Architect Alex Robinette is only too happy to rattle off the list of critters sharing her Austin abode’s plot of earth, a leafy locale in the Rollingwood area abutting Zilker Park. “We have foxes, deer, raccoons, skunks—and opossums too,” she says. “Hawks and owls swoop through the trees, and there’s even a massive dragonfly population.” For Robinette, who sits on the boards of Austin Parks Foundation and Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve, her home’s location couldn’t be more perfect. “The tall window wall in the living room is like a movie screen for observing passing wildlife,” she explains. And while the house may be new, it follows the footprint of the land’s original 1940s residence, so as not to disturb all those who share this verdant space.
“Zilker Park is an important piece of our story,” Robinette says, noting she and her husband sought a bigger property simply to protect a larger ecosystem. “The site designed the house,” she adds. “By virtue of wanting to safeguard it, we went through many iterations and options of different spaces. It winds its length among the trees, creating privacy while taking on light and views in all directions.”
In collaboration with residential designer Ryan Street of Ryan Street Architects, whose project manager was Jeremy Ristau, Robinette reinterpreted the original home’s stonework and steel casement windows into a more contemporary expression. “It’s important to me to build on history rather than copy it, and this house tells the story of the city,” she explains. “Ryan understands the neighborhood and helped delineate initial schematics. We wanted to bring back the previous structure’s spirit in a playfully modern way, even matching the pitch of the original shed roof.” With a material palette of limestone blocks and both steel-plate and shou sugi ban (an ancient Japanese technique of preserving wood by charring its surface) siding, Robinette developed what she calls “a hybrid of Texas vernacular with a raw, simple and rugged design sensibility,” which also appeals to her Norwegian roots. Meanwhile, builder Michael Rhodes infused a feeling of substance and longevity, and architect Brian Carlson of McKinney York Architects helped see the project to the finish line. Even Robinette’s husband played a role in the creative collaborative process, conceiving the curved stone planter at the front that “draws you into the house and embraces you,” Robinette describes.
That welcoming spirit continues inside, where the living room, library, dining room and kitchen together serve as the heart of the home. “The spaces are open to each other to invite connection for our family,” notes Robinette. “One room flows into the next, delineated by material changes, not partition walls.” Furthermore, the couple’s bedroom is nearest to the kitchen but feels like a retreat with its pool and forest views. The office and guest room are tucked away for privacy, while the second floor holds the children’s rooms and additional common areas.
Just as the home needed to feel livable and low-fuss, Robinette opted for furnishings that felt harmonious and soothing. Equally keen on interiors, the architect credits her mother, who also worked in the design world, for shaping her interests and aesthetic. “Mom always had me in the garden, walking through construction sites or getting lost in antique warehouses,” she recalls. “I’ve been immersed in all aspects of design my entire life.” And that is certainly evident in the array of meaningful furnishings that fill the abode, including two pieces from her childhood: a table that’s now in her husband’s office and a cabinet that informed the design of their bedroom. New additions include iconic chairs by Scandinavians Eero Saarinen and Hans J. Wegner, as well as contemporary pieces by Dutch, Belgian and Italian designers, all with an emphasis on clean lines and natural materials.
Outside, Robinette enlisted landscape architect Curt Arnette to help create a feeling of continuity with Zilker Park while bringing pollinator-friendly blooms closer to the residence. Whether it’s a swim in the pool, soccer practice on the lawn or an evening spent on the screened porch with a good book, this is a home offering something for everyone, at any time of day. Even the family cat, Hobbes, is living the good life with a myriad of perches from which to surveil all those buzzing, swooping and scampering visitors. “The house feels uniquely ours,” Robinette reflects. “We’ll never outgrow it in style or size.”