The primary challenge of this project along the riverfront in San Antonio was to nearly double the size of a beautiful masonry-style house without overwhelming the narrow site on which it sits. In addition, the owners wanted to maintain the home’s historic look, which was in keeping with the surrounding King William district. The homeowners turned to Heather McKinney, FAIA, LEED AP, president of McKinney York Architects, for the design work. With some careful planning and ingenuity, McKinney was able to make the remodeled home and addition an unqualified success.
Work on the home was done in two phases. McKinney York Architects built the first phase 10 years ago when the homeowners were newlyweds. As time went on and the family expanded, McKinney was asked to step in for phase two, a remodel to the original home and an addition.
McKinney loved doing the house with the homeowner the first time and was really excited to have the opportunity to come back and work on it again — to work on it, improve it and enlarge it. Not only did McKinney’s team and the homeowners know each other so much better at that point, but the clients also had a much better grip on how their life worked and would continue to work, so the team could plan for the house.
McKinney and the owner, who was not entirely satisfied with some elements of the home that no longer worked for the family, explored the idea of opening up some of the spaces toward the back of the home. This would become the center of the house during phase two. By pursuing a rear addition, McKinney sought to create a much larger kitchen, dining and family room that would open up the middle of the home, allowing the home to breathe and feel less closed in.
“The opening of that space is one of the reasons the addition is so successful,” says McKinney. “Otherwise you feel like you’re just in a set of train cars because it’s a long narrow site. That was really the key to the success of the second phase.”
The King William district is an area in San Antonio that’s the jewel in the crown in terms of beautiful old neighborhoods. It has a lot of German influence and much wonderful stone work. Many of the houses in the district are 100 to 150 years old, and the King William district is a frequent tourist destination because of its charm.
“The homeowner requested that we respect the architectural vocabulary of the neighborhood and to fit in rather than be something that was starkly modern,” explains McKinney. “They really wanted to be low-key and camouflaged within the community. So we carefully studied the neighborhood, with its two-story open porches and balconies, stone work and shapes of the roofs. Those were things that we emulated in our building and tried to be just timeless in how we detailed it so that when you get up close, you can see there are some really clean modern things done to the way the house is constructed, but it still is very fitted to the neighborhood. The neighbors and the historic commission were all very pleased at how understated it was.”
San Antonio has quite a tradition of masonry, and masons from the same families have worked there for generations. As a result, being able to match the type of masonry that was in the neighborhood, even down to using local quarries for the stone, was easy for McKinney’s team.
“Here we knew we would be able to find the quality of craftsmanship we were looking for,” McKinney adds. “We did, and that was a big part of why the house felt so good, I think.”
The house is really a house for three people, but the homeowners have a large extended family, and when the family comes to visit, they all come at the same time. The house needed to function well for a small family, but then transition well to house a dozen people. That was part of what happened in this addition. For instance, the family room has a room for a big slumber party to occur, and the guest bedroom is the same way. There are a number of spaces that are convertible for large groups of people, and that was once of the homeowner’s specific requests.