Home among the trees
'It feels like you are in a treehouse' on Austin Modern Home Tour
A property just west of Zilker Park was once the site of a small two-story house the neighborhood kids would dare one another to go to on Halloween. Three years ago, Matt Fajkus Architecture and Brodie Builders transformed it into a modern showplace. Gingerwood Design further transformed it to fit the style of the Reese family.
The finished home is one of a dozen featured on the Austin Modern Home Tour on Feb. 23.
Homeowners Lesli and Parker Reese had lived in a very traditional home in Lakeway when they found this home online. "This home is way cooler than we are," she says.
Could they transform it into one that would work for a family with three young children?
Fajkus says it was designed with the hope that a family would want to live there, but it also was a possibility that a single person would buy it. "It was a blank slate with a lot of potential," he says.
The topography of the land was a challenge. It slopes down to undeveloped land and a creek below. Controlling the flow of water would be important.
Fajkus designed the house around these challenges. A retaining wall is part of the design and gets hidden in the dining room and family room's exterior walls.
The home is an augmented U shape with the dining room taking center stage as the bridge between the two-story bedroom wing and the two-story dining room, living room and office wing. The dining room is built into the hill with windows on either side, but the front windows begin at chair-rail level to make room for the retaining wall as well as give the family privacy. The dining room's artistic chandelier becomes a focal point from the street.
Art is important to the Reeses, and Gingerwood designer Amanda Stephenson worked with their tastes to find unusual pieces throughout the home as well as commissioned pieces that speak of their family's story. In a hallway, a piece of art has the children's names written into it. In the master bedroom, a re-creation of the couple's favorite wedding photo is full of color.
In the more public spaces like the living room and kitchen, Gingerwood helped find materials that would work better with young children than what was originally there. The kitchen's island and counters are engineered stone that doesn't show the fingerprints that the original stone showed, and it is easier to clean.
To combat the debate about whether they would have a television in the living room, Gingerwood designed one that fits inside the half-wall with the fireplace. With the push of a button, it raises above the fireplace for when the kids are in that space, and it goes down when the family wants to entertain.
The kitchen flows into the living room; the living room flows into the outdoor living space with a built-in outdoor kitchen and covered seating area beside the pool, which is built level with the living room but sits above the ground to adjust for the slope of the land.
The home makes use of large windows in the public spaces and more discreet windows in the bedrooms. Because of the way the home is positioned in the land, many of the windows overlook trees. "It feels like you are in a treehouse," Lesli Reese says.
Stairs from the living room lead down to the office space that can easily be converted to a guest bedroom using a Murphy bed in the wall.
The dining room sits between not only the two wings but also two rooms with statement wallpaper. The powder bath's black, copper and gold wallpaper looks like veins in a rock. The laundry room's blue and gray circles look like water bubbles. These rooms don't feel like you have to hide them behind doors.
The family room follows the slope of the land. The angled shape meant that finding furniture for the space would have been difficult. Instead, they had a banquette of cushions designed for them that follows the shape of the room. A ledge around the wall acts as a bar for drinks or a platform for kids to jump onto the pillows below.
The master suite looks onto a back patio and the kids' playscape below, but it also feels private from the rest of the family. A headboard upholstered with a geometric pattern mimics the off-centered clerestory window with a cutout, off-center wood shelf.
The master bathroom offers a bathtub and two showers in a large wet space, which allows the family to bathe all three kids at once.
The master closet features many built-ins including a tie-rack, a watch rack and glass-fronted cabinets for purses, all of which become pieces of art.
Upstairs is the children's wing and a guest bedroom. Each of the bedrooms has its own bathroom. Gingerwood has designed the rooms to not feel too kidlike or too gender-specific. Their boys' bedroom is done in grays with geometric wallpaper on one wall and newsprint animal heads another. Their daughter's room features soft dusty rose and gray.
At the end of the kids' wing's long hallway is a balcony with fun swinging chairs. It's a space people love to retreat to for the serenity of looking at the trees below.
Fajkus says seeing this home come together with a real family living in it has been rewarding. "We really wanted it to be utilized," he says. "Now it really feels like a home."
Reese sometimes can't believe that this modern home is where she lives. "It's like I'm living in a real-life HGTV home," she says.
Austin Modern Home Tour
12 homes, plus several within Starlight Village
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 23
$40 in advance, $50 day of