A Natural

In the spirit of Richard Neutra, a glass pavilion in the Hill Country showcases the stunning surrounding terrain.

In the living room, floors are polished natural concrete and the 12-foot ceiling is clear finished Douglas fir.

Architect Gary Cunningham of Cunningham Architects is a renowned modernist with a wide range, a sustainable orientation and a keen sense of design appropriateness. A great example is a residence in Wimberley, a veritable Case Study House set in the Texas Hill Country, with lean lines and so many breathtaking vistas that they feel like one of the building materials. “Our clients told us that they wanted to do a house somewhat in the spirit of Richard Neutra, sleek and very straightforward,” the Dallas-based Cunningham says. “And they were driven by the desire to have a very open, elegant house, modernist lines; and how it related to the site was critical.” Completed in 2010, the two-wing, four-bedroom house is a seamless marriage of imagination, materials, design, sustainability and context, and it has an AIA Dallas Merit Award to show for it. “It’s really liked by a lot of people,” Cunningham acknowledges modestly. “It was well-received.”

The home’s “L” plan divides the residence into two wings, one a public space and the other private. Cunningham refers to the public areas, (living room, dining room, kitchen, entry), as the pavilion wing, and its glass-clad openness invites the outdoors in. “Almost all the walls are full-height glass, which varies from 10 to 14 feet, so it’s a lot of glass,” the architect says. “And it was very important to the clients to be able to open up the house for ventilation. It’s almost as if it were an outdoor space, as if you were just living outside, and then we put the glass walls in.” A wealth of interior wood reinforces the house’s ease with the natural world, and its organic alignment. Utilizing various woods and finishes, it’s quite a palette. “We do mix a lot of wood,” Cunningham allows. “The fir, the maple—even though they’re different colors, they’re very happy together.” Wimberley’s Grady Burnette Builders realized the project, and Cunningham assesses, “Grady was fantastic—wonderful job. There was some difficult detailing in the house, and he and his guys stepped up to the plate and made it work.”

Owing to the site’s dramatic fall, the bedroom wing is three stories. That exterior is dressed in fiber cement panels, hand-stained in black to lend a note of inconsistency, and a sharp contrast to the glassed pavilion. “We wanted it to have a natural sense about it, so dark that it would just fade into the tree line,” Cunningham says. Respecting the heavily wooded site was another major concern in designing the home, and very few trees were taken. Existing live oaks, cedars and junipers comprise the landscape, and a stand of oaks served as an anchor point outside the living room. Dallas landscape architect David Hocker, of David Hocker Design Group, was brought onboard, and Cunningham raves: “He was very important to the project—he locked into it, even helping calculate the watering needs.” A 2,000-square-foot roof terrace affords spectacular views and is a hub for socializing; it also serves for rainwater collection, a key sustainability feature.

Making a stellar first impression, the entry hall highlight is an extraordinary landscape mural by Argyle-based artist Mark Smith. Painted on nine maple veneer panels, the mural is an abstract recreation of the approach to the home. Smith researched the work by taking more than 1,000 photos of the trip to the site and then using them as visual ingredients for the mural. “The route is magical, circuitous, twisting roads, all that classic stuff,” Smith says. “It’s a long, beautiful transition from urban space to these gorgeous sightlines and views. The mural represents the essence of that transition, returning to nature.”

A view of the entry at dusk showcases Smith’s mural.