It was singer Ziggy Marley who once said, “We take trees for granted; we don’t believe they are as much alive as we are.” The reggae artist would feel great affinity with the fortysomething couple who owns this home, for they were specifically determined not to take trees for granted when they decided to rebuild their house overlooking the city of Austin from the ground up. “We wanted to respect the land and not fight against it,” says the wife, “to take advantage of all this beautiful flora and fauna, as well as the views of the city.”
That flora included clutches of stately old oaks on the front and back of the property, and working with them presented architects Juan Miró and Miguel Rivera with what was arguably their greatest test. “The property had two lots,” says Rivera, “and they wanted to try to accommodate the house within one lot to give them the possibility of using the second either separately or as an extension of their landscape.” Adds Miró, “We made it a priority in our design to preserve the oak trees by placing the house in between them. It was the site that really gave us the idea to make it sort of like a tree house. So the trees posed a challenge, but also an opportunity.”
Additionally, the clients were adamant about avoiding ostentation of any kind, so the architects made the house look like a single-level structure by taking advantage of the slope in the site to create an upper and lower level while maintaining a low profile onto the street. That meant, says builder Divit Tripathi, that “there were different slab heights. It required a lot of skill to make sure everything matched up the way it was supposed to.”
The architects also created two rooflines, one convex and one concave. The former, toward the front of the house, helps conceal the structure’s size. The latter curves upward, creating ample window space to fully take in the preserved trees and the cityscape. They also limited the palette of materials—Western red cedar outside and local limestone that moves from indoors to out to fully connect both, as well as warm mahogany cabinetry and Brazilian cherrywood floors.
Catering to this organic palette, interior designer Jerri Kunz added furnishings with simple silhouettes and a neutral color scheme with pops of brightness: blue on two living room chairs, for instance, to pull in the pool’s aqua hue. And because the couple have two teens, two cats and a dog, says Kunz, “I made an effort to select things that were heavy-wearing but also beautiful and elegant.” Wool, Ultrasuede and leather-looking polymers wipe off or are easily washed.
“I didn’t want to interrupt the architecture, both inside and out,” says Kunz, who opted for an absence of pattern and clutter, the latter cleverly stashed behind various built-ins designed by Miró and Rivera. The wife was involved in every decision, and only once, recalls Kunz, did the team approach “the edge” (an Ingo Maurer light fixture that ended up over the kitchen island), preferring instead to opt for a warm modernism that felt sophisticated yet casual enough for the owners. “We’re an active family, so we didn’t want spaces and furnishings that made parts of our house off-limits,” says the wife.
Outside, landscape architect Curt Arnette “married contemporary aspects with native foliage already growing on the lot.” Gravel paths inset with square pavers nod to the building’s lines, and stone used inside by the architects was deployed outside on retaining walls of terraced lawns. The sculptural quality of drought- and deer-resistant plants such as yuccas, agaves and palmettos also complement the architecture, while roses and perennials soften things out back.
“It was such an enjoyable experience,” concludes the wife. “We all had pieces to contribute, and by listening to each other we accomplished something beautiful.” And the trees would happily agree.