Contemporary Malibu-Style Residence in Austin


Though the phrase “location, location, location” is generally attributed to British real estate tycoon Lord Harold Samuel, its earliest usage appeared in a 1926 Chicago Tribune classified ad. Yet what was true in 1926, as well as in Lord Samuel’s time, remains an incontrovertible fact today. Proof positive of the adage is this idyllic tree-shaded property in Austin, which is bordered on three sides by a postcard-perfect lake.

Unfortunately for the couple who transferred from California to Texas for work, the existing 1983 house that sat on the land had a few quirks. “The house needed a lot of work,” says designer Fern Santini. “It was red and black, with a lot of gold sponge painting.” And so, Santini—along with architects Gary Furman and Philip Keil, home builder David Dalgleish and landscape designer Mark Word—was hired to turn the house into one more conducive to the homeowners’ lifestyle.

“Having lived in such close proximity to the ocean, I liked the look of Malibu-style homes,” says the wife. For Santini, that translated to lots of big windows, natural light and materials like limestone and rift-sawn white oak flooring. “The owner didn’t want the home to be formal,” the designer says, “and if something was formal, it had to be juxtaposed with something informal.”

But before the women could translate these ideas into welcoming interiors, Furman had to deal with the structure. “We wanted to capitalize on the most beautiful vistas,” explains the wife, “but close in some areas where neighbors were in view to make it feel more cozy and give us privacy.”

Outside, Furman says, “We inherited a lot of building forms from the old house. We clad them simply in stucco so their mass wouldn’t stand out too much. Then we added copper details—roof, downspouts and windows—and steel elements—the carport, boat dock and brise soleils.” Inside, “steel beams carry the weight of the roof, which allowed us to take down load-bearing walls that were cutting up the space,” he adds.

Also, Dalgleish says, Spanish cedar eaves outside “create a similar look to mahogany while remaining rot-resistant.” Taking out baseboards and moldings, he adds, emphasized the height of rooms, and “minimal finishes were an important part of making the interiors work.” These strategies gave the house a light-filled airiness not present in its former incarnation.

In order to capitalize further on the views, Santini and her clients settled on a muted palette—creamy whites and soft natural gray-greens—that framed the scenery without distraction. Then Santini set about creating “yin and yang everywhere.” The dining room’s Swarovski crystal branch chandelier, for example, is balanced with a natural-edge credenza and a sturdy trestle table. “The wife is a sculptor and a potter, so she loved the handcrafted quality of pieces like the buffet,” explains Santini. The living room’s sedately tailored seating is enlivened by surprising textures such as a handwoven Oushak rug and chairs upholstered in curly lamb’s wool. A wall piece made of cornhusks contrasts with the master bedroom’s clean modern millwork.

Finally, adding to the relaxed elegance, Word created shaggy plantings that flop comfortably onto pathways (clover ferns), tall ones that sway in the breeze (sedges), flowering varieties that provide pops of color (shrimp plants and Chinese ground orchids) and dramatic accents that inject an occasional sculptural element (giant leopard plants). Word also added a few live oaks to those existing on the lot and, in a nod to the owners’ California days, a few olive trees. “The site is really all about these big trees and the water,” Word says.

The teamwork resulted in a home in which it’s virtually impossible not to relax and unwind—the favorite spot being a daybed suspended on ropes in the screened porch that Furman carved out of the massive living room. It’s a far cry from the overly dark former dwelling that used to reside on the property. “They turned a house that didn’t appeal to me at all into a house that I now love,” concludes the homeowner happily.