Renovation preaches sustainable building practices

Architect Meeta Morrison moved into her serene Austin home, mere minutes from downtown and Zilker Park, in 2002.

The late 1970s/early 1980s home was originally 2,200-square-foot with four bedrooms and three bathrooms and part of an eclectic neighborhood with a bevy of architectural styles. Working with contractor Lawrence Huisman, she began to modernize the home with large cascading decking, much-needed office space and more square footage in 2013.

  We love the rolling hills, mature trees and large lots,” she comments. This particular lot also has a great sense of tranquility due to its hilly topography, which keeps the backyard private and has created a thirteen-foot difference between the home’s first floor and the street below, yielding a treehouse-esque feeling. But one of the issues she had with the original layout was that it didn’t capitalize on the property or take advantage of the various elevation changes.

Along with additional square footage, Morrison wanted to brighten up the home as the interiors were perpetually dark with few windows on the north and south sides. “We also had difficulty with the lack of storage space,” she says. “We have two kids, now grown, and a constraint stream of friends and family who love to visit Austin. We were overburdening the multiuse capacity of our spaces.”

The home, which was already dated when the family moved in, would need updating. “There was old carpet, marble, dental molding, hulking stone columns and dated wallpaper,” she says. “The plumbing fixtures were dying a slow and painful death after 30 years in service.” And after 11 years in the home, that upkeep just got to be too much for the architect, who was looking forward to using her training to remodel another home.

When it came to the design, luckily the bones were strong. The foundation and framing materials were worth preserving, thus instead of the typical demo, the house was taken apart piece by piece, sorted in piles of metal, stone and wood, and reused and recycled when possible. Sustainability is an inherent value when it comes to Morrison’s building practices and she was happy to be able to donate the old appliances and recycle windows for glass and aluminum. Plus, the original wood was reused as blocking in the addition. The house has garnered a 5-star award from the Austin Energy Green Building program thanks to its energy-efficient insulation, new windows and LED lighting, and features Milgard® Thermally Broken Aluminum windows and engineered white oak flooring.

Morrison, who has remodeled every home she’s ever lived in, drew inspiration from her childhood home, a 175-year-old mud brick farmhouse with three connected courtyards in rural India. “I love looking at modernist architects from India and how they translate traditional forms and ideas into modern language,” she says. And as an architecture student, she also became interested in California Mid-Century Modern homes and the connection between indoor/outdoor living.

The new design features natural and low-maintenance materials like stone, wood, tile and metal, including handmade kitchen tile from Heath Ceramics in San Francisco and recycled teak from railroad ties, but the architect tries to source locally whenever possible like the green ceramic tile in the ensuite bathroom by Austin company Architerra. Her studio, which is like a peninsula that sticks out at a marked angle, faces due north and pops up to let in as much natural light as possible. “This angle became both a challenge and an opportunity,” she adds.

Additionally, she collaborated with landscape architect Michael Percy early on who designed the terraced backyard and retaining walls, and Geneieve Buontello for the front steps. Simple materials like steel, stone, concrete and wood plus native plant species pair well with the architecture.

And when it comes to the interiors, her eclectic style shines through. “Many of the furniture pieces I’ve gathered for years,” she says. “I buy what I like.” There’s the Mid-Century couch that was a gift from her mother-in-law, the antique Queen Anne sideboard and handmade carved mahogany headboard, bold “Navarre” wallpaper by Zoffany in the master suite with a “lovely retro vibe and velvet flocking” and work from local artist Melissa Borrell entitled “Cluster Dynamics” over the television. Fun fact: Before her career as an architect, Morrison actually worked as a studio artist.

Today, the architect enjoys spending time in her kitchen, which has views of the yard and deck, and is able to work more efficiently from her well-lit studio. During quarantine, this improved office space has allowed her to fully run her business from home.


MMD Architecture | 

Meeta Morrison AIA Principal

512-217-3563  |