Austin Idea House Brims with Inspiration

Searching for some serious design inspiration? Look no further than the sun-drenched capital of Texas, which was selected as the site of Southern Living magazine’s 2018 Idea House.

or nearly 30 years, Southern Living has selected an annual “Idea House” in various cities scattered throughout the South, inviting everyone from prospective homeowners to design enthusiasts into the doors to take home some design inspiration and ideas from each total transformation.

This year’s major makeover reimagined a 1980s Hill Country colonial house tucked in Austin’s Northwest Hills neighborhood thanks to the talent of an all-local team — designer Meredith Ellis of Meredith Ellis Design and James Showroom, builder David Wilkes of David Wilkes Builders and architect Chris Sanders of Sanders Architecture.

After weeks scouring homes in Central Austin, Sanders said this property was selected as the Idea House project because it possessed the right combination of size and condition.

“We wanted it to be a family home, within 10 minutes of downtown, and in reasonable shape,” says Sanders. “We were looking for a house that would be a good candidate for a remodel, but we didn’t want to be replacing fundamentals like the foundation and the framing. Finding a house that fit this description was not easy.”

Touring through the now bright and cheery spaces proves what thoughtful redesign can do for an out-of-date home.

“People live differently than they did 40 years ago, and this home, like many others of its era, had been added onto since it was originally built,” says Sanders. “We like to look at homes like this and imagine the design alterations — both big and small — that will have the greatest impact.”

The redesign of the four bedroom, four-and-one-half bath, two-story home now embraces Austin’s year-round indoor/outdoor lifestyle more than it ever did before. Reconfiguring the house brought natural light into the core of the living spaces and created views to the outdoors that were once obsolete — a move Sanders says became the touchstone of every design decision that followed. From major design interventions to subtle changes, the revamped home now supports more social, family-focused living spaces. For example, the kitchen was relocated to create a central gathering space that flows into the rest of the house with a generous mudroom added in its place, an odd multi-use space at the back of the house was transformed into a bright and airy family room that opens to the spacious back porch and an updated fireplace becomes the anchor of the home.

Ellis worked her interior design magic to create a home that feels classic, layered and comfortable, proving that a dated home can become livable for today’s lifestyle. While the designer says she was immediately drawn to the house for its iconic Southern look, expansive front porch and beautiful sprawling lot, the home was dated, the layout was choppy and spaces weren’t well-suited for functional family living.

“The family room was centrally located, which was great, but the kitchen wasn’t a part of it,” says Ellis. “I wanted those rooms to be combined. What had been the dining room was located directly behind the family room but separated by a wall. It was worth putting in a steel support beam in order to eliminate that wall so we could open that space up.” 

Ellis decided to convert the formal living room into a formal dining room but make it more multi-functional with large wall-to-wall bookcases, which allows the space to double as a library. Before, the home lacked storage so closets were expanded and bookcases and cabinets were added throughout the home. While each room in the house is unique and has elements that make it special, the home as a whole flows effortlessly from room to room — one of Ellis’ favorite results of the redesign, which showcases the versatility of JAMES fabrics with a well-edited selection of prints, patterns and layers.

“The feedback we’ve received shows that people are loving the color, the layers, the use of antiques, and it shows how traditional design can feel updated and modern for today’s family,” says Ellis.

One of her favorite elements in the revamped home is the mural at the top of the stairs in the entry.

“It was purchased only weeks before the final installation,” she recalls. “I found this mural by an artist I had worked with before and loved that it was of India. Many of the block-print fabrics we use are inspired by Indian design or are printed in India. It was the perfect piece to set the tone for the design of the house, and the colors married perfectly with the dining room right off the entry.”

To handle the construction, Ellis tapped longtime friends David and Catherine Wilkes.

“We were very fortunate to have Meredith Ellis approach us to be a part of the team for the Southern Living House,” says David Wilkes. “Catherine and Meredith met at camp during their childhood and reconnected when Meredith moved back to Austin from L.A. to start her own design business.”

Having worked with both Ellis and Sanders on past projects, Wilkes says the team was able to overcome the biggest challenge: turning what would typically be a 10-month project into a four-month project.

“Fortunately, because of the team in place and having worked together in the past, we were able to succeed in getting it complete by the deadline,” says Wilkes. “The schedule was extremely demanding to all involved but everybody stayed focus to deliver a beautiful home. We are really proud of the final product.”


Want to get a glimpse of the 2018 Southern Living Idea House for yourself? Public tours of the Austin home (located at 6401 Rusty Ridge Drive Austin, TX 78731) began this summer and will continue through November 8. Take a self-guided tour Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm or Sunday from noon to 4:00pm –– tickets are $20 plus taxes and fees for adults (free for children under 12) with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Dell Children’s Medical Center.



ARCHITECT   Sanders Architecture, PLLC

512-482-9258  |


BUILDER   David Wilkes Builders

512-328-9888  |


DESIGNER   Meredith Ellis Design

512-362-8092  |