From Northern California down across the Sunbelt to Austin, Texas, the allure of post-and-beam styled homes from the middle of the previous century seems to grow with each passing year. In Northern California, homes designed and built by Joe Eichler from 1949 to 1974 have higher resale value than other homes of comparable size and location. The forward looking, completely original style of these mid-century ranch homes are now hip backdrops in movies and television commercials.
In central Austin, near the campus of the University of Texas, the owners of a 1945 mid-century home cared enough about the original character of their home to sensitively add a 658-sq.-ft second floor for a new master bedroom suite. (Many other similarly sized homes in their neighborhood had long since been replaced with McMansions.) As part of the project, the owners also sought to relocate the front entry of the home in order to separate it from the head of the driveway.
For the design solutions, the couple turned to Mark Lind of CG&S Design-Build of Austin who took inspiration from the home’s many Japanese design themes. Near the front entry there was a stained glass depiction of Mt. Fuji. In the existing first-floor master suite there was a custom-made canvas door for the closet. Lind took these cues and extrapolated on them for use in both the second-floor addition and the new front entry.
A glass lantern
Mid-century modern homes are distinguished by their gently sloping rooflines that extend side-to-side from a center ridge beam. In many such homes the rafter tails extend outward to create wide eaves. They are also characterized by mini-courtyards in front that serve as a gateway to the front door. They also allow for light to penetrate toward the center of the home. In the case of this home, the owners felt that the U-shaped courtyard was too close to the terminus of their driveway. They wanted to move the entry to occupy a space several feet to the right on the front elevation. The challenge was that a huge masonry fireplace existed in the spot where the new entry ideally would be placed. For Mark Lind, the goal was to preserve and enhance the original courtyard and to add something new on front that would work well with the masonry fireplace, which was ditched to make way for the new entry.
“People here in Texas don’t really use fireplaces that often,” notes Lind. “It is more to add ambiance during the holidays. So the owners were willing to get rid of it. When we took out the fireplace, a lot of room opened up as a result. So we took that out and I came up with this concept of an all-glass room that was the entry vestibule attached to the front of the house. It is kind of like a Japanese lantern. It turns out that when we picked the light fixtures we chose this kind of Japanese lantern look that authenticated the motif. We also kept some of the existing masonry there.”
To create the all-glass front vestibule, the main ridge beam of the house needed to be extended forward from its original location by more than 10 ft. A new post was added in front to support the new beam. And, as is frequently done in Japanese architecture, the post was anchored to a granite rock. This helps keep the lower end of a post from rotting. Low-slung rafters matching the original pitch of the roofline cap the glass box underneath. The rafters extend out to the carport on one side. But a window scheme that required custom-sized windows running along the underside of the roof, really seemed to accent the overall massing of the roofline.
“If you are talking about challenges, the windows were one of them,” says Lind. “I drew a scheme where I showed the windows being squared off at the top and some framing between the top of the windows and the underside of the roof. But I also showed them this scheme where you take the windows right up to the underside of the roof. And of course, they liked this one thankfully. It proved to be extremely time-consuming and took a lot of labor. In order to have the windows come up to the underside of the roof, they had to set the bottom window, then come in and do some framing. And then come in and set the top window. It took a lot of time to do it. It is a fantastic look. It is a nice characteristic of mid-century modern. It is something that people really don’t do anymore because it is just too easy to put a header over a window.”