Slopes, water and trees; oh, wow


This lake house is not much more than a few bedrooms, an entertaining space and a lot of glass. The simplicity ends here, however, and thus begins the complexity created by a steep slope, big trees and clients with a desire to sometimes escape the parties they host.

The slope of the lake lot creates different heights for the main house and master suite, which are separate but connected by a covered walkway. The owners, who love entertaining guests, sometimes feel the need to escape the noise, or, frankly, go to sleep earlier than their guests, so the master suite is a separate building connected to the main home through a covered outdoor walkway.

Creating a footprint for the separate structures that weaves through the trees, which were so important for the homeowners to save, required creativity and cooperation at the highest level. The result is a Design Excellence Award from Residential Design + Build magazine.

The home sits on two lots purchased near a home the builder constructed for the client’s neighbor, who recommended the builder, Altico Construction of Horseshoe Bay, Texas, to the client. The clients already were designing the house with Dick Clark Architecture in Austin.

“There was an elevation change between the master suite and main house because of the slope of the lot,” explains Cave Johnson, owner, Altico Construction. “On the opposite side, we had about a four-foot drop-off toward the lake and also had setbacks on the water. We had to get high enough out of the flood plain, which dictated the starting point of how low we could go. If you don’t address factors like this during design, such as having a step-and-a-half up from the main house to the sleeping area, you’ll have issues that will change your program once you start.”

Sites that slope, or present a challenge of any type, bring out good architecture, says Dick Clark, owner, Dick Clark Architecture. “A challenging lot isn’t evil or bad; it’s just a challenge, and custom home architecture is always a challenge, which is how it should be.”

In addition to its slope, the land also includes many large trees, which the owners wanted to preserve. “The word was, if you think you have to cut a limb down, call the owner,” Johnson recalls. “They wanted us to leave every tree we could. When we had pump trucks on site pouring the foundation, I was literally trying to direct the guy up and over a limb. The same thing happened with the cranes for steel erection. It was important to get the subs in this mindset, too. We had to convince them we weren’t just saying it, we really wanted to save them.”

Site-specific challenges like designing a home around trees and topography are just part of the deal, Clark says. “Challenging sites make interesting houses. The trees and weird shape of this lot, this is what it’s all about it; all of it is what makes the home the success it is. We didn’t want to take a single tree down. They provide shade and look nice. And they’re no challenge if you’re a creative architect. Ultimately they affected this design positively,” he adds.

Glass and more glass

And if dealing with the slope and trees weren’t enough, Clark and Johnson needed to capture views of the lake amidst all of it. Fortunately for them, the lot sits on a peninsula, so capturing views was easier than anticipated. DC-“Three sides of the home have good views. This home is designed as an indoor/outdoor living space. On lake there are breezes so heat gain from all the glass doesn’t matter as much.” As reinforcement of the breezes’ cooling powers, Clark designed large overhangs that limit the sun’s ability to heat up the house.

The second floor features two windows – one 12 ft. and the other 16 ft. – that come together at a seamless joint. “It was difficult getting the seamless windows to come together so nicely, but the window supplier made it happen. They are vertical, straight and tight,”’ Johnson says.

Two large sliding doors create a similar effect on the main level, but are able to disappear completely. Johnson’s team created drains under the track that direct water onto the patio and into the landscape. “We knew there’d be a lot of traffic and rain blowing in, so we created the little trough in the tracks. The tracks that come with the doors include a weep hole on the exterior, but in this design there’s no place for water to weep because the tracks are set in concrete. So we put trench under it so the sill is an inch and a half above the concrete. It took some thinking to come up with, but the architect and glass company all came together and made it work,” Johnson says.

The open floor plan was important to this home’s design. “On a weekend, there’s a minimum of ten or 12 people staying at the home. They want to be together in one space,” Clark says. In this home, being together can take place indoors and out, simultaneously, with the three outdoor living spaces. “One outdoor space sits in front of the master bedroom, there’s one in front of the living room, one with a fire pit.”

Clark points out the master suite, which is separate from the main living space. “Lake house was entertaining house. Maser bedroom separate from main house under cover. They can go to bed and not be disturbed. Solid concrete wall.”

Clark used board-formed concrete throughout the home for an interesting effect. The concept is to make concrete look like wood. The concrete oozes in between the boards and takes on the texture of the wood; You can even see the knots in the wood. We like the two-by-six because of the width.

For Johnson, it’s rare to create a system inside the form to make concrete look like wood. “We built the forms out of wood and had to weld steel beams around the wood to fill it with concrete. Had 8-in. steel beams welded 4-ft. high as we went up the walls. Most of those walls are eight to twelve inches thick.”

Contemporary is not the home style Johnson is used to, but he is always up for trying something new. “In the process we used a lot of innovative materials. CJ-Metal siding Reinzink metal horizontal. Treated so over time, when it’s’ scratched, it repairs itself. All the wood is Ipe. It’s difficult to work with because it’s so dense and it splinters bad if you’re not careful. But, the architect had the design and concept and we had to make sure it happened.”

Clark combined the wood and stone because of their maintenance requirements, which is a big deal especially on lake homes. “These materials are fairly maintenance-free for a long time. The owners want it to look like this while they’re gone for long times. They’re empty nesters who don’t want to spend their leisure time maintaining the outside of their home. The Ipe wood works great outside, is really tough and is beautiful, too,” Clark says.

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