Designed and built by Austin-based architect AD Stenger in 1964, the clients – third owners of this eccentric midcentury home – turned to architects Rick & Cindy Black design with the hopes of a refreshing take on modern living. The extensive renovation project emphasized on retaining the building’s authenticity while updating and lightening up the home as well as opening up areas that did not use space to their full potential. Today, the Austin-based design team shed light on how the project was realized.
Which part/s of a new project excite(s) you the most?
We relish the opportunity to work on a property with historical significance, such as this house designed and built by AD Stenger in 1964. There is always something to learn by observing and drawing details from over fifty years ago, and then building upon those ideas with our updated design.
Beyond the potential of the site, we are thrilled to hear from new clients who care deeply about their home life, whether it is expressed through family traditions, art or furniture collections, a passion for gardening, or working creatively from the home.
What are the emerging trends in residential architecture that will shape our way of living in the next ten years?
With all the time spent at home recently, there has never been a better time to give consideration to the domestic environment. I think we’ll be seeing more complex residential programs and requests to accommodate family life, a home office, hobbies, ease of cleaning and meal planning, and joyful spaces. We may need to resolve the competing needs of productivity, privacy and togetherness, which are all essential aspects of home life.
Can you tell us a bit about the story of this house/project and its owners?
This house, with its scalloped rooflines, was most likely influenced by the old Austin airport. Our clients were the third owners, and purchased the house in 2008. They initially contacted us to help with a ‘refresh’ of the house to make it livable in the short term and to create a long-term plan for a more extensive renovation. We fully developed the design in 2012, and construction completed March 2013.
The owners were honored with a Merit Award from Preservation Austin in 2014 for their commitment to the renovation of this Austin midcentury gem.
What did your clients ask for in their brief?
The original AD Stenger house appeared to have great potential but needed a lot of work. The new owners recognized the optimistic expression of the scalloped roof, and wanted to capture that spirit of creativity in the renovation. However, they didn’t necessarily want a ‘retro’ style applied throughout, so we all agreed it was best to start by making the spaces as good as they could be.
What was your approach for the project?
Our approach with the renovation was to remain true to the spirit of the house with an emphasis on lightness and period proportions, and amend the features that made the house less livable. Despite the openness of the main volume, the kitchen had been walled off and isolated the cook. In the remaining L-shaped space, a large freestanding fireplace consumed much of the seating area. Both of these features were removed, and we created a much more open living / dining / kitchen concept that better suited the original intentions of the house.
Other design features were dated and in poor condition: the carpeted bedrooms, cramped bathrooms, and aluminum slider patio doors and windows. We aimed for a renovation that would preserve the original feeling of the house with a much higher quality of construction and sustainability
Which is your favourite/most important feature of this house and why?
We designed a walnut-panelled wall that conceals a built in media center and TV, with a pivot door leading into the master bedroom. The builder and cabinetmaker collaborated to figure out the clever walnut slide-latch to open that door, as none of us wanted to ruin the simplicity of the wall with metal hardware!
What materials have you used and why?
The new finishes and fixtures were employed with an eye for their slenderness and polish. For example the kitchen cabinets are built 10″ off the floor on stainless steel tubing to allow light under them and topped with 2cm countertops.
New white oak floors replaced the previous carpeting in order to create a warm aesthetic that is more easily kept free of allergens. The new terrazzo floor of the main space is complemented by the atmospheric pastel color palette. Exterior colors are more about earth and sky.
What was the first question you asked yourself when you got the assignment?
How will we ever measure up to this level of creativity?! The answer was that it didn’t happen overnight, and in fact, the owners took a big pause at the beginning of the project to ride out the recession of 2008. This gave us all some time to simmer on the assets and faults of the house, and come back with a fresh approach in 2012.
How important was the contribution of your clients, if there was any?
As always, it is very important to us that the clients are emotionally invested in the design elements. Both have an interest in midcentury architecture, and she is a landscape architect with a skilled eye toward design. Several design details were sourced by the owners: that cool Jill Malek wallpaper in the powder room, the arc lamp, landscape and many furnishings.
Have you found any inspiration in the midcentury period while designing the house?
Yes, our favorite midcentury projects make the most of natural daylight, incorporating the design of clerestories, skylights, and window walls that frame the natural landscape. The fireplace hearth was an important feature as well, and often helped shape and divide living space. Back then, cabinetry was often made on site and built-to-fit, so we have been inspired by partition walls that incorporate niches or shelves, all made from solid wood.
We’ve had the opportunity to renovate mid century projects in Austin by AD Stenger, Emil Niggly, and Barton D Riley. Other local midcentury architects we admire include John Chase, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Roland Roessner, and George Walling.
Architecture & Interiors: Rick & Cindy Black Architects
Contractor: Jason Miars of Miars Construction
Photography: Whit Preston
Cabinetry: Tim Cuddy
Stainless steel: SteelHouse Mfg
Structural Engineering: Dante Angelini of Structures, LLC
Terrazzo Flooring: Concrete Collaborative