Multigenerational living was architect Matt Fajkus’ challenge for a family comprising three generations: husband and wife Karl Arcuri and Gitanjali Yadav, their young son Akash, and Yadav’s parents, Jagjit and Kalpana Yadav. Jagjit had purchased the almost-one-acre lot in the heart of Austin with the intention of one day living there with Kalpana. But as time passed, that plan evolved into creating a home to accommodate the extended family of five. Realizing this vision proved challenging, however, as the steep, wooded site held a midcentury modern house deemed architecturally significant by the city’s Historic Landmark Commission but unsalvageable by structural engineers—as well as by Fajkus and builders Marc Molak and Kelly Molak. “The house was basically falling into the creek below,” Fajkus recalls. “There was a one-foot difference between one side of the living room and the other.” It quickly became clear the damage could not be corrected.
Fortunately, the commission members agreed—with the hope that any new dwelling would honor some of the original home’s design principles. “They wanted something a little more natural, a little more tucked into the landscape, not something that was pounding its chest on the hillside,” Fajkus says. On the other hand, “Jagjit has more traditional tastes while Kalpana likes modern—and they both like living in large houses,” Karl notes. Kalpana, the daughter of an Indian politician, “grew up living in palatial estates, colonial bungalows, the Edwin Lutyens-designed houses,” Gitanjali explains, referencing the famed English architect who largely designed New Delhi. “And my father loves collecting ornate furniture from the old palaces in India, including giant four-poster beds that can sleep a family of five,” she adds. The new residence needed to accommodate those tastes, as well as allow for the family’s love of cooking and gardening. And it was imperative to strike a balance between common and private spaces.
To satisfy these desires, Fajkus and his team—including principal architect and project manager Sarah Johnson—and the builders created three zones atop the former home’s footprint, “each with its own integrity and identity, but part of a cohesive whole,” Fajkus says. A ground-level wood-and-glass volume with expansive views encloses the shared kitchen-living-dining space on one end and an accessible suite on the other for the grandparents. Stacked atop it is another rectilinear form, this one clad in white stucco, which holds Karl and Gitanjali’s suite, their son’s bedroom and a shared living area. This level opens to a bridge leading to raised garden beds designed by landscape architect Shaney Clemmons as well as to beehives that Karl maintains. Another gray-brick space encloses a den, mudroom and laundry room, and a matching guest house connects to the main residence via a covered walkway. Uniting these distinct zones is the home’s two-story central core, defined by pale-blue paneled walls and a floating wood-and-steel staircase.
Though each of the private realms includes its own sitting area, “they aren’t meant to be self-sufficient bungalows,” Fajkus explains. As a result, energy flows to the common areas, especially the kitchen, which is right at the heart of the scheme and designed as a place for all three generations to meet. It’s also where the structure’s connection to nature proves especially strong, with floor-to-ceiling windows framing a panorama of the tree canopy and sky. “It’s all about that view,” says designer Joel Mozersky, who helped the homeowners select furnishings, fixtures and artwork. “When you’re in the living room, you feel like you’re in a tree house, so rather than detract from that, we kept the furnishings minimal and not too decorative—like the house itself.”
Taking cues from the architectural palette of concrete, wood and brick, which flows seamlessly from interiors to exterior, Mozersky—working with designer Scott Martin—helped the family marry their furnishings from India with clean-lined new pieces in neutral tones. For the kitchen, he chose white quartz countertops that complement hexagonal blue backsplash tiles. For the adjacent dining area, he specified twin dining tables that can accommodate a small group or a crowd, custom light fixtures reminiscent of tangles of pick-up sticks, and artist Ed Baynard’s 1976 painting, Pots, which Mozersky says he loves “for its simplicity.” That artwork—set against a backdrop of whitewashed-cypress walls—creates a quiet moment exemplifying what’s most remarkable about this residence: despite all of its complexity, in the end simplicity and beauty prevail.