A Texas revival of midcentury modern design

Updated Nov 05, 2016

A distinctive collection of 29 houses in Leander designed in the mid-century modern style has piqued interest from around the world, including cable television networks.

A family of U.S. military veterans is behind the custom-home development, called Starlight Village. The developer, Mike Kopecky, is teaming with his wife, Theresa Kopecky, and his father, Willie Kopecky, on the self-financed project.

The houses are being built by KLM Design Build on Horizon Park Boulevard, on 5.7 acres that Willie Kopecky, a retired U.S. Air Force navigator has owned for decades.

The Kopeckys say they have done extensive research on mid-century modernism. They think Starlight Village could be the first time in nearly 50 years that an entire neighborhood in the U.S. is being built around homes in the architectural style from the 1950s and 1960s era.

Hallmarks of the style include clean lines, a horizontal layout and the use of “authentic” materials like terrazzo and concrete blocks. Another key characteristic is interiors that bring in outdoor elements like the sky, trees, earth and natural light through an abundance of glass (sheets of glass, not just standard windows). The Kopeckys said they are sourcing their materials from local builders and suppliers.

The first houses are under construction. The homes will range from 1,300 square feet to about 3,000 square feet, with prices from the upper $200,000s to the upper $400,000.

A steady stream of onlookers drove through the project on a recent Sunday checking out the houses, which have names reminiscent of the 1960s: Gemini, Apollo, Starlight, Telestar, Orion, Palm Springs and Cocoa Beach.

The project comes as mid-century modernism, from its architecture to its furniture and interiors, has been enjoying a resurgence.

“The minimalist movement that first swept through U.S. suburbs in the 1940s and 1950s has gone through so many streaks of popularity over the years that it’s beginning to feel like a design staple,” according to an article in The Washington Post in August. “The current craze, which has lasted nearly two decades, is so overwhelming that mid-century modern dominates nearly every corner of the retail market, from Craigslist to West Elm to Sotheby’s.”

Mid-century modern homes “were radical departures from typical suburban homes” when they debuted, Pam Holladay, a partner at Seibert Architects in Sarasota, Fla., told The Times-Picayune in New Orleans in 2014.

Driving the resurgence, Holladay said, “is a renewed desire for a simple aesthetic, a look that appeals to those seeking a cleaner, simpler lifestyle…”

The same story quotes Lawrence Scarpa, a Los Angeles architect and architecture professor, as saying mid-century modern came about because “people got tired of really small windows and not much connection to the outside.”

Space-age optimism

The Kopeckys say mid-century modern hearkens to a time when a can-dospirit permeated space-age America.

“We love mid-century modern so much, the feeling of it, that sense of optimism — if you think it up, you can do it, just like we thought about landing on the moon. We did it, as Americans,” said Theresa Kopecky, 39.

That optimism, she said, is embodied in mid-century modern design. She cited examples from their model houses, one featuring a winged “butterfly” roof as if the house is taking flight, and others with a cantilevered design that creates the gravity-defying illusion of a glass box floating in the sky.

Mike and Theresa Kopecky said they designed the houses themselves with the help of Sean Eubanks, a residential designer based in College Station. Eubanks, who has a master’s degree in architecture from Texas A&M University, said he has been designing houses in Central Texas and elsewhere for more than 10 years.

“I think the entire approach this was very unique,” said Eubanks, president and CEO of Woodhill Studios Inc., based in Millican, Texas.

“When I first met Mike and Theresa, he handed me this thick book, an encyclopedia of house designs printed in 1965 and all mid-century modern. Mike said, ‘This is what we want the houses to look like.’”

One challenge he encountered involved the interiors of the homes, Eubanks said.

“In a typical mid‐century modern house I discovered the main living spaces were very spacious and modern but the private spaces were extremely lacking. Closets were extremely small. There was typically only one bathroom for the whole house. There was no master bath or master closet. There were no utility rooms, pantries or hall closets either,” Eubanks said. “So I had to figure out a way to squeeze modern amenities into a 1965 footprint.”

Recreating ‘George Jetsonville’

Mike Kopecky, 53, said his inspiration for the houses came from growing up in base housing in the 1960s: Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento; Goose Bay in Labrador, Canada and Perrin Air Force Base in Sherman, Texas.

“I felt like I was living in ‘George Jetsonville,’” he said, referencing the 1960s cartoon series “The Jetsons.”

He was such a fan of mid-century design that in fourth grade, he said he put pen to paper to create his own “swinging bachelor pad,” not even knowing the meaning of the term. One of the houses now under construction features elements of his childhood design, he said.

Mike Kopecky is a former Air Force intelligence officer who retired in 2014 as a lieutenant colonel. Theresa Kopecky is a major and an intelligence officer in the Air Force. (The couple met in “bomb school,” she said, and both are combat veterans, with her deployment to Afghanistan and his to Iraq).

Theresa Kopecky’s Air Force unit is based in Hurlburt Field in Florida, where she said mid-century modern architectureabounds in the “bright, cute, perky little houses” dotting the coastline.

At Starlight Village, amenities will include a walking trail, dog park, a half-acre nature preserve and a pool. Units will have their own private outdoor areas for individual owners to landscape.

So far two of the houses have buyer prospects. Being mid-century-modern buffs, the Kopeckys said they will happily hunt down and install vintage light fixtures, appliances, “whatever people want to do to create their own masterpiece,” Theresa Kopecky said.

Kendall and Vera Whelpton, who live in the Lake Travis area, recently toured Starlight Village with their 14-month-old daughter, Kadence.

Kendall Whelpton said he is familiar with housing trends from his cross-country travels for the National Geographic Channel. Whelpton has worked as director of photography on a number of television shows, including “Wicked Tuna.”

He said the Kopeckys are “definitely ahead of their time” with Starlight Village.

“Across America you see the same cookie-cutter homes, “Kendall Whelpton said. “There’s nothing like this. The fact that there is a mid-century modern community is amazing.”

Vera Whelpton said the houses are “visually refreshing” for buyers who want something different.

“Builders will start getting jealous and copy them,” she said.

Hollywood calling

Mike Kopecky said the project has generated “tons of interest,” both nationally and internationally. There have been inquiries from a TV producer, developers interested in partnering on a project and homeowners asking about pricing or if the homes might become available in their areas.

A story on the website “Retro Renovation” generated 1.8 million views, said KLM’s Lynda Jones, who is helping market Starlight Village.

Katy Kassler is the West Coast development producer for Outrun the Sun, the U.S. arm of the TV production company NHNZ (Natural History New Zealand).

“We have developed a concept around Starlight Village and we are currently shopping the concept to networks,” Kassler said.

Theresa Kopecky said buyers in the project will reap another benefit, one they can’t yet touch or see.

“We did a loop road (through the project), to create a neighborhood where people can gather together,” she said. “That’s something special to us. It’s more than just living in a cute house. We want to create an emotion, a happy place, where people can bond to their neighbors in a new kind of community.”