Husband-and-wife architects Patrick Ousey and Pam Chandler have tackled their fair share of dated homes over the years, routinely removing excess embellishments in hopes of unearthing simple, classical structures. That was certainly the case with a Texas residence on Lake Austin featuring “lots of arches and not-well-finessed wrought-iron work,” recalls Ousey. After stripping back the layers, he and Chandler, with project manager Kristen Brown, kept the clay-tile roof and added a slurry over the existing local-limestone facade for a crisper, more tailored feel. “It’s our nature to create a dialogue between contemporary lines and traditional references,” Ousey explains.
That was exactly the kind of conversation the owners sought as they envisioned a European look, relying on designer Benjamin Wood and his decidedly English aesthetic to help with the interiors. By their own account, the owners had instantly fallen in love with the picturesque lakeside setting. “There are four acres and the back lawn rolls down to the lake through an ancient grove of heritage pecan trees,” notes the husband. But while the house itself had decent bones, “they needed to be reset,” the wife says. The residence, for example, included two of just about everything. “One side was built for a woman who was the original property owner,” the wife explains, “and the other side for her daughter and son-in-law.”
The new owners looked past the unconventional layout and had already begun reimagining the floor plan by the time they met with their architects, who did the problem solving. “The clients had a reasonable idea of how they wanted to live in the house and expressed desires about where they wanted spaces to be located,” says Ousey. They were also very clear, Chandler adds, “in painting a picture of what they wanted and how they saw room relationships.”
But even the husband, with his discerning eye, hadn’t yet determined how to handle the imposing double-height entry. “It needed to be big enough to flow through to the key areas but the scale had to come down,” says Chandler, noting they achieved this in part by reconfiguring the stairway, introducing a mezzanine and adding warm poplar wood. By installing three windows above and taking this wood up to the sills, they created a beltline, making the entry feel smaller and more comfortable.
Early on in the process, Wood also chimed in on the spatial considerations. “There were wonderful 12-foot ceilings downstairs and 10-foot ceilings upstairs, which allowed for great flexibility in opening up spaces and creating large rooms that felt proportionate,” says Wood, who removed the faux-marble floors and a series of opulent crystal chandeliers. The team also gutted everything and combined many rooms, reducing the number of bedrooms on the upper level to five and reconfiguring the master suite downstairs.
On the main floor, the architects deftly transformed the existing footprint containing a formal dining room flanked by two informal dining areas into one long sunroom enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glazing to establish a connection to the outdoors. Here, the addition of three pairs of white-fir columns helped define circulation and further cemented the indoor-outdoor relationship. “We only needed one column at the three points for structural support,” Ousey says, “but having them all helped to create a spatial relationship with the landscape and the pecan trees visible beyond.”
The sunroom’s three distinct zones also complement many of the interior elements. At one end, for example, a 19th-century Chesterfield sofa with original supple leather relates to the bar in the connecting room while a more casual vintage Ralph Lauren Home daybed on the opposite side references the adjacent kitchen. Wood grounded the central seating zone with two navy velvet sofas visually linked to the library-dining room via its dark, glossy blue walls. In the latter, the inlaid-walnut table holds books and curiosities more often than china and crystal. “It is occasionally still used for dramatic dinner parties, but the Michael Taylor Designs chairs exaggerate the library atmosphere that invites you to grab a book or play chess,” the designer says.
Wood utilized the clients’ blue-and-white porcelain and centuries-old volumes in the dual-function dining space to establish a collected look. Similarly, in the kitchen, an antique-mirrored backsplash, lantern fixtures and chairs covered in Kuba cloth acquired on a family trip to South Africa temper the ultra-contemporary Bulthaup cabinets. “One feels the interiors have evolved over many years–maybe even a lifetime,” he says. “I love the eclectic English style of organized clutter.”
As a balance, epoxy concrete floors rendered in dove gray in the kitchen and throughout the lower level are an intentional reminder of the easygoing lakeside locale, setting the stage early on for what lies within. “The sight of the cliffs across the lake and the pecan trees immediately brings your blood pressure down,” Ousey says. “It didn’t seem right for the house to become anything but a relaxed, gracious place.”