Design to the Rescue


The original owner of this home bragged that he built it out of the telephone book. Winn Wittman, the architect called in to salvage the complete renovation of this 13-year-old structure, puts it another way: “He threw a dart at the phone book and ended up with what he got.”

As it turns out, it might have been easier to knock it down and start from nothing, but the new owner thought it would be a minor fix-up and it turned into something more comprehensive, Wittman says. “They went through a few architects and at least one contractor before we were involved,” he adds.

A major flaw of the home, as Wittman sees it, was the 1980’s McMansion look of the home’s front exterior. “The roof was painted bright blue. It also had these four round windows on the front of the house that were hated by myself and the owner. I was looking for a way to introduce an element that could cover the windows and be replicated throughout the project so there would be some continuity that ties the whole house together,” Wittman says.

The solution was to install custom water jet-cut 1/8-in. thick aluminum panels over the windows. “There were a number of possible patterns we chose from, but the one we used I had seen by a Dutch designer. I always say if you’re going to steal, steal from the best,” he adds.

Against the Wind

The home sits on a lake where incredible wind forces are experienced, so an engineer was hired as a consultant to the mounting system. Being perforated, the panels don’t catch the wind as much as if they were solid, but the strong wind forces required an even stronger anchoring system. “We used a special epoxy system with stainless steel threaded rods and proprietary hardware. It is so strong a man can hang off these panels. Each anchor can hold 220 lbs. and we used four to six anchors on each panel, and each panel weighs only 60 lbs.,” Wittman says.

The panels were so successful Wittman is setting up a business to manufacture them. “We can either customize these panels with a pattern or tailor them to a specific application. They’re a great way to dress up an existing structure,” he says.

Wittman says he would not take this approach for every client, but this one wanted something unique which resonated with his sensibilities. “He pushed us to come up with something that was different. The client is someone who likes to continually work on things, so it was challenging when trying to sequence the project. It was like working on a car while it’s driving down the road,” he says.

The in-house resources at Wittman’s shop allowed him to apply the design/build approach to solving this client’s problems. “What I think is critical to design/build is having certain in-house resources for the construction of the house.

We’ve built up a number of subs over the years who aren’t scared by some of the crazy stuff we do. They’re really essential. They’re not in-house but they’re working with us in a design/build capacity. It works nicely.”

Winn Wittman Architecture
Austin, Texas

Home As Art — Gary Robinson

Countertops: Caeserstone
Refrigerator: KitchenAid
Range hood: Maxfire
Flooring: Caeserstone

Television/screen: Bang and Olaufsen
Sinks: Duravit
Faucets: Hansgrohe
Countertops: Caeserstone
Tile: Hakatai
Shower: Kohler

Garage doors: Clopay
Roofing, gutters: Rheinzink
Exterior: Sto

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