The East Austin Residence is featured in the Spring issue of Austin Home magazine. Mitchell Alan Parker describes our "high-minded, budget-conscious" approach to the project with comments from the owners. Pick up a copy today to read more!
The East Austin Residence will be featured on the Austin Modern Homes Tour February 2, 2013. Check out our page at
In the coming weeks they will be adding more content, including an interview with us. Pick up tickets and come check it out on February 2!
This project rehabilitates a South Austin Cottage through a contemporary lens. The interior of the house will be a complete gut renovation while the exterior framing will remain largely intact.
This house weaves green building and contemporary design into the context of its Austin, Texas neighborhood -- on a budget.
It was conceived as a framing system for the lives of those within, using a variety of implicit framing devices at different scales to create subtly distinct moments that can be experienced separately or simultaneously.
The clients, a young professional couple with a baby, were most interested in an open, flexible home in which to start their family and a new phase in life. They love to be surrounded by mementos of their life together; cards, gifts, art objects, and books filled every available surface in their old apartment.
The house holds and displays records of the lives within it through a continuous shelving system which simultaneously shapes larger spaces into zones for living. In this way the house serves as an archive, enriching one’s experience of everyday life and its intimate moments with personalized framed settings. Because one is always moving through these not-completely defined spaces, one’s understanding of the house is layered with a variety of impressions that may evolve from day to day and throughout the years spent here.
At the exterior, a metallic fascia runs along the edges of the floors and roof, clearly outlining the planes that horizontally frame the inhabitable space of the house. These planes break from one another to define major zones of the house: the primary entry, main living level, and major public/private spaces.
The facade materials also serve to create distinct zones even before one enters the house. The outermost walls are standing seam metal, reading like a hard exterior shell through which warm cedar-framed windows are extruded for shading purposes. The north and south facades, recessed within deep overhangs, are yellow pine, setting the tone for a softer, more intimate atmosphere on the front and back porches.
These framing devices define thresholds as open moments of transition from one type of environment to another. Spaces are not finite; slipping, indirect connections allow movement from one to another. This strategy holds one’s focus foregrounded in the immediate surroundings but simultaneously aware of their greater context.
Interested in keeping the material palette simple yet dynamic, we custom-built many details into the house. This allowed us to make the most of each piece and the conservative square footage.
Every countertop is custom-poured concrete. We designed integral sinks into the bathroom counters, which read as a singular weighty objects that offer contrast to the lighter wood elsewhere.
In the master bathroom, polycarbonate boxes serve as open medicine cabinets, letting light flow through the bathroom even into the secluded toilet room.
We took a little bit of a break after finishing the house to decompress and figure out what exactly to do with the landscape. Now things are going strong again and the yard will get finished up very quickly with the help of American Trees Landscaping and some great designers. We'd like to thank Jennifer Orr and Megumi Aihara for all of their great design advice and suggestions and especially Gena Wirth for taking our design concept to another level and designing a great landscape for this house.
The great thing is we are re-using almost all of the landscape materials we harvested from the site when we originally cleared it.
We had a lot... check out our first post in January to see what the site previously looked like. First steps: we re-used the pavers to create a patio in the backyard.
We built our own custom gabions using metal panel fencing and then started to fill them with the concrete cylinders and general debris. (we'll reorganize the contents a bit later). The gabions are great because they will help slow down water runoff and soil erosion on the sloping site and serve as benches.
In addition to re-using all of the site materials, creating a landscape that was low maintenance and durable in the austin environment is of critical importance to us. So, we are using a lot of low maintenance native plants, only a small planted area of low maintenance grass, and lots of gravel.
More to come in the next few days.
Here are a few pics of living and dining spaces. The shelving weaves through these spaces to define more intimate moments. The clients are completely moved in now and we hope to get a photographer in for a final shoot within the coming weeks. The photo below was taken before the kitchen shelving was completed, but gives you a good sense of the space and light.
The interior of the house is just about finished with only small touch ups remaining. Here are a few shots showing some of the bathroom and bedroom details.
The custom shelving is almost finished. It weaves through the house creating special views while defining different spaces.
Round 2 of our concrete countertop work. For the kitchen and utility room countertops, since we did not create integral sinks, our formwork was generally simpler. We created cutouts for the sinks and cooktop, and we also formed a 3/4" drop-down lip for the kitchen pieces. In pouring, we had to be particularly careful to place the large remesh and rebar spans in the middle of the 1.5" counter thickness. We again rented a concrete mixer but vibrated and finished the pours by hand.
We covered the pieces with plastic tarps in order to retain moisture as the concrete cured (this has been a very, very dry summer in Austin). After 5 days, we released all of the pieces and finished them with several rounds of sanding. We again filled air holes in the surface with Rockite, though in comparison to the bathroom pieces we spent more time sanding to a finer level of polish.
We (finally) completely cleaned up the yards. Several tons of wood and gypsum board were recycled, though we produced a fair amount of waste as well. It is a great challenge to make construction more environmentally friendly, and we hope to become more efficient with as we gain experience in the entire building process.
Shelving runs throughout the house as a space-defining element that can be filled with the owners' personal objects and memories. The shelving in the living room acts as a continuous system spanning from one side of the house to another and serving simultaneously as a stair guardrail, as a screen between the front door and the rest of the room, as the entertainment unit and as storage. Here see this shelving emerge from the upper floor. [slideshow] [gallery]
Installing the beast: the 500+ lb master bathroom countertop with integral sink. Our plan involved building a platform on top of a dolly, and then getting some strong men together to maneuver the sink on and off the dolly into place.
Once inside the master bedroom, we raised the countertop on 2x4s so that it could be slid onto the supporting studs nailed to the master bathroom walls. Then we could knock away the supporting pieces and let the sink hang.
