Committees seem universally loathed. “If Columbus had an advisory committee, he would probably still be at the dock,” quipped American jurist Arthur Goldberg. And from the redoubtable Milton Berle: “A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.” But had these gents met the family—mom, dad and three 20-something children—who commissioned this house in a lake community near Austin, they might hold a different view. Not that it was a piece of cake. “The design meetings were hysterical,” remembers architect Dick Clark, of Austin’s Dick Clark Architecture, good-naturedly. “There were five clients, and nobody was scared to pipe up.”
Right out of the gate, it was a balancing act. Dad wanted a stucco Mediterranean- style spread, much like others in the development, but the children, who voted him down, desired modern. Clark responded with an H-shaped, “inwardly directed” structure with clerestory windows on its east and west sides to achieve privacy from the adjacent homes. The south, neighborhood-facing side was walled off, while the north remained open to the lake. A glass-enclosed hallway, which can be opened completely to nature, bisects the central courtyard, leading to sleeping quarters with views of the pool and a more public entertaining patio.
The northern extremities of the “H” cantilever dramatically over the lake some 80 feet below, as well as a deck (with a Jacuzzi) from which a tram descends to the water. The deck and tram track, recalls home builder Mark Goodrich, of Dorman Goodrich Construction in Austin, presented a formidable challenge. The steep drop required that steel erectors be drawn up a hill along narrow zigzagging paths. “We also had to haul up four shipping containers from Jerusalem filled with Halila stone in 25 different sizes and thicknesses,” he says. This golden limestone covers the courtyards and interior passageways, and it had to be precisely puzzled together. And, in order to get the color combination of the limestone block walls just right, Goodrich created about five 6-foot-square “sample walls” to present to the family for a vote.
Working democratically this way, observes project architect Francisco Arredondo, occasionally slowed the process and required diplomacy. “You had an idea of who would lobby for certain things,” he says, so he approached individual parties with specific ideas. One such item was a raised fitness room clad in copper and sporting a butterfly roof. “The parents didn’t approve of the design—it was a little too modern and made too much of a statement—but the kids loved it.” (It eventually grew on the parents.)
Also stretching construction to almost two years was the fact that, according to Goodrich, “we started without a final design. Everything got figured out in the process. The house was big enough that we could do that.” However, that required two teams of almost every trade—welders, tilers, cabinetmakers— who could work on some parts while other sections evolved. This was particularly knotty for the decorator, Karen Hall, of Austin-based Karen Hall Interior Design, who didn’t even know what interior finishes she’d be working with. “We saw only the sandstone,” she says. So, she, along with the lady of the house and her daughters, approached the palette by determining first what would hang on the walls. Working with art consultant Janet Phelps, formerly of Houston’s MKG Art Management, they purchased paintings and sculptures and drew colors from them. “They were very curious and open,” remembers Phelps, who steered them toward mostly abstract works.
Hall proposed a complementary mix of modern classics (Barcelona chairs, an Eames lounge) and comfortable sectional sofas. Since the kids are planning families of their own—all are now married—and because they are constantly hosting a large entourage of friends, Hall says, “we wanted materials that were very durable and repelled or disguised dirt: leather, highly textured cottons and rugs made of wool and silk.” The resulting uncluttered, soothingly neutral furnishings are inviting but don’t interfere with the views.
In the end, the house is exactly what it should be: a retreat for a loving family to bask in one another’s company and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s clear, for once at least, that committees can work. “Since everybody felt included in the design process,” concludes Arredondo, “everybody feels proud of the house.”