Neither David Webber nor any of his associates at Webber + Studios Inc., could quite pinpoint the original style of the 1930s brick home that the firm redesigned for a growing family in the Bryker Woods section of Austin, Texas, so Webber contrived a name that was descriptive of its mixed styles — Cape Cod Eclectic Revival. Today, after having completed a total remodel of the home using energy-efficient and green materials, as well as doubling its size from 1,600 to 3,500 sq. ft., only a single word needs to be added to Webber’s description: Modern Cape Cod Eclectic Revival.
So complete is the transformation that very little of the resulting home bears much resemblance to its previous form. The single remaining exterior touchstone from the original home is a brick archway in front. The rest is a pleasing mix of new and old.
Most strikingly, the new home is now much taller than it had been. It has two full floors of living space and an unfinished third-floor attic for a planned future expansion. To ensure that the new, taller structure fit with the older, smaller-scale homes in the neighborhood, Webber designed enormous matching gables running two and one-half stories high, up from the front of the home and down the back. The gables accomplish two goals. First, they help the home read to passersby more like the one-story cottage it once was. Second, the gables’ dramatic massing, (complete with a sleek metal roof), provide an unmistakably modern flair.
To Webber, whose team leans toward ultra-modern styles in its new construction projects, this remodel was about providing the client with solutions that fit their needs (i.e., four small children and a desire to live in a greener more sustainably built home). It was not about experimenting with new forms. But in the end, Webber says the project has garnered more favorable attention than they expected from their clients, the design community and from neighbors.
“I have been very happy that this project has gotten so much positive response. It is more than I anticipated, frankly,” says Webber. “I think what most people appreciate are houses that are comfy and homey. And this is a pretty comfy house. It is a good, solid, beautiful house. It works on those merits alone. It is not trying to be anything bigger than that. As architects, we are always thinking that we want something to be bigger and more important. This one is an artwork, but it is more of a functional, cozy piece of artwork.”
An Open and Cozy Floor Plan
One might expect that an architect — given the opportunity to add modern flair to an older home — would normally be tempted to remove all existing interior walls to create larger, light-filled spaces. And to a degree, the first floor of this remodeled home offers a wide-open kitchen/family room arrangement, but many of the interior walls were left in place allowing for cozier, even some “strangely proportioned,” rooms that give the home a mix of public and private spaces, says Webber.
There is a small piano parlor in front that borrows space gained from an enclosed entry porch. There is also a smallish formal dining room accessible from the kitchen/family room at the rear as well as from the piano parlor through a set of French doors in front. Passing from the front entrance and its lovely Shaker-style staircase is a narrow hallway that easily could have lapsed into a dark space, says Webber. Instead, natural light from the dining room is allowed into the hallway courtesy of a 4 1/2-ft. set of bookcases that forms a half wall that runs the length of the hallway with light coming in over the top.
“All the way to the back of the house to the family room, we created this really permeable hallway with lots of openings,”
Webber explains. “That way, as you go down the hall, you feel like you are in public spaces. You don’t ever have to feel like you are going into the bowels of the house. And tucked into the middle of all of this is a guest bedroom-bathroom combination off to the side. By having its own sort of private doorway into the hallway that takes you to both of them, it feels just a little bit tucked away and private.”
The simple, utilitarian lines of the trim carpentry as evidenced in the bookcases, mantels, kitchen cabinets, window and door casements and open shelving in the kitchen — all painted bright white — contribute significantly to the open, light-filled feeling of the first floor. Additionally, some existing rooms, like the dining room, which were once closed off, are now opened to more spaces, including the outdoors. Two full-lite doors adjacent to the fireplace in the dining room open onto a sleek deck. (Cleverly, the reverse side of the dining room fireplace uses the same chimney chase to accommodate an outdoor fireplace located on the deck under the wide eaves of the soaring gable.)
Other unique interior touches include the first-floor wall coverings. Specifically, there are no coverings. Most of the older homes in the area have interior walls constructed of horizontal “shiplap” covered with fabric. On the walls of the front section of the first floor, this shiplap was exposed and painted to effect a casual, comfortable feeling.
“At some point in its life, the walls in the existing home got the fabric removed and sheetrock put up. When we pulled the sheetrock off, we discovered, not to our surprise, that we had all of this shiplap. So we decided, let’s just keep it and repaint it,” notes Webber. “The only concern with using it was the client wanted to use board-and-batten panels upstairs. Board and batten is actually more finished looking than the shiplap. So there was this concern that the horizontal shiplap might look a little bit rough for the main part of the house. In the end, I think it looks fine. Both of them look beautiful.”
Oak floors, reclaimed from the demolition of a nearby home, were installed, sanded and stained for a result that is as good, or better, than new hardwood flooring. This was among the many aspects of the project that earned it an Austin Energy Green Building five-star certification.
Green and Sustainable
One of the nation’s oldest and most established local green building programs is the Austin Energy Green Building program. The program traces its history back to the city’s first embrace of the Energy Star program in 1985. In 1991, it became the green building program, and in 1992 the first Sustainable Building Sourcebook was written by the green building program staff. Today, remodeled or new construction homes can qualify for certification of one to five stars by adhering to energy efficiency and sustainability guidelines published in a 61-page document. (To download a copy of the document, go to www.austinenergy.com.)
Under this program, the Webber redesign qualified for its highest rating — five stars, based on success in several areas.
Primarily, the home uses highly efficient, argon-filled, Low-E windows and doors. The enameled metal roof is highly reflective and scores energy-efficiency points because it dissipates heat quickly after sunset. This allows the entire house to cool more quickly. The roof is also vented at the roof peak and along the eaves at the bottom. The venting is made possible by screeds that anchor the metal roof to the wooden roof deck, allowing the entire roof to float with an extra pocket of air in between. And, among other things, the home is equipped with solar panels that defray energy use. For a fuller list of the home’s green building features, see the sidebar, right.
Local green building programs often vary on the relative merits of green, energy-efficiency and sustainable characteristics. In Austin, a long-standing partnership with Habitat for Humanity has emerged as an important vehicle for demolition, sorting of recyclable materials and in some cases the reuse of materials in other Habitat for Humanity homes.
Achieving Five-Star Green certification in Austin
- Remodel and addition (versus new house)
- Habitat for Humanity recycled old materials and appliances during deconstruction
- Inner-city neighborhood near parks, schools, shops and amenities, and offices
- 3.2-kw solar panels on the roof
- Tankless water heaters, hot water on-demand system
- Metal roof (has longevity and is reflective of heat)
- Air-conditioning system that is highly efficient and has a dehumidification component as well as a cooling component
- Vapor barrier system that reduces the air vapor infiltration (works in conjunction with the air-conditioning system) and blown in foam insulation, Icynene in crawl space, walls, rafters.
- Passive heating/cooling using cross ventilation (room layout and window locations)
- Insulated glass, Low-E (argon-gas filled) windows
- Re-used materials from existing cabinets, lighting fixtures, hardware (in some cases, not all)
- Use of salvaged materials from salvage shops: some doors
- Re-used existing interior shiplap (for walls) in new work.
- Low-VOC paints throughout (except manufactured cabinets)
- All Energy-Star appliances
- Fluorescent lighting fixtures
- Fiber cement exterior panel siding