The back story on this large custom project on a cliff overlooking Lake Austin is a familiar one. An affluent couple buys an outdated home on a tough (but beautiful) site, then spends years fine-tuning the design of their retirement fantasy house.

"They lived in other houses around the country while this was being built," notes architect Robert Steinbomer. "It was a long, ongoing process, as the house evolved through many phases."

The first phase involved building the 1,600-square-foot boathouse at the bottom of a cliff--a task made easier by the owners' purchase of a 170-foot-long tram system capable of carrying four adults. "Those are pretty common in this area," notes Steinbomer. "But it sure helped, because the contractor used it to come and go from work."

The resulting project is more compound than house. Along with the boathouse is a 4,700-square-foot main house, a 1,330-square-foot guest apartment, a 220-square-foot cabana, and a small well house--plus outdoor spaces for the owners' hunting dogs.

The architect notes that the use of local limestone on both interior and exterior surfaces added panache to the project, yet cost less than some stucco finishes. "We also used recycled pine floors, and Eastern red cedar for the lintels above interior doors," he adds. "That's cedar grown right in this area."

Osborne Photography

"We really focused on light and views and comfort," he continues. "The house was deliberately broken up to get views both up and down the lake. Roy Materneck, the interior designer, really added a lot to the process, by making minor changes to the layout and suggesting surfaces."

"To top it all off, these owners were just a delight to work with," Steinbomer concludes. "They really gave us a lot of license."

Category: Custom, more than 3,500 square feet; Entrant/Architect: Steinbomer & Associates, Architects, Austin, Texas; Builder: Krager General Construction, Austin; Landscape Architect: SKDLA, Ranchos De Taos, N.M.; Interior Designer: RWM Design, Austin; Structural Engineer: Jaster-Quintanilla & Associates, Austin

Osborne Photography

Working Small

Given the small size of the cliffside site, builder Tom Krager and his crews spent two years on this job and had to do much of the site work by hand.

To accommodate more than 130 linear feet of decking on the northern side of the house, footings had to be dug by hand into the hillside. "We couldn't get any machinery in there," notes Krager. "In fact, we had to hold off on building the garage so we would have a staging area to work from."

Marching Orders

Paul Bardagjy

Parking had nowhere to go but down at Viejo Carmel. To accomplish this on the steep site, the architects stepped the parking in three locations to take up a significant amount of grade fall "as the site marches up the street," says architect Richard Emsiek. "We still had to provide accessibility, so we put an elevator and/or ramps right at those two, 3-foot steps. The elevator could open at the low side and the high side just by having front and rear doors on it."

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Austin, TX.