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Point of View
Helen Thompson | Photo: Casey Dunn | October 9, 2014
Austin architect Paul Lamb teams up with Dallas’ Collins Interiors for a house that’s private from the front but open to the big wide world in back.
“I have always been an admirer of Paul Lamb’s work,” says the homeowner of a recently completed glass, metal and native stone residence by the Austin architect. It’s a straightforward endorsement, except for the fact that the homeowner loves Lamb’s work because the houses he designs are never identifiable as his work. “Paul doesn’t have a ‘look,’” she explains, and she should know. As a former realtor, she’s been in many Lamb-designed homes. If you were to assemble a list of the architect’s greatest hits, it would include an imposing house that looks like a Mayan temple; one that’s stacked against a rocky hillside, reminiscent of a Greek village; a minimalist residence emboldened with Palladian grandeur; and an earthy, modernist dwelling with majestic long-leaf pine columns in front.
So when the former agent and her husband found the lot of their dreams, there was no question who the architect would be. Instead, the big question was, “What would our house look like?” The couple also brought in Dallas designers Cynthia Collins and Caroline Eastman of Collins Interiors to collaborate with Lamb on the project. For both the architect and the designer, much depended on the lot, which is wide and flat—an anomaly in the otherwise craggy hills west of Austin overlooking Lake Austin. That view, which they’d always wanted to find, was the key. “Their property is on a bluff that bows out over the water,” explains Lamb. That meant that the house-to-be would essentially be floating over the lake. As far as views go, theirs was the trifecta: the Hill Country, the water and the Austin skyline.
Lamb and project designer Ted Young planned accordingly. “We wanted a modern take on classical style,” the wife told them. Responding to the couple’s desire for minimalist lines with classical proportions, Lamb designed three two-story pavilions (with a total square footage of about 5,000). Entry is through the middle building with the great room beyond; to the right is the master suite and study; and to the left, a dining room, kitchen and breakfast room. Above the kitchen pavilion are the three children’s bedrooms, which can be easily closed off when the couple becomes empty nesters and the kids are gone. Connected by glass hallways, the stone-clad pavilions have matching standing seam metal roofs. “They sit on the buildings like tight hats,” says Lamb.
In the back, though, this very private-seeming house reveals another personality, one that dotes on the panorama. “The back wall is glass,” explains the architect. “Walls open onto a porch that extends from end to end of the house.” To make things extra-special, Lamb pulled the great room out from the house and walled it on three sides with glass and a 20-foot ceiling. “Being in that room is like being outside,” adds the wife.
Transparency is the straw that stirs the heady concoction of view, architecture and functionality in this stylish house. Because of that, close collaboration between the architect and the interior designers was crucial. “I wanted to make sure that what we did on the inside of the house didn’t take away from what was on the outside,” notes Collins. In addition to Collins Interiors, Collins, Eastman and three other designers run Blue Print, a private-label furniture, art and accessories shop.
“This house called for a certain kind of decor,” says Eastman. There are, for instance, no draperies. Colors throughout the house are muted, with only a few exceptions. “What color we do have, we based on the homeowners’ favorite painting, an anniversary gift [the wife] received from her husband,” the designer continues. Now hanging in the entry, the oil painting’s soft grays, yellows, blues, mauves and browns are the design palette’s reference point throughout. In the living room, it’s almost as if Collins and Eastman opted for noncolors, starting with the sisal carpet, a Lucite coffee table and two off-white back-to-back chenille sofas. “We wanted nothing that would block the view,” adds Collins. Pops of color, such as the pair of eggplant velvet chairs, enliven the space and are a nod to the painting.
“I wanted a mix of antiques, my own pieces and some modern selections,” says the wife, “and no pattern.” Her insistence on a quiet environment called for only a few deviations, such as the sinuous embroidered floral pattern on the backs of the dining room chairs and the repeating squares in the dining room’s Interior Resources cowhide rug. In the breakfast room, chairs upholstered in sky-blue leatherette are a breezy recap of the blues in a painting that hangs in the nearby dining room. “A lot of the details in this house are very small,” comments the wife. “You don’t really notice them until you see the entire effect—kind of like a couture dress.” Case in point: the lower cabinets and the island in the kitchen. Grooved horizontally in a continuous pattern that resembles fluting, the ordinary domestic element takes on the dignity of fine furniture. The grooving is a small detail but the overall effect is grand.
“The longer we live in this house,” says the wife, “the more we love it.” And she loves the way it looks too. “If you walk into the house in 10 years,” she says, “it’ll look exactly the same.” That is, unless the couple moves from the house that was to be their last. But what could possibly drive them from a home they obviously love so much? “I’d love to do another house with Paul,” the wife admits—the one hazard of working with a terrific architect.
Paul Lamb Architects
Ted Young, project designer
Thompson + Hanson
All paint, custom-mixed
Windows on second floor
Fabric for dining chairs, living room chairs and bolster in the master bedroom
Chandelier in the dining room
Pendants in the kitchen
Sconces and pendant in the master bath
Range in kitchen