French Place is a quiet urban neighborhood, with modest-scaled houses, many beautiful gardens, and walkable proximity to some of Austin’s favorite local restaurants. Our clients, James & Leah, bought this 1960 house several years ago with the aim to downsize from the family’s 3100 sf house in Great Hills to a more manageable, conveniently located modern home for their ‘empty nest’ years.
We met with James and Leah about a year before they planned to start construction (the project was completed as Rick & Cindy Black Architects) to begin the design process. Some important ideas quickly emerged: the desire to create a connection to the street and neighbors, plenty of space to cultivate the garden, and a more modern, cool palette that would still fit in with the surrounding context.
While the footprint of the main house was maintained, we reconfigured much of the interior space, added on with a porch and outdoor kitchen facing the backyard, and built a new workshop to store garden tools and other equipment.
The problems with the existing house started with the entry: the front door was tucked far into a dark porch and was not a welcoming approach. One entered into a dark hallway and through a series of rooms that felt cramped and dark, and there was little connection to the outdoors. The finish materials were dated and worn: glass block, saltillo tile, laminate countertops, flimsy wood siding. Luckily for James & Leah, the foundation and roof were in tip-top shape! Below is the ‘before’ montage:
One way to expand the feeling of the inside was to create a gracious covered porch facing the backyard, with huge 16-foot sliding doors from the living and dining. We designed a steel structure with a cedar-lined soffit and ceiling, and a custom steel gutter directs water down the rain chains in the corner. A trellis extends in front of the kitchen window and creates another little sitting area with a water feature and rain collection tank nearby. (note: the tree in the ‘before’ photo sadly passed away before construction – another Bur Oak lost to disease!)
An outdoor kitchen is integrated into the structure, with a brick base to complement the front walls of the house and a galvalume metal top. James’ Big Green Egg definitely takes center stage, along with the stainless gas grill. Custom cedar cabinets provide storage for grilling tools and charcoal.
A cedar soffit connects the porch to the house, easing the transition from the traditional gable form to the modern flat roof. We wanted to maintain some natural light through the side windows, so the porch roof steps away and reveals a rain garden for shade plants below.
Back inside, the kitchen, dining and living encompass one large space with a clean flat ceiling. This gives enough breathing room for the visiting family members, but doesn’t feel too huge for the every day life of two people. We minimized the size of the trim, and painted the room just one shade of a cool white to keep the space visually calm. The CB2 Firefly pendant and the Hampton wall sconce add sparkle and interest.
The back wall of the kitchen features a Bertazzoni range and vent hood, with a glass subway tile backsplash, and walnut open shelves.
The kitchen takes a U-shape, with the sink facing out to the back yard and workshop building, and a long peninsula facing the dining and living space. An open shelf at the end of the peninsula is a great place for cookbooks. Insulator pendants from Railroadware hang over the peninsula.
We loved this Kohler Prologue sink with the single bowl and big drainboard. The straining basket is so useful, too!
A spice shelf is integrated into the refrigerator surround, convenient to the cooking and prep near the range. Facing toward the front street is a counter-height desk space with bar sink and wine refrigerator – a nice perch for a morning cup of coffee or a little wine later on.
The pantry is tucked behind one of the redwood lined walls that divided the main space. The redwood was actually sourced from our friend’s house – our contractor, Texas Construction, offered this option as they were about to remove the wood from the other project. Perfect timing! We love reusing materials wherever possible, and this batch even avoided the typical shipping costs. We refinished the walls with a couple layers of white wood stain.
The floors offer so much character to the large space – we worked with Hardwood Designs in Austin. This is an engineered flooring, with an 1/8″ top layer of reclaimed pecan that has been lightly stained and hand scraped. The thick top layer means that it can be refinished in the future as needed.
The redwood walls continue into the dining area and create a space for a desk (not pictured) and a little bar cabinet with a limestone top. The front door is a custom five-panel design, painted a lovely spring yellow on the exterior.
The living room has a big north-facing skylight to bring light into an otherwise dark area. New bookshelves with Torchiere sconces line one wall, with a Normandy blue interior. We transformed the fireplace from a typical brick veneer and raised hearth, to a new stucco veneer and flush hearth with a limestone mantel.
It was so great to see James and Leah move in and everything fit into place! We measured the furniture that would come with them to make sure it would fit, and they purchased a few new items to complete the space. We loved how everything came together, feeling like a comfortable family house and chic urban cottage in one.
We give credit to all the wonderful folks who contributed to the project:
General Contractor: Texas Construction
Appliances: Kiva Kitchen & Bath
Cabinets: Tim Cuddy
Concrete Countertops: Newbold Stone & Concrete
Limestone Countertops: Architectural Tile & Stone
Wood Flooring: Hardwood Designs
Landscape: K+D Designs
Photography: Whit Preston