For one man who grew up in Texas, the call to return held strong even after spending many years away building a life in the Windy City. Embracing their status as soon-to-be empty nesters, he and his wife set their sights on this high-rise with sweeping views of Austin. Eager to stake a claim in the Texas sky, they asked their dear friend and trusted designer, Brooke Wilbratte, to customize their new home. “They said, ‘It’s up to you. We’re going to give you free rein, and we want you to have fun with it,’ ” the designer recalls.
Wilbratte embarked on enveloping the expansive glass-and-steel interior in tactile softness. “I wanted it to feel like a beautiful, modern, welcoming penthouse—polished yet organic,” she describes. “The couple frequently entertain, so it’s definitely geared toward grown-up living.” Together with builder David Wilkes, the designer incorporated accents of fluted white oak paneling. The rich wood tones infuse a material warmth throughout, from complementing the earthy hues of an iconic Richard Prince cowboy canvas in the entry, to establishing a cozy, cabin-like ambience in the primary bedroom.
More custom millwork helps carve out dedicated destinations for entertaining. “There wasn’t a place to stow their collection of wines,” notes Wilbratte, who translated that need for practical storage into a sense of occasion. To anchor the dining area, she devised two wine refrigerators crafted from glass, steel and white oak, creating a stylish centerpiece for many a dinner party. Elsewhere, in the media room, the designer also formed a sleek, custom built-in wall to corral an epic entertainment system. The space comes alive during football watch parties, grounded by a sectional so massive the design team needed to cut the frame in two to fit it into the elevator before reupholstering it back together on site.
As the layout began taking shape, the circulation between gathering areas soon felt stymied by the enclosed stairwell running through the core of the penthouse. “We decided mid-project to rip out the entire staircase,” Wilbratte says. Enter: architect Patrick Ousey and his project manager, Michael Varhalla. “It was solid all the way down to the ground, which blocked daylight from coming into the entry,” Ousey explains. “Our approach was to create something very light and fluid instead.” His reimagined design of slender black-steel steps seems to float in the air, suspended between a glass railing and stainless steel aircraft cables. Buoyant and porous, the structure now allows a well of light and air to flood into the heart of the home.
Wilbratte underscored this newfound lightness with layers of neutral tones that meld into a serene ombre. Contrasting textures helped achieve depth and detail, ensuring “there is nothing too stark; we stayed away from cold, hard lines,” the designer says. Wallpapers in tactile styles, ranging from one in studded tweed to another inspired by kintsugi pottery, swathe more intimate spaces like the bedrooms. In turn, soft pleated sheer draperies diffuse sunlight that pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows. The floors appear equally lush, layered with chunky wool area rugs and vintage Oushak and Afghan-style weaves.
This palpable ease carries through to the furnishings. To that end, Wilbratte focused on simple forms made for sprawled relaxation, from low-slung sofas and deep-seated armchairs to upholstered beds with well-padded headboards. “We like to have a rich texture on most of our upholstery,” the designer explains. “You’ll notice a lot of velvets, mohairs and some curly wools, all of which underscore the warm modern vibe.” Hard surfaces also embrace the organic, evident in a gray marble waterfall bar and coffee tables comprising limestone or even cerused ash.
Perhaps most central to the design is the couple’s breathtaking collection of contemporary art. A few notable pieces—procured by Gould Art Advisory—include a kinetic Larry Poons acrylic on canvas in the primary bedroom, an Olafur Eliasson installation along the new staircase and a Robert Rauschenberg work on metal adjacent to the sitting room. Blanketed in chic, sensorial comfort, the penthouse has indeed become a true expression of its owners—grounded by the welcoming comfort of home. It’s everything Wilbratte envisioned for her friends. “Most of all, I wanted to create this space for them to enjoy in the next chapter of their lives.”