After their children grew up and left the nest, an Austin couple realized it was time to downsize from a 5,000-square-foot house to something more simple, compact and energy-efficient. They wanted to stay in the city and to have the home reflect their love of art and culture, yet they still desired a tranquil, nature-ensconced respite—all of which they found in a smaller, newly built house perched on a hillside. “Our goal was to reduce our footprint and retain the things that are important to us—a calm uncluttered feeling, a good-size kitchen and enough space to have parties,” says the wife. Though lovers of modern architecture, they sought a design that would also feel warm and evocative of local and natural materials. “Our approach was to maintain a modern aesthetic yet also go in a different direction since the house is nestled in the woods,” says the wife. “We also wanted this home to be less formal than our previous one, and for it to reflect our relaxed lifestyle.”
Because a change in scale and style was in order, the couple happily turned to residential designer Matt Garcia, who, while working for celebrated architect Dick Clark, had led the design of the couple’s previous house—a modern steel-and-glass-cube-like structure—and under his own firm, a vacation cabin. “Overall, we were trying to design a much more compact and minimal home: a house that didn’t draw attention to itself and felt more natural and tucked into its environment,” says Garcia about this home’s conception.
The design for the couple’s new home takes full advantage of the site’s dramatic hillside vista, which looks out over the trees and a creek below. “When you’re in the house, you feel like you could be in the middle of nowhere, but you’re actually five minutes from downtown,” Garcia says. The front door is at the back of the house, giving visitors an up-close sense of nature from the outdoor deck before they even enter. “I prefer for a house to slowly unfold as you approach and enter, rather than show you everything it has all at once,” says the wife. Garcia also placed the ground-floor living and dining areas—as well as the upstairs master bedroom—toward the back in order to take full advantage of the views. Cedar cladding on the exterior adds to the home’s contemporary tree-house feel. “One of the first concepts I presented to them was doing a modern box clad in a rustic material—a juxtaposition of sorts,” Garcia explains. “Going further with that, we used the rough side of the cedar that’s a little grittier and raw.”
Inside, designer Jodi Jacobsen—then an independent contractor and currently with Alterstudio Architecture—helped the homeowners with such finishes as bathroom tile and sconces, outdoor lighting, ceiling fans and office hardware. The couple, who had also previously worked with designer Fern Santini of Abode | Fern Santini Design, enlisted her again in selecting the Ingo Maurer light fixtures in the dining room and entry, furniture placement, and finding the perfect paint hue for the master bedroom and bathroom and the guesthouse. A neutral palette of white on the walls and smooth concrete floors, for which Santini helped select the tone, is enlivened with colorful furniture and art. In the combined living-dining-kitchen area, for example, a set of blue chairs matches perfectly with the shade backing a long row of bookshelves, as well as the kitchen cabinets. “I’m so glad we chose one color to highlight, because it pulls everything together,” says the wife. “When you’re standing in the kitchen, it feels like one connected space.”
The master bedroom, with massive windows on three sides, gives the sensation of floating above the trees. Rift-sawn white-oak floors and a striking teak canopy bed combine with a custom silk-and-wool rug to create a tranquil golden-hued space that feels like a private sanctuary. “We took a simplistic, thoughtful and honest approach to this home’s design,” says Garcia. “Architecturally this house’s engagement with nature and the creek below makes it unique.” The upstairs also includes a covered outdoor deck seemingly carved into the cedar-and-glass box. “The house doesn’t dominate the site,” adds Garcia, whose firm also designed and detailed all of the hardscape outside. “I like the fact that you can get glimpses of the trees beyond wherever you are in the house.”
Garcia’s design also breaks down the house’s mass by tucking away two guest bedrooms in a separate adjacent guesthouse, with a canopy connecting the two structures to form a carport that can also pair with the back deck to become one large party space. Having the bedrooms in a separate building also means that section doesn’t have to be heated and cooled all the time—part of a broader array of sustainable design features that include solar panels, double-paned glass and increased insulation. “The home is super energy-efficient,” says general contractor Michael Battaglia. “It really stays cool in the Texas summertime heat.”
The fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces makes this home an ideal gathering spot for family and friends, but the couple seems most happy with its tranquil, comforting feel. “When the leaves are on the trees, it’s a feeling of floating amid the greenery, but then in the winter we can also see the twinkling lights of the city and the dome of the Capitol,” says the wife. “The house lends this feeling of being cozy in the woods while knowing that the big city is still out there.”