- Project Name
- Balcones House
- Mell Lawrence Architects
- Project Types
- Single Family
- Project Scope
- 4,285 sq. feet
- Year Completed
- Shared by
- Ayda Ayoubi
Construction contractor: Pilgrim Building Company,Construction contractor: Enabler,Structural Engineer: Architectural Engineering Collaborative,Lighting Designer: Studio Lumina,Landscape Architect: Mark Word Design
- Project Status
FROM THE ARCHITECTS:
The client originally envisioned a reanimation of the small mid-century house, perched on a hill, its low slung, horizontal volume overlooking the busy street below. However, the charming house proved too small, its rooms so boxy that the intended additions would have subsumed its character entirely, forcing the difficult decision to let it go. A clean slate revealed the opportunities of the site, which rises to the west toward a dense tree canopy providing privacy and sheltered views. This allowed a rethinking of the relationship to the site and the expression of the client’s wish for an indoor/outdoor lifestyle.
From the street, the house appears as a wide-brimmed glass pavilion rising from a solid concrete base. Its forthright, lantern-like public face is complemented by the solid form of the guesthouse, its back turned coyly to the street, a sliced corner hinting at something more. Together they form a processional entry, first approached by gentle stairs cut into the grass, then passing between them to reveal a peek at the pool, as well as views of the length of the site. Here, along its southern façade, the house reveals the expansive glass and transparency that continues along its western elevation allowing crisscross views from the outside to the inside and back outside again. The simple entry court connects the main house to the guesthouse, oriented toward the long view through its glass curtain wall, and protected from the sun by a large overhang.
The main house’s ground floor interior expands horizontally towards the same western perimeter through the massive sliding glass doors of the living room and kitchen. The volume is expressed as a simple box that contains a smaller box. Subtle textures and elemental materials merge to establish an assemblage of whispered but distinct detailing. The smaller interior box, which houses the powder room, stairs, pantry, and mechanical system is wrapped in untreated framing-quality fir, chosen for its warm and tactile qualities. This volume organizes the open space, obscuring the media room to the east, where openings to the outside are minimal, creating a more intimate space for watching television and reading, as well as a buffer from the busy street below. Light is borrowed and reflected from the ample adjacent sources.
Not completely orthogonal, the box’s walls are subtly angled to both obscure and direct sightlines. The screen on the wall in the media room is therefore oriented slightly towards the rear corner, making it not readily visible from the entry and creating a gentle tightening of the back hallway that expands into the kitchen. Likewise, the refrigerator in the kitchen turns almost imperceptibly away from the dining room.
A ceiling of steel beams with structural fir decking engages the southern length of the space, creating subtle material shifts above and below to frame the views to the outdoors. This lofty ceiling provides a contrast to the lower suspended drywall ceiling that shifts the color and texture palette toward the kitchen and dining area’s sleek, simple, white cabinetry – a minimalist setting for the colors and activities of the kitchen.
The pool is placed right outside this public area; when the sliding doors are open, the transition is expansive, seamless and immediate, converting the house itself into a pool house of sorts, and expanding its footprint well beyond its walls.
Upstairs spaces are organized in the same straightforward approach: perimeter floor-to-ceiling glass connects interiors to the tree canopy, sky, and distant views to the downtown skyline. The entire western facing end is devoted to a 15-foot-deep screened porch nestled into the treetops, inviting a sensory experience of the outdoors in a comfortable, protected setting. The porch is accessible from a corridor as well as the master suite, which adjoins it. The box-within-a-box organization is repeated to contain private areas and storage, and recreates the circular navigation from downstairs, further reinforcing the easy rhythm of moving through the house’s spaces.
The guest house doubles as a home office and art studio, its glass wall framing views to the activity inside from the entry court and the outdoor spaces beyond. Like the spatial strategy of the main house, the guest house is conceived as a box within a box. The interior box contains cabinetry and separates the bathroom from the front room while housing a fold-out desk and drawers, as well as a queen size bed that unfurls when needed. A concrete bench pierces the curtainwall and extends into the courtyard beyond, establishing a visual axis that is continued by the rectangular pool.
Cast-in-place concrete is the dominant voice in the material conversation, the remnants of its two-foot-wide plywood forms texturizing the surface just enough to catch fleeting shadows and animate the surfaces. The main house’s concrete walls—a lighter exterior and a heavier, structural interior wall with solid insulation between—address the challenges of the Texas climate. The smaller exterior wall acts as a buffer against the harsh Texas sun while the thicker interior wall acts as a thermal flywheel, allowing interior temperatures to remain steady even in extreme summer heat. Eight-foot overhangs further mitigate heat gain in the hottest season during which no summer sun penetrates the house on the southern exposure, while welcome sunlight washes into the living areas in winter months.
Moving along the site from the lowest point at the street to the highest at its western edge, the house appears comfortably tucked into the hill, its openings oriented toward lightly choreographed scenes of respite and nature. Its simplicity of form magnifies the attention to detail that can enchant the simple acts of every day life.