Smiling House

Stacy and Steve Finnerty have called Austin home for many years, living in the rolling hills of Westlake. But while the couple thoroughly enjoyed their time in the quiet suburban area, they were eager to enjoy Austin’s bustling downtown as soon as their youngest daughter graduated from high school.

Stacy was particularly smitten with what she calls “the girl streets,” a charming group of streets in the Bouldin neighborhood directly off of S. Congress. Named Mary, Johanna, Annie and Eva, the streets embody the historic charm of the area, and provide easy walkability to the popular restaurants and shops that define S. Congress. “We knew that properties were moving really quickly. One morning, we got an alert that a 1906 tear-down on Eva Street was listed. We dashed downtown in the cold and the rain to see it. It had only been listed for an hour and a half, and there were already eight couples there! I called a realtor friend and told them to make our offer in the next ten minutes — luckily, we got it!” laughs Stacy. 

With their perfect location secured, the couple began a search for an architect to bring their dream alive. They knew that they wanted a new home with modern amenities, but it was important to them that the home fit in amongst the older bungalows surrounding it. Austin’s Tim Cuppett Architecture + Interiors fit the bill.  “We talked to several architects,” shares Steve,  “and he truly listened to us, and understood what the home needed to be. He and his business partner, David, had both competency and character, and they wanted the design to both fit in and stand out.”   

“We didn’t have preconceived notions about the property. We knew that we didn’t want to insert a foreign aesthetic. It would be obviously new, but it was important to the clients and to us that it didn’t jump off page — it needed to be more contextual than that,” says Tim. Project Architect David Kilpatrick drew inspiration from historic floor plans, early 20th century homes, and the funky vibes of the neighborhood to put together a vibrant and welcoming foursquare plan that is sensitive to the shape and scale of surrounding homes, and feels deliberately stitched into the fabric of the old neighborhood.

The first and most obvious detail of the home is the inviting front porch. “Stacy really wanted a ‘Howdy, Neighbor’ porch,” says Steve. During the day, a slatted gable filters light and allows a peek of cheerful yellow paint, and at night, the porch pendant behind the slats provides a soft glow — a sort of lantern that, when viewed from the street, feels welcoming, contemporary and connected to the history of the neighborhood. “The repetitive pattern of holes came about as a means of applying details from old bungalows into this modern structure. We looked to old picket fences and translated decorative picket patterns into what you see in the gable and the front gate,” says David. Early in the process, Stacy sent the design team to the drawing board with a firm request. Initial renderings didn’t inspire her, but when Tim and David presented the final design, she was thrilled. “NOW,” she replied, “the house smiled at me — and I smiled back.”

The floor plan feels open and modern. A central staircase creates the entrance, and the four corners are the kitchen, dining, office and master suite. A gabled second floor includes a bedroom and a cozy den with a view of downtown. “The house is inserted into this new envelope in much the same way an old house would be organized,” says David. “The kitchen/dining room is one of my favorite rooms that we’ve ever made. The architecture per square foot is so high.” The designers were able to delineate the kitchen area by creating a ceiling plane with drywall, and leaving the joists exposed everywhere else. Beading runs around the top of the entire room, giving the impression of different ceiling heights. “My favorite detail in the house is how the ceiling joists look like they turn down the wall and become the shelves in the kitchen,” says David. “It really weaves the spaces together in a very cost-efficient way.” 

For a small house, there are a handful of very impactful details that didn’t cost the owners a lot of money. “The project is rich in careful detailing and application of paint color to get a big bang for not a whole lot of money,” says Tim. A small garage apartment with a bright blue door occupies the back of the lot, and provides additional guests lodging as well as VRBO potential. Between these two spaces, a private screened porch and outdoor terrace complement the communal feel.

Playful use of color is a defining aspect of the entire house. “The home is in the heart of an area that inspired the idea of ‘Keep Austin Weird’,” says Tim. We had an opportunity to use lots of color without it being an anomaly. You could almost argue that the color scheme is conservative for the area,” he laughs, adding, “Color doesn’t cost money, and it’s a great way to create atmosphere without increasing the budget.” The pantry office is the most dramatic example, painted from floor to ceiling in a vibrant topaz blue that complements blue detailing on the garage. Many of the light fixtures also provide a pop of color. Interior Designer Adriana Chetty looked for fixtures with traditional shapes that one might see in a 1920’s bungalow, interpreted in a modern way. The lantern for the porch has bright orange detailing and can be removed and carried to the BBQ, or wherever the couple might need extra lighting. 

In terms of energy efficiency, the team focused on a tight envelope, wide overhangs and passive ventilation to maximize the home’s efficiency.  “We always make an effort to design a responsible house,” says Tim. “Sometimes solutions can be very simple and passive, like wide overhangs.” Carefully balanced daylight eliminates the need for artificial lighting during the day.

Despite a smaller lot and closer proximity to neighbors, the couple feels connected to nature. “Even our dogs are happy,” shares Steve. “They have plenty of squirrels and lots of walking. For us, there is so much natural light — the design focuses on natural light, which adds to the happiness of it. You see old trees from every window, and feel like you’re a part of nature even though you’re downtown.”

The smiling house on Eva St. has certainly brought smiles to everyone involved. “We really ended up in a perfect place,” says Steve. “Tim’s firm also did our interiors and landscape planning, and we loved our builder, Risher Martin. Fixed price and on time. We really enjoyed the process, there were no surprises, they both had such integrity and a high quality of work.”

As a featured home on the recent AIA Austin Homes Tour 2018, Tim says, “I’m proud that it is a modern home that fits quietly into an old neighborhood. It’s really comfortable in its setting. We always want our houses to fit into their context — the street is part of what is so pretty about this area, and the house needed to be a part of that.”

“This house feels like home to everyone who visits,” says Stacy. “That is what we wanted. The porch sets the stage for the rest of the house, and it makes everyone smile.”



Tim Cuppett Architects + Interiors