Neslie Cook’s home in the section of Travis Heights that is east of Interstate 35 was made to look like it was original to the neighborhood.
Cook loved the midcentury modern elements of some of the buildings in her hometown of Refugio, north of Corpus Christi.
When it came to building her own home, she says, "I wanted to bring that to life again. You don’t see that in new construction."
Cook, who does work in civil engineering, enlisted architect Mark Odom of Mark Odom Studio and builder Doug Cameron of Eco Safe Spaces to create a home that would echo midcentury modern style while being efficient for today’s world.
"Neslie set the tone," Odom says. "She set the tone and the vision. Our job was to listen and to carefully edit."
The home is one of nine on the Austin chapter of the American Institute of Architects Home Tour, which is being done virtually Oct. 16-19.
One of the things Cook wanted to work around was an existing live oak tree, which they built a courtyard around, and the 10-foot grade from one back corner to the opposite front corner of the property.
To accommodate the grade, the property is split level with different tiers. A brick wall that goes from the exterior to the interior becomes the spine of the building that connects the different sections of the house.
More details come from the outside in. Slats seen in the carport come into the foyer and other transition spaces to define those spaces. Brick planters also frame these transition areas.
More brickwork is found in the fireplace wall in the living room.
The home’s details are impressive. Every line of every brick and tile lines up throughout the home’s levels. The floors are hand-crafted terrazzo for which the 1,800 pounds of colored glass pieces were hand-thrown into three layers of cement.
Cook says she’s been mesmerized by terrazzo floor, which you often see in airports. When the light hits it, the mother-of-pearl, mirrored bronze and teal glass elements sparkle. Even the concrete’s rocks add interesting details to the floor.
Because of the details, the home took three years to finish and was completed in December.
"He took his time to really get certain elements just right," Cook says of builder Cameron. "He’s a craftsman. An average builder couldn’t have done this house properly.
The planters, brick and slats bring the outside to the inside, but so do the windows. In the kitchen, with quartz counters and oak cabinetry, Cook opted to skip a backsplash and go for a window instead. Light also comes in from the glass door to one of the courtyards.
"Every room should have a filtration of natural light," Odom says.
Cook says that even on a rainy day, there’s still light coming in and she doesn’t need to turn on the lights during the day.
Light comes in a skylight above the dining room table, the clerestory windows in all the bedrooms and living areas and large windows or glass doors to outside courtyards.
The living room, for example, sits between two courtyards and the glass doors that lead to each of them.
Cook really enjoys being able to look through a window outside and see a line of brick inside. That aesthetic is found throughout the house.
"Every time we terminate an axis, it terminates in a window," Odom says. "Light gets infused."
Slatting defines the line between the kitchen and the staircase up to the loft office, where more clerestory windows bring in light. A balcony features a roof with built-in skylights and planters to make sure this space also follows the home’s aesthetic of bringing in light and nature.
All the tones of the house are really quiet, Odom says. "It allows the landscape to really be the artwork."
There is one piece of notable artwork in the house. A tiger painting hangs in the dining room. It had been hanging in the home where Cook grew up. Though her family might have thought about getting rid of it, Cook saved it and moved it to Austin, where it sat waiting to be hung again in the right place. It was almost forgotten until at the last minute Cook remembered she had it and tried it there.
"It was meant to be in this house," Cook says.
From the dining room, brickwork and a few stairs separate the master bedroom from the more public spaces. On the opposite side, another wing holds two bedrooms and a bathroom.
Along the hallway to the master bedroom, Odom designed the space around wood bookcases that came out of Cook’s father’s high school classroom in Refugio, where he taught for 40 years.
Just like all the other rooms, even the utility room has a clerestory window to bring light into this space.
A pocket door, which has an opening that lines up perfectly with the brickwork, closes the master bedroom off from the hallway.
That’s also true in the master bathroom, where all the grout lines of the white tile on the walls line up perfectly with the brick lines already established. The tile is also flush with the wall.
"The attention to detail is really remarkable," Odom says.
Throughout the home, the builder opted for no baseboards but instead applied a special paint to the bottom of the walls that make them scuff resistant.
The master bathroom doesn’t shy from large windows, but outside bamboo creates a privacy fence from the neighbors.
All the details really separate this house from another for Cook. "It's the culmination of all those special elements that make it feel classic and timeless," Cook says, but her favorite element is the floor. "It’s really spectacular," she says.
When the home became a reality and she moved in, Cook says, her initial thoughts were that she didn’t serve to live there, but "once it gets done and I get settled, that's when the beauty of this place sunk in and hit me," Cook says. "It's so incredible to me. I'm so lucky."
The feedback Odom and Cook have received from neighbors has been an appreciation for its coolness as well as asking if it was a remodel.
"It looks like it was here," Odom says.