As Dick Clark will certainly tell you, there’s a first time for everything. In his over 30 years as an architect in Austin, “This is the first time I’ve renovated a house that I had originally designed,” he says of the “Texas meets Tuscany meets Frank Lloyd Wright” dwelling that he placed on its premier lot over 10 years ago. “You can’t help but notice it,” he insists, which is precisely how his clients felt. After asking Clark to design a new house from the ground up, the couple did an unexpected about-face when the architect ferried them on the customary tour of his past projects.
When they walked into the limestone, stucco and glass stunner, “they fell in love,” recalls Clark. It’s obvious why: A window-lined front gallery stretches across the width of the living room, channeling guests to the vast cathedral-ceilinged room or to the double-height dining room to the right. A screened-in porch and deck just beyond provide a place for pleasant conversation in cool seclusion. And at the back of the house, a tree-shaded pool and dining pavilion promised opportunities for total relaxation. The house was exactly what the busy couple was looking for. And though it wasn’t for sale at the time, it soon—and conveniently for Clarks’ clients—hit the market, and they quickly nabbed it.
Discussions ensued about renovating the “old” house, with the couple vetoing any big changes. “The house was finished out fairly traditionally,” says Clark, who quickly went to work on the redesign with project architect Scott Ginder. “The rooms were painted green and brown, and handcrafted hardware and light fixtures gave the rooms a lodge-like feel.” The new homeowners’ sensibilities were more modern, but the fix Clark suggested was an easy one: “We changed all the surfaces—such as countertops and paint colors,” he says, “but the bones of the house remained intact.”
It was at this point that the couple turned to Suzi Dunn, a designer who works in Clark’s firm, to bring the home’s palatial scale down to a more human level. “I was already familiar with the house having worked on it before,” says Dunn, “and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it again.” Since the homeowners had already tossed out most of their own furniture—with the exception of their collections of fine art and glass—everyone was looking forward to starting over. “Our clients are very sure of their tastes,” notes Dunn. “They understood immediately that the house has good bones. They also felt—as I did—that there was so much texture everywhere, they didn’t want the furniture to compete.”
In the living room, Dunn opted for sleek sofas and low-slung ottomans so as not to distract from the statement-making limestone block fireplace. But while Dunn opted for furniture that is subtle and unfussy, she splurged in an unobtrusive way. “The upholstery—suede in an ethereal champagne hue—is pure luxe,” she says. Color makes a striking appearance in the form of a vivid red Tufenkian rug that anchors the space.
In the master suite, glamorous materials—such as the cream leather-upholstered headboard, camel leather Holly Hunt bench at the foot of the bed, cranberry-red quilted silk bed cover, and white and beige patchwork silk curtains—don’t overwhelm in a room that is otherwise understated in volume, size and color. “Even though the homeowners’ tastes lean toward the understated,” notes Dunn, “I felt that we could get a lot of mileage from wonderful fabrics and colors without seeming too excessive.”
If there is a place where outright luxury has a legitimate foothold, it’s in the backyard, where agave and sago palms flourish next to well-groomed live oaks. The homeowners asked Rick Scheen, of LandWest Design Group in Austin, to “clean up” the backyard, knowing from previous experience working with Scheen that he is committed to creating landscapes that complement their architectural setting. “They wanted a backyard oasis,” he notes, so Scheen added lushness in the form of agapanthus, lilies and spider lilies, and corrected grade and drainage problems by building up lawn and beds with healthy soil. “Before,” says Scheen, “this yard looked like no one ever went out there.”
Now, the landscape is an ever-present part of the homeowners’ daily lives—either as the main view from living room and kitchen, or as a cool retreat from Texas heat. And, it makes Clark feel good, too. “I’ve always liked that house,” he says. “I’m glad the new owners are there and having so much fun. I like to see a house I designed being enjoyed.”