The redoubtable Coco Chanel was nothing if not pragmatic. “Luxury must be comfortable,” she proclaimed. “Otherwise, it is not luxury.” That apparently straightforward notion could have served as the mantra for this Austin-area home.
“They didn’t want it to be stuffy or too formal,” recalls Austin-based designer Karen Greiner of the clients who hired her to outfit the interiors. “They’re very understated, low-key, unpretentious people. Grand and over-the-top were definitely out. They wanted it to be comfortable, yet sophisticated.” Like Chanel’s little black dress, in fact. And Chanel would have been the first to explain that a dress’ comfort must appear deceptively simple. Therein lies its art.
The clients’ own pursuit of comfort began with the structure itself. “Stylistically, they asked for a family home with a French country feel,” says Austin architect James LaRue. “It might look pretty buttoned-up, but it’s very casual from a lifestyle point of view. The house is really only one-room deep, and there are lots of windows, which make it pretty see-through and airy for a traditional home. There is no formal living room, and the family room is wide open to the kitchen.”
LaRue kept interior details fairly uncomplicated: White-painted intersecting beams in the family room, a stepped cove ceiling in the master bedroom and arched doorways leading from entry hall to family room all exhibit clean, unfussy lines. Even the roof was designed to look approachably handmade. “It was our biggest challenge,” admits LaRue, who remembers that the owners originally asked for slate. “Instead, we tried to make it look like an old zinc roof, with staggered roof joints to make it look more authentic.”
Comfort also has to do with privacy, of course—something difficult to achieve on a one-acre, curved corner lot. “We tried to save as many trees as possible,” says LaRue. “And configuring the home in an L shape gave us a little more protection from the street.” The inside of that L embraces side-by-side swimming and lap pools, keeping them out of sight from passersby.
Builder Ford Strei, of S&W Construction in Austin, recalls the great care that went into the exteriors. “There is a lot of hardscaping—retaining walls, pools, patios,” he observes. The lady of the house and the designer both insisted on limestone, a ubiquitous local material. “Karen wouldn’t be talked out of it. We explored every option, but she was absolutely adamant that it was right for the home.” They settled on saw-cut Texas limestone, which imparts a cleaner look than the more common irregular stone approach, and then softened the straight lines with plantings. “She likes an English cottage garden look—more overgrown and lush than sculpted,” says Greiner.
For the interiors, Greiner blended custom upholstered pieces with timeworn antiques, which she worked diligently to keep quiet and muted for a relaxed effect. Though the husband requested more color, she says, “I prefer to do neutral solids on furnishings and bring in color in the art and accessories, which are things that are easier to change out less expensively down the line.”
The designer’s attention to the principles of comfort extended to the walls (a soothing ivory throughout) and finishes. When the wife was initially skeptical about her suggestion of honed, rather than polished marble in the kitchen: “I told her to look at houses in Europe that have been there hundreds of years,” says Greiner. “Over time, honed marble acquires a patina that warms to the home.” And it seems the designer was right; the residence wears it and the other exceptional materials throughout well, almost as well as the ever-reliable little black dress.