Historically Modern

by Kacey Larsen

When facing a project with a list of restrictions, limitations and guidelines, it can be easy to think in terms of “can’t.” But Fazio Architects with Avenue B Development—both based in Austin, Texas—worked closely with their clients to design and remodel this historic home in Austin thoughtfully and carefully.

The house was originally built in 1938, but the home’s occupant of note was Lolla Peterson, who gained notoriety for her work with the Travis County Welfare Department and other community acts. Peterson bought the residence in 1957—the same year she was selected as the first female recipient of Austin’s Most Worthy Citizen recognition—and lived there until her death in 1978. In subsequent years, the home has been listed as a Texas Historic Landmark, a designation given to properties judged to be historically and architecturally significant.

Because of the home’s status, an “Application for a Certificate of Appropriateness” had to be filed and approved by the Historic Landmark Commission. The scope of work proposed (and ultimately completed) reads, “Remove a non-historic one-story addition and existing garage; construct a new addition and new garage with a second-story suite in the place of the old garage.” The homeowners also sought a more unifying siding solution for the home, notes Greg Hayslett, LEED AP, project manager at Fazio Architects. Because of the home’s historic status, materials visible from the street had to remain, so a limestone veneer that closely mirrors the limestone on the front of the home replaced a siding used on the sides and back of the home. Also, the new garage features the limestone veneer with board-and-batten siding on the second story and matches the pitch of the home’s gables.

Another piece that necessitated strategic planning is the City of Austin’s building code regarding impervious cover. The city’s Zoning Guide from September 2016 defines impervious cover as “anything that stops rainwater from soaking into the ground, including roads, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, swimming pools and buildings.”

Before undertaking this project, the residence was around 60 percent impervious cover, Hayslett explains; the limit is 45 percent, so a reduction in impervious cover became part of the plan. Pavement was broken up, removed and replaced with decomposed granite and sod for most walkways and a portion of the driveway.

One area impacted two-fold by the historic commission and the impervious cover code was a porch area on the front of the home, Hayslett explains. “The porch had been added later in the house’s history, and it was more of a reflection of the time it was added than of the original character of the house. Additionally, it felt closed off from the front, and there was a desire to make the approach a bit more ‘friendly,’” he says. Pieces of the project that contributed to bringing the impervious cover number down, like the smaller brick patio that replaced the porch, were further embraced because of the homeowners’ desire for going more natural overall. “While it would have been a requirement of the city, softening the landscape around the house was just as much of a motivator,” Hayslett adds.

The New Additions

Outside of porch areas in the front and back, the home’s foundation and footprint were kept the same throughout the project. However, the existing garage was demolished and replaced with a new one that is semi-attached and features a personal gym on the second floor. The gym space embraces its location within the garage’s gable with built-in shelving and windows that let in natural light.

“The addition over the garage is a modern fitness center, and the clients wanted to make sure that the connecting half-bath had a similar feeling to the fitness center: modern, clean-lined and upbeat,” Hayslett notes. “The bathroom was added so the owners had access to a bathroom in close proximity rather than exiting the fitness center/garage, passing through the exterior patio and back into the home.”

Casey Fry

The new exterior patio replaced a concrete slab with a pier-and-beam raised wood deck. Another interesting element of the patio requiring extensive planning is the massive tree that cohabitates in the space. Hayslett explains that “heritage trees” are protected in the City of Austin, and an arborist was consulted during the process. [The city’s Development Services Department explains its tree regulations as, “A protected size tree is determined by measuring the tree truck at 4.5 feet above ground. This is commonly known as diameter at breast height. A tree within Austin city limits is protected once it reaches 19 inches.”] While the lot itself has three heritage trees, this particular tree necessitated that the patio piers had to be placed strategically, creating cantilevers, to prevent root damage. The covered patio’s roofline accommodates the tree as well. While more integrated into the home now than before, Hayslett notes that the tree is likely in better shape now than before because its roots have room, since the pre-existing pavement around it was removed.

“The goal of that patio was to create a buffer from both the evening sun and the ambient noise of the highway that is some distance from the lot,” he says. Additionally, the homeowners being able to access that space from both the kitchen and master bedroom was an important element.

Opened Interior

Inside the home, the clients had more opportunity to modernize their spaces. They sought to nod to the home’s Tudor Revival origins but with modern touches throughout. And a big piece of that came through opening up the floor plan and bringing in outside elements. Vaulted skylights over the living spaces allow light to flood in, but they were strategically placed and angled to not allow views in from the neighboring home.

Casey Fry

Additionally, a U-shaped kitchen was opened up to the outdoors and to the living spaces via the steel and glass windows overlooking the patio. “The open feel of the living space was an important element of the design. A number of versions for kitchen layout and storage options were considered, and many 360-degree renderings were created of the interior while we refined everything with the clients,” Hayslett says. “Upper [cabinets] were traded for full-height cabinetry that also helped define the breakfast nook at the rear of the kitchen. This allowed the client’s fire-back and stone hood to really stand out and keep the focus.

“Storage was maximized at the island with the traditional cabinets on two sides, but also under the bar seating area,” he continues. “In addition, there is a long counter with storage below and open shelving above on the wall across from the island (as you stand at the sink). The open shelves provided storage without obstructing the view through the new steel and glass window of the massive tree trunk.”

This space epitomizes the homeowner’s desire to modernize but with nods to the home’s history. Diamond-etched glass in the kitchen windows mimic those at the front of the house. Meanwhile, the mixture of the black-painted island and appliances with touches of gold in the faucet, lighting and various hardware elements combine for a nod toward contemporary.

A guest bathroom and master bathroom were also updated over the course of the project, and together exemplify the client’s desire to balance modern preferences with historical references. “The client was striving for an updated, contemporary twist to the original 1930s bathroom that was found in the typical Tudor home from that era [for the guest bathroom]. The selection of a black and white marble tile scheme, carrarra marble countertop, chrome bath fixtures, calm paint colors and updated transitional lighting fixtures helped to update every element, but keep the vintage charm,” Hayslett says. “The master bathroom was designed as a soft, contemporary oasis that is a departure from the vintage design of the guest bathroom. The selection of white quartz countertop, vessel sinks, modern wall sconces and plumbing fixtures, floating sink vanities, modern floating tub and contemporary wood plank wall tile created the modern feel that the client was looking for.” |QR

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