The Beauty Is In The Simplicity For This Modernist Austin Retreat


Exterior of a modern home

The design team at Matt Fajkus Architecture broke down the home’s scale into separate masses, each defined by different materials. The ground-level wood-and-glass volume appears to hang over the hillside like a tree house among the oaks.

Entry featuring a custom cypress...

The main entry is furnished minimally with a bench from Blu Dot and artwork from Zoe Bios Creative in deference to the dark brick walls, concrete floors and custom cypress door by Grand Door Company.

Living room featuring whitewashed-cypress fireplace...

A whitewashed-cypress fireplace wall, with a concrete and steel surround fabricated by Dusty Whipple Designs, provides a striking focal point in the living room. Designer Joel Mozersky selected a Modena Slope Arm sectional and 1950s Italian Shelter armchair, both from RH, to gather around the Concho table in limestone from Yucca Stuff.

Dining area with two dining...

Custom wood dining area tables designed in collaboration with Litmus Industries pair with RH Vero leather side chairs, while bespoke lighting designed with Warbach Lighting nods to the tangles of live oak tree branches outside. The vintage Ed Baynard painting is from Sputnik Modern.

Kitchen featuring cabinetry painted Benjamin...

Benjamin Moore Harbor Haze coats custom cabinetry fabricated by RiverCity Cabinets at the kitchen’s perimeter, where it complements the Strata V backsplash tile from Cement Tile Shop. The hexagonal pattern is a subtle reference to the owner’s beekeeping hobby. Cork flooring provides comfort underfoot.

Custom fabricated staircase

The home’s central core, clad in millwork painted Benjamin Moore Harbor Haze, features a dramatic staircase fabricated by Austin Iron and Soledad Builders with custom floating steel treads and a handrail capped with white oak.

Breezeblock wall separating a guest...

A breeze-block wall separates the guest house from the auto court. The Thorburn wide wall sconces are from Rejuvenation.

Raised beds for organic fruits...

A bridge spanning the top of the garage connects a second-story realm clad in white stucco to the highest part of the sloped site, where a garden includes a greenhouse, an orchard and raised beds for organic fruits and vegetables.

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.