantages. From their enviable penthouse perch, a pair of empty nesters not only enjoy 360-degree vistas of the city, but they are also within walking distance of Lady Bird Lake where they routinely head with their golden retrievers. “We love all the activity here; it’s why we chose to live downtown,” says the husband, who, along with his wife, previously split time between Racine, Wisconsin, and Castle Pines, Colorado, before adding the Live Music Capital of the World to the places they call home. “When we step off the elevator, we can see completely through to the view.”
But establishing their panoramic window on the world wasn’t easy. Just ask any member of their design team about the collaboration required to turn the four units the owners purchased into a single welcoming home that capitalized on the spectacular vistas at every turn. According to designer Fern Santini, the first order of business was dealing with what happened upon arrival. “The owners travel a great deal, and when they stepped off the elevator they didn’t want to feel like they were in a hotel with lots of long corridors leading to various spaces,” she says.
The job of erasing that hotel ambience fell to architects Pam Chandler and Patrick Ousey, who remedied the situation in the entry by increasing the height of an existing set of double doors on the north side and creating a matching set on the south wall by cutting an opening in the concrete elevator core. “Now, when the owners come home, they are immediately greeted by the star of the unit: the view,” Chandler says. Next, the duo tackled the problems created by the existing HVAC, plumbing and other systems. “When the owners purchased the units many of the systems were already in place and if we moved a water line or anything else it would affect the people above and below,” says Ousey. “It was a bit like a puzzle.” To resolve the problem, the architects decided to organize the systems into clusters all while creating distinct spaces that served their clients needs.
￼The inventive architects’ answer was to design the raised painted-panel walls trimmed with burnished-brass piping that flank the kitchen and discreetly tuck the mechanicals inside. Similarly, in the dining room, two boxes clad in fumed eucalyptus houses the powder room and bar while screening the dining area from the service elevator. “Every piece we designed had a purpose above and beyond looking pretty, and around these blocks we created living spaces,” Chandler says. “Our problems became solutions.”
Builders David Escobedo and Kathy Escobedo turned those solutions into reality by fabricating everything from the wall panels to the limestone fireplace in the living room to the floating master bathroom mirrors through their sister company, Architectural Elements by Escobedo. And if getting the intricacy of the designs just right wasn’t difficult enough, everything had to be calculated to meet the size and weight restrictions of the service elevator. Regarding the kitchen’s burnished-brass shelving unit, David Escobedo explains, “that unit had to be made and assembled in the shop, then disassembled, loaded on the elevator, and reassembled on site.”
Thanks to Chandler and Ousey, the extensive layout follows a logical sequence, with the kitchen serving as a dividing line. The more formal areas occupy the west side capped by the master suite, while spaces such as the family and game rooms and guest quarters fill the east end. In concert with Santini, the architects developed a cohesive and nuanced materials palette intended to balance traditional sensibilities with contemporary clean lines. “There are no strong jolts from one space to another, but it’s not monotone,” Chandler says. “There’s an appropriate character and spirit to each space.”
Building on that concept, Santini selected furnishings and accessories that allow all the rooms to flow from casual to refined while deftly melding styles along the way. Her mix begins with a quartet of 1950s-style swivel chairs cloaked in an abstract print visible from the entry. Lit by a Murano glass-and-chrome Sputnik fixture, the space beckons all who enter. “I saw it as the place you’d just want to sit and have a martini at the end of the day,” she says.
In the living room, the art deco lines of the fluted-limestone fireplace surround and a sofa sporting a subtle Art Deco silhouette get cozy with club chairs and a vintage coffee table. “The Deco lines bring an elegant modernism into the space,” Santini says. Immediately adjacent, the classic dining room features furnishings that are offset by a contemporary Alison Berger Glassworks chandelier and a pair of 1940s Venetian mirrors hanging above carved-wood buffets, which add a vintage touch. “By using an accumulation of periods and styles from the ’40s to current times, this home will never feel dated,” adds Santini.
For the homeowners, who define one of their homes as having a lodge look and the other as casual elegance with European flair, their penthouse digs ended up being a major departure. “We never thought we’d go so contemporary but this certainly wasn’t the right setting for anything rustic,” says the wife. “There are a lot of antique pieces that create a vintage modern feel, and it’s more eclectic than i would have imagined, but when we step off the elevator, it feels like home.”