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By Helen Thompson | Photo: Tre Dunham | February 1, 2017
For an Austin couple used to being on the go, a new house may be the one thing that will keep them at home.
“Homes didn’t mean anything to us,” says Perry Noakes, “except as a place to put our keys and get ready for the next journey.” The retired high-tech company executive and his wife, Suzy, are avid globe-trotters. The couple had also lived in Asia for 15 years as part of Perry’s work. Finding a place to live was a well-rehearsed exercise that figured into their system for settling in to a foreign country. But all that changed when Perry and Suzy decided to downsize to a new house in Austin. A friend told them about a spec house under construction, the project of a dream team of Austin-based design professionals that included builder Keith Husbands, architect Bob Wetmore of Cornerstone Architects, and interior designer Laura Britt and her staff. “We went to see it,” says Perry, “and loved it.” The couple quickly bought the framed-out 5,800-square-foot building.
The fact that the two-story dwelling was near a golf course was a bonus for the two golfers, but the low-slung four-bedroom, four-bath house also backs up onto a nature preserve. “The land offered us great opportunity to nestle the house into the topography, giving us both privacy and stunning views,” says Wetmore, who had to negotiate his design for the native stone, stucco and metal house to fit onto the steeply sloping and oddly elongated lot. The Hill Country contemporary house stretches out just below the rim of the slope, comfortably settled into the topography courtesy of terraced landscaping that defines the front approach to the house. “We turned a negative into a positive,” says Wetmore about the difficult site. The rough-and-ready landscape accounts for the building’s quiet dynamics, which Wetmore chronicled with the roofline, a series of horizontal areas that correspond to transitional spaces inside, interrupted by a clerestory that caps the entry and living room.
The process of taking a house from the framing stage to completion was a new experience for the couple. “We had never participated in the building process,” says Suzy. They threw themselves into it as if it were just another one of their adventures. “I think of it as my first project after I retired,” says Perry.
The budding design enthusiast so endeared himself to Britt that she and her staff awarded him with a beret to wear to design meetings, in honor of his artistic verve. “We were able to redesign a lot of the house since we came into the process so early,” says Suzy. “The house started as a spec house,” says Britt, “but it quickly became a custom home with the Noakeses’ involvement.”
Britt started the process by helping the couple select materials and lighting, opting for an earthy glamour that became the touchstone of the house. For pure wow factor, the living room’s stone and steel fireplace—sliced horizontally by three massive wood beams—is a tour de force of drama. In the kitchen, an oversize island (big enough to seat eight) is topped with a slab of dramatically veined marble; the countertops are a quieter quartzite. In the master bath, bold vein-cut travertine pavers on the floor are a counterpoint to the linear-cut mosaic tiles that back the vanity and reach all the way to the skylit ceiling. The pièce de résistance is the shimmering white pebble wall behind the free-standing tub that creates the effect of water frozen in free fall.
Britt used contrast as a backdrop to all the drama, opting for a forged metal chandelier in the shape of a lotus leaf in the entry—a worthy match to the darkened-steel front door. She designed a dining room table (through Vervano, her furniture design company) topped with patinaed steel; overhead, a massive steel-framed drum pendant with mica panels casts a delicate glow over the room. The designer was careful to leave wall space for the homeowners’ art collection, as well as to add space wherever possible. The dining room’s asymmetrical built-in is a place to display Buddhas and other pieces the couple has collected in their travels.
“We wanted this house to be about us and who we are,” says Suzy. That’s understandable since, after 16 previous homes that were really just places to live, the freedom of expression is obviously a thrill. Maybe even too much of a thrill—although this house is the couple’s dream home, they were completely enthralled with the design process. Could house No. 17 be the best and last? Maybe not. But if there is another house in the Noakeses’ future, one thing is certain, says Perry: “We won’t make a move without consulting Laura first.”
Metropolitan Custom Homes
Laura Britt Design
All Seasons Landscaping & Maintenance
Swivel chairs in living room
Tidewater Pebble range wall backsplash in kitchen
Architectural Tile & Stone
Island Stone Perfect Pebble water wall in master bathroom
Lounge chair in living room
Fine Art Lamps
Chandelier in dining room
Sconces in master bath
Pendants in entry and kitchen
Custom wall panels in master bedroom
Flooring in master bath
Side tables in living room, table in dining room, credenza and lounge chairs in master bedroom, desk in study