The whole point of building a house is to embark on a journey you’ve never been on before,” says the owner of this Austin residence several years after beginning just such an adventure with her husband. The couple envisioned a clean and modern exterior, with inviting and organic interiors holding artifacts from their travels—all while tying in the outdoors with plentiful natural light. In their current role as philanthropists, they also needed a backdrop for fundraisers benefiting a long list of social and environmental causes. “We were building a house to live in but also a place to share and pay it forward,” she adds.
Not surprisingly, a layout that could accommodate guests was on the list of asks they presented to architect Juan Miró, joined by principal Miguel Rivera and project manager Nate Schneider. Glass on both sides capturing the city views and framing the many trees populating the 1.7 acres also topped their requests. And the husband, a California native and fan of Richard Neutra’s iconic midcentury masterpiece, the Kaufmann House, wanted a structure in keeping with the simplicity of that design: “Nothing showy and no big, bulky roofs,” he explains.
The low-profile structure Miró delivered acknowledged his predecessor. “The sense of lightness and connection to the outdoors was inspired by Neutra,” explains Miró, who designed a roof featuring a thin, sloping plane with curving edges that, together with the berm built in front, creates the appearance of a single floor. “The single slope coincides with the sight line from the street, so the house minimizes its presence from the street because there is no visible roof,” explains the architect. “Seeing big roofs is something the husband doesn’t like, and we took that to heart—it’s invisible but not flat and it slopes, opening to the view in the back.”
Inside, the entertaining requirements were met with a commodious entry connected to a series of carefully delineated spaces within the loft-like setting. A floating fireplace, for example, separates the living and dining rooms, the latter located down several steps, while open sight lines make all the spaces feel related. “There are no bottlenecks,” notes the architect, who introduced American white-oak ceilings and European oak floors as counterpoints to the miles of fenestration. “People associate wood with warmth and it provides an acoustic balance for the glass,” he adds. All the while, general contractor Joe Pinnelli and his project manager Ray Moore ensured precision craftsmanship, tending to details like aligning every light fixture with the ceiling slats.
Designer Mark Cravotta, with his project lead Amy Ulmer, sought a sweet spot between the home’s sleek architecture and the wife’s desire for pattern and texture. In the living room, soft elements like the unstructured sofa and the organic forms of the Vincenzo De Cotiis coffee table open the dialogue, while in the dining room African-inspired upholstery on the chairs and a ceramic chandelier reminiscent of a ceremonial headdress continue the conversation. “She has a passion for African causes,” the designer remarks.
A former ceramicist and jewelry maker, Cravotta also brought an artistic sensibility. “Because this is a steel and glass house with relatively little wall space, the architectural details and furnishings help express art throughout,” he explains, pointing to the entry console by sculptor Ingrid Donat with a bespoke Windsor-style bench and a metal screen just beyond. “The entry wall was originally solid but the owners really wanted guests to see the spectacular view,” adds Cravotta. “The idea for a transparent room divider was introduced and I knew French artist Christophe Côme was the one to make it.”
From there, artistic moments abound. In the reading room, a burl wood light fixture with gold-leaf interiors casts a warm glow on hand-painted silk wallpaper, while a wallcovering of tree bark interlaced with gold lurex makes a distinctive mark in the guest room. Moroccan-inspired tile backing vanities composed of Texas sinker cypress raises the bar in the master bathroom, and reclaimed Welsh roof tiles hand painted with botanical motifs set a new standard for wow factors in the master bedroom. “With her love of traditional botanicals, this seemed like a perfect way to incorporate them in a sophisticated and original style,” Cravotta says.
Upon completion of the project, the homeowners celebrated their latest journey’s end with a 30th wedding anniversary party. Recalling their life partnership and backgrounds in journalism and photojournalism, the husband reflects, “We always collaborated on words and pictures together and now a house. We enjoy storytelling and this is our story.”