Modern House in Austin, TX, Is Out Of The Mid-Century Modernist Stylebook

The Tree House takes its name from the giant protected Oak tree growing in the middle of the lot. In their brief to Architect David Birt, the clients asked to design the house around the tree itself, enhancing as much as possible the connection between inside and outside.

David tells us more about his approach to architecture, the concept behind this project — he tried to buy the lot to build his family home before the current owners — and how it evolved.

What made you decide to become an architect?

In about the fifth grade I made the decision that I wanted to pursue Architecture. I began college studying graphic design, but really was fascinated by my friends who were architecture students and found myself hanging out in the studio with them.

Understanding that architecture was in some ways art that could be occupied and set the stage for life to happen really hooked me.

Which part/s of a new project excite(s) you the most?

I really enjoy listening to the clients speak about how they envision their life in the space, and then taking the first steps in forming the kernel of the idea by which all future design decisions are made.

The first iterations of a design in sketch form where we can explore multiple directions with our team are very satisfying.

Austin Modern Tree House - Matt Fajkus Architecture - carport

Can you tell us a bit about the story of this house and its owners?

The Tree House was a speculative house with a protected oak tree right in the middle of the lot. The existing house needed to be demolished and many prospective buyers were having a difficult time envisioning the potential of the lot.

Coincidentally, my wife and I visited the lot and made an offer on it, which we were quickly outbid. As this was happening, I was already designing a potential scheme for ourselves and at the time our 3 kids. After we were commissioned for the project, we had a sense of what we could do already and our team quickly refined the design.

The eventual owners also had children and the scheme works for them in the same way that we envisioned.

What did your clients ask for in their brief?

They asked to maximize the available square footage and work around the protected tree. They also asked for a three bedroom scheme and a strong connection between the inside and outside.

READ MORE: Brunswick House: Modern and Traditional Effortlessly Combined

Austin Modern Tree House - Matt Fajkus Architecture - carportAustin Modern Tree House - Matt Fajkus Architecture - exterior side view

What was the first question you asked yourself when you got the assignment?

Can we really devise a scheme that embraces and works with the Oak tree to create a much more interesting design than if the tree did not exist.

What was your approach for the project?

We separated the public and private realms from each other, with the kitchen, living and dining room to one side of the lot, and the bedrooms to the other, creating a central courtyard that opens up under the tree canopy.

Which is your favourite/most important feature of this house and why?

The entry of the home is really a subtle surprise. As you enter you are met with an atrium of sorts in which the multiple windows give way to the tree bond and extend your view upward into the canopy of the tree.

The nature of the dappled light replicates the light as it spills through the tree, we folded the wall back to follow the tree and they seem to be in harmony with each other. There are other places in the home as well that bring in natural light in unique ways that are always more successful than you remember on each visit.

What materials have you used and why?

We kept the material palette to just a few textures and colors, the white stucco, the stained knotty red cedar, and the painted cedar. We really like our project to have a neutrality to them so that they can reflect the nature around them, and the interesting things that they owners brings with them.

READ MORE: House of Contrasts: B + W House by Snow Kreilich Architects

Austin Modern Tree House - Matt Fajkus Architecture - backyard oak tree view

How important was the contribution of your clients, if there was any?

Our client was great to work with, they really trusted us and our vision..

Last but not least, what advice would you give to someone who wants to build a house today?

Work with an Architect, they have years of training and they have much to bring to the table. Be open to their ideas, and be ready for them to question your preconceived notions, but do not be afraid of making sure they understand your expectations both for the design and quality, but for the budget as well.

Last but not least, remember that each custom home is a prototype, so be happy and enjoy the process.

Austin Modern Tree House - Matt Fajkus Architecture - patioAustin Modern Tree House - Matt Fajkus Architecture - patio

Photos by Brian Mihealsick and Bryant Hill

Project by Matt Fajkus Architecture