In AIA Austin tour, couple returns to reimagined condo after 25 years


Throughout the home, Mayfield plays with white walls and natural light.

The first time Anne and Jackson Giles lived on Elm Court, it was in the early 1980s. They had developed the first four of an eight-unit condominium project in West Austin and moved into one of the units as a young couple with a baby.

The next four units were developed by another party, but they retained architectural control to make sure that the units all fit together.

In this heart of the city so close to downtown, their family grew until they had outgrown the condo.

They moved to Tarrytown in 1991, raised the kids, built careers. But then the kids grew up and moved out.

When the house in Tarrytown became too big, Anne Giles learned that one of the eight condos was coming back up for sale, something that rarely happens. They bought it, returning to where they started, just one unit away, in May 2016.

The condo units originally were designed to be clean spaces and slightly modern. After more than 35 years, they didn’t look out of date on the outside, but the Gileses needed their new condo to be reconfigured for how they live.

They turned to architect John Mayfield, who had done five different projects for the Gileses in their Tarrytown home. He calls them not his oldest clients, but his longest.

“I got to observe them for all stages of their life,” Mayfield says. He got to see “how they live in their spaces,” which really helped inform the new project.

The condo is one of 13 homes on the American Institute of Architects Austin Homes Tour on Oct. 28 and 29.

The home had a typical early 1980s design of very divided spaces — formal living and dining rooms, kitchen at the back — and yet it didn’t have a space for Anne Giles to use as her office or Jackson Giles to use as his office/hobby space. Other spaces, like the master bedroom, felt too large. 

“The home wasn’t terrible,” Mayfield says. He calls it “good living,” as in there was a lot of life lived in it.

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Because Mayfield knew how the family lived, he knew that they needed spaces where they could be together but also spaces where he could escape to do his hobbies and where she could get work done.

Mayfield took away the formal dining room and living room and instead created a seating area that flows to the kitchen.

“The way that everyone likes to live these days is in open houses that let people be together, but my idea is to also add a layer of division to that and separateness so there are sheltering spots with walls,” Mayfield says.

The seating area is one of the spaces that answers the Gileses’ problem of having an enormous book collection. Bookshelves were built into the walls in this room as well as in many others.

The seating area serves another purpose. It doubles as an informal eating area in one corner of the room. A thick wall with a window cutout acts as the divider between the kitchen and the seating area. Its thickness allows it to become cabinets on the bottom and have a counter that becomes a serving buffet for parties.

The way the kitchen is designed, the sink and stove area are hidden from view of the seating area and garage. “I didn’t want to see the dirty dishes in my kitchen,” Anne Giles says.

The redesign allowed her to get a kitchen island in the small but highly functional kitchen. Every area, even up the walls, contains storage space, sometimes obvious and sometimes cleverly hidden.

“I like the size of the room,” she says. “You can reach everything very comfortably, and I can see out to the living room. I love the light. It’s just beautiful.”

All of the home is light and airy. Mayfield raised the door heights for doors that led to the courtyards to bring more light in. He turned a bay window in the kitchen into a bay door to a courtyard. The courtyard off the kitchen then becomes another eating area.

Mayfield was able to create a mudroom space to remedy the problem of the garage opening straight onto the kitchen.

He turned the rest of the first floor into a spacious foyer, rather than a shallow entryway, and a more formal living room-dining room combination. He turned the wet bar into an alcove with a desk for Anne Giles’ work.

Upstairs, Mayfield reconfigured the master closet to create a loft area for Jackson to do his projects. It offers a couch and seating area that could be converted into a space for guests.

“I wanted to steal and create different experiences in the home,” Mayfield says.

The master bedroom is now smaller but still has ample space and closets; they are just not in the same location. Mayfield also remedied the essential problem of this room — tiny little windows. He kept those tiny windows and saved them for the bathroom, but he added larger windows to the master bedroom. Now, with a view of downtown in the distance and the corrugated metal roofs, Mayfield jokes that it’s their Paris rooftop scene.

The second floor also offers a guest bedroom and bath as well as the laundry room.

Throughout the home, Mayfield plays with white walls and marble, oak floors and natural light. He creates interesting architectural details by forgoing heavy molding and adding thin lines around spaces.

For Anne Giles, the spaces just work. She especially loves the kitchen and the light. For Jackson Giles, when asked what he loves about the home, he replied, “It’s the whole thing.”

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