“Modern is our thing,” says Richard White of the South Austin home he built for his family. “It’s what we love, but it had to be livable.”
The owner of Abode Modern Homes and his wife, Patricia, who is a graphic designer, chose that aesthetic for their personal home, but the home also had to be something practical for their three sons, ages 3 to 10.
For example, White says he lived in a house with concrete floors and vowed to never do that again, especially with three boys. Instead, for this home, they opted for oak floors as well as walnut kitchen cabinets. “It’s not so in your face,” White says about the modern look of his home. “We’re using wood to soften it.”
The Whites’ home was designed by architecture firm Bercy Chen Studio and is one of 13 on the Austin Modern Home tour on Feb. 25.
We take a look inside at some of its features.
Concrete in the right places
The home’s first floor is poured-in-place concrete form construction. Instead of leaving the walls the color of concrete, though, White opted to tint the concrete an earth-tone color. He left some of the walls alone rather than painting them or covering them with Sheetrock. They become signature pieces in the kitchen and in the living room.
In the kitchen, it becomes a backdrop for a built-on-site solid-wood shelf that holds the family’s everyday dishes. In the living room, it serves as a contrast to the clerestory windows and walls of windows that are in the rest of the room.
Wood as an architectural element
The home’s exterior is cedar planks that run vertically in the two-story portions but horizontally for the bedroom that is cantilevered over the driveway. The cantilevered room also serves as the carport for the driveway.
All of the exterior boards were dipped on all six sides in a lifetime sealant. The sealant also gave the wood the look of aged cedar by starting the natural aging process and then locking in the wood to prevent it from decaying further. Originally, White had the idea to recycle the planks used to set the concrete forms and use those as the exterior boards, but that proved too complicated to not damage them. Instead, they recycled the wood used in the forms as the two-by-fours hidden within the walls upstairs.
Wood details show up in the wall of cabinets in the kitchen as well as above the dry bar in the living room.
Glass made for the house
White’s home is a glass house, but it’s softened by the wood and strengthened by the concrete. All of the windows were made on site and have argon gas between the panes to add energy efficiency.
Building the windows on site allowed for the design to include things like clerestory windows that meet in a corner without being broken up by framing as well as windows that are not a standard height.
That doesn’t mean that the windows are free-form sizes. “There’s a language for this,” says Thomas Bercy of Bercy Chen Studio. The house is essentially built on a grid designed around a 2-foot, 4-foot and 8-foot module.
Most of the windows are either 2 feet or 4 feet wide, but pairing windows together gives the feeling of it being a wall of windows. The windows also either extend the height of the room, with the highest one being 27 feet tall, or they are 1-foot clerestory windows around the rim of the room. Steel frames contain the windows and give them stability.
Each room has natural light coming into it, including the bathrooms. The master bathroom offers a skylight above the shower and clerestory windows around the room.
Working with the terrain
The house is built on a hill. They could have spent a lot of money to build up a foundation or try to level the ground. Instead, Bercy Chen Studio designed the home to be a series of terraces. The living room is a few steps down from the kitchen, but it doesn’t have the feel of the sunken living rooms of the 1970s. They used wood steps and a wood bench to unite the two levels.
The detached guest house also is part of the terrace, as is the outside pool, and landscaping also follows the terrace.
The house is also turned slightly to follow the hill. Because the second floor sits high on the hill and because of the amount of windows in the house, you can follow the view from Southeast Austin to downtown to the hills of West Austin just by going from a bedroom to the hallway to the master bedroom.
Get the most impact for your money
White chose to spend money in some signature places. Often, it’s the tile work. The kitchen backsplash from Heath Ceramics is handmade, hand-painted and called tide pool, which looks like a geometric wave. “Since it’s one of the first things you see when you walk in the home, it was important that we did something that we, one, weren’t going to get tired of and, two, that was going to be a big impact on the home,” White says.
The simple palette of the home in concrete and wood allows for some high-impact features like the backsplash.
All of the bathroom tiles are also hand-painted and handmade Mexican tiles with deep, rich colors, like the blue in the master bathroom. “Every tile is a little bit different,” he says.
The Whites went for a neutral, natural palette in the concrete, wood and glass backdrop that is their house. They bring in the personality in their interiors, including many pieces of vibrant artwork from Mexico. Yes, they have midcentury modern pieces of furniture, but they aren’t placed in the center of a stark room. Instead, they are weaved into the fabric of visual interest that can be found in each room. The home is modern, but without feeling like a museum where no one would want to live.