All went surprisingly smoothly. No cracks so far!
For the bathroom countertops, we were interested in preserving as much of the raw concrete look as possible. We did minimal sanding with an orbital and 60/120-grit paper--enough to smooth the top surface and sink and expose a tiny amount of aggregate. We filled air holes in the top surface with Rockite, but left the sides exactly as they were poured--we like that the open air pocket texture really emphasizes the materiality of these pieces.
The Rockite fill is substantially lighter than the Quikrete, so we also rubbed a diluted white stain over the surfaces. This didn't change the overall color noticeably, but it did even out some of the texture by filling in tiny imperfections in the surface with white.
Then, after we caulked the vanity surfaces, two fellas lifted these pieces into place (the vanities below them will be painted white).
Overall, we're pleased with the results. We love the look of these big block of concrete, and since we weren't aiming for a completely polished look, the imperfections (many of which are at corners and edges) add great character. When we make the kitchen and utility countertop pieces, we'll potentially test out more aggressive sanding methods and staining the fill color to achieve different effects.
The central room in the house (kitchen and living areas) has a bigh sloped ceiling, ranging from 13 to over 20 feet tall. For general lighting in these areas, we are suspending tracks from the ceiling, which proved tricky for us and for the electricians. We had to prepare threaded rods with toggle bolts at specific heights so that the tracks could hang parallel to the floor. The electricians had to get these toggle bolts into the ceiling drywall, run the cord down, and tweak from there in order to get the tracks level. We got a couple days behind schedule because of this whole process, but we're excited to see the results.
Also suspended are pendants and ceiling fans, with more typical light installations in other rooms.
Front and back porches are installed. We were waiting on them as long as possible so that they didn't get damaged during construction, but the space on these big porches became necessary as we set up all our concrete pours.
There's a bird nesting on top of the gutter. Aww.
After the small countertops were done we started on the big one. The smaller countertops are 3 feet long and about 2.5 bags of Quikrete each (about 230 lbs in total with the water weight). This guy took almost 6 bags, and is probably 550 lbs.
No problem for these strapping young men to flip over. Same process as before to release all of the remaining melamine.
I like the underside texture (this piece was wetter on that surface when we poured than the others). And here is the raw product.
Five days after we poured, we released our new countertops & sinks.
To start with, we unscrewed all of the perimeter melamine pieces. They pulled off fairly easily.
We used packing tape to seal the edges of the bottom-side formwork. The concrete picked up every detail--all the lines and the shine.
The countertop was poured upside down, so we placed white foam to help soften the edges when we turned it over. Once flipped, we had to drill/dig into the sink area to pry off the top.
Then we knocked out the faucet piece, and carefully pried out the sink pieces. Hello concrete vanity with sink!
A few of the various installations happening on site this month.
We are building a lot of custom shelving for this home, starting with some smaller pieces in the bathrooms.
We placed plywood on the cabinets as a sub-counter for the concrete countertop (coming soon). This helps distribute the weight of the concrete across the cabinets, and it helped make undermounting the kitchen sink easier.
Kitchen exhaust. It's a wall mount, but drops in front of the windows, so some custom lowdo attachment was involved.
Grille research at our friend's apartment. Turns out aluminum grilles are quite pricey, so for the floor and kitchen vents we custom made some "aluminum" grilles with spray paint.
We have been extremely busy over at the Garden Street site. We're in the final month of construction, which for us means a lot of hands-on custom work building cabinetry, shelving, and other Lowdo details. We love it but we have a lot of retroactive blogging to do...
One of the biggest projects we took on was pouring concrete countertops with integral sinks for all three bathrooms. These were a beast to make, but we can't wait to see the results.
In the master bath, the concrete countertop and sink will hang from these 2x8s. We'll have rebar in the front edge of the counter, which we are making 7" deep so that it will serve as a "beam" to span across the 6-foot space. The two smaller bathroom counters (3' across) will simply rest on the cabinets below.
We first built the forms for smaller bathroom countertops. The forms are upside-down--the bottom surface will be the top of the counter when the concrete is poured in, and the asymmetrical box will be the inside of the sink. We used melamine for the formwork, which has a slick surface that concrete won't stick to. The corners are all caulked, and PVC pipe wrapped in tape serves to make holes for the faucets and drains.
We put remesh in the countertops to strengthen them against cracking or breaking. On top goes another, secondary melamine form that will shape the deeper parts of the countertops.
The master bath formwork. Ryan is tying in the rebar that will strengthen the front edge of the counter. A second piece will be tied in to run along the bottom of the beam.
And then...with the much appreciated help of Ryan's dad...we poured! We were all working quickly with the wet concrete, so no pictures of the pour in action. More to come in a few days when we release the mold.
We exposed the aggregate by performing a throw test: We threw the block of concrete up in the air. We did this three times. The first two it landed on natural ground/debris and stayed intact. The third time it landed on the sidewalk and broke. Conclusion: no throwing concrete at our countertops.
All of the fixtures and appliances for the house have been arriving. We took our chances with a lot of online (tax-free) ordering, and so far so good.
Four men with no straps lifted all the major appliances from the ground up to the back porch. The back porch is 7+ feet off the ground. The fridge and the double oven each weigh 200 lbs. It was impressive.
The stair from the front porch entry door down to the main level is also our return air vent. We replaced the risers with grilles, with the large return air ductwork hidden behind the steps and leaving our large walls uninterrupted.
Interior painting started this weekend (done by a crew led by Jorge Morales). In order to enhance the natural light reflecting throughout the house, all of the living and kitchen space is painted white. The owners were interested in color for the other spaces, so each of the rooms off the living space have their own unique colors (some subtle, some not).