As a newly built modern home in a post-war Austin, Texas, neighborhood, the Tarrytown Residence is designed to both engage with and iterate on its architectural surroundings, in addition to offering thoughtful privacy, rich interior spaces, and a strong connection to the outdoors.
“Tarrytown is in transition from a middle-class neighborhood of ranch-style homes to a more tony precinct of immodest stucco and limestone villas,” says Kevin Alter, partner at Alterstudio. “In this regard, our design attempts to resist this trend and offer a more contextual alternative. The single-story main volume and black brick nod to the scale and character of the surrounding ranch-style homes, while providing a new character and aesthetic. Carefully planned around the circumstances of its situation, the existing trees and topography provide the focus and character of the exterior courtyards, which in turn infuse the home with a compelling and an ever-changing interior environment.”
The “choreography” of the two-story structure begins at the gate, where visitors enter under the limb of a live oak tree, pass through careful landscaping adjoining a walled garden, and approach a rectilinear entry defined by a shift from horizontal to vertical black brick textures. To accommodate the clients’ request for privacy, a series of abstract black brick walls shield the interior from street view and serve as a buffer against potential neighboring development.
“I love not seeing the front door as you’re walking up. I like the way the planes are pulled apart, and the materials are put, and the way it sits on the land,” says one of the design award judges. “You see the same material throughout, but it’s reinvented or reinterpreted or used uniquely so that it takes a whole different form.”
A second-level office space sits above the entrance, overlooking the trees to the front and the two-story library and screen porch to the south. Inside, the slim structure is carefully arranged in a series of natural material and spatial contrasts. The dark exterior brick comes inside through the living room and transitions to dark wood paneling in the kitchen, which contrasts with a bright white ceiling and light wood flooring. Natural light enters the home through a wide array of window spaces, including full window walls and light monitors near the ceiling plane.
“We are often interested in contrast, and we tried to deploy its use to highlight the qualities of a given material, as well as demarcate particular places,” Alter says. “Similarly, extraordinary textures and patterns, like the rich grass-cloth wallpaper in the dining room, deep red tile in the kitchen, or painted concrete tile in the screen porch, bring a sense of whimsy and specialness that holds back against the omnipresent pull of the out-of-doors.”
The home’s energy-efficiency strategies are optimized to its design and the site’s existing features. The deep screen porch shades against the sun and provides a comfortable outdoor environment throughout the summer, while skylights deliver natural light indoors. The home’s vertical orientation, essentially a single-room wide, is designed to facilitate cross ventilation and reduce the home’s energy consumption needs.