Slopes, water and trees; oh, wow

This lake house consists of not much more than a few bedrooms, an entertaining space and a lot of glass. The simplicity ends here, however, and thus begins the complexity of a steep slope, big trees and clients with a desire to occasionally become escape artists.

The slope of the lake lot allows for different heights for the main house and master suite, which are separate but connected by a covered walkway. The owners, who love entertaining guests, sometimes feel the need to escape the noise, so the master suite is a separate building.

Creating a footprint that weaves through the trees — which were so important for the home-owners to save — required creativity and cooperation at the highest level. The lot really is two lots purchased near a home the builder — Altico Construction of Horseshoe Bay, Texas — built for the client’s neighbor, who recommended Altico to the client. The clients already were designing the house with Dick Clark Architecture of Austin.

“There was an elevation change between the master suite and main house because of the slope of the lot,” explains Cave Johnson, owner, Altico Construction. “On the opposite side, we had about a 4-ft. drop-off toward the lake and also had setbacks on the water. We had to get high enough out of the flood plain, too. If you don’t address factors like these during design, such as having a step and a half up from the main house to the sleeping area, you’ll have issues that will change your program once you start.”

Sites that slope, or present a challenge of any type, foster good architecture, says Dick Clark, owner, Dick Clark Architecture. “A challenging lot isn’t evil or bad; it’s just a challenge, and custom home architecture is always a challenge.”

In addition to its slope, the land also includes many large trees, which the owners wanted to preserve. “The rule was, if you think you have to cut a limb down, call the owner,” Johnson recalls. “They wanted us to leave every tree we could. When we had pump trucks on-site pouring the foundation, I was literally trying to direct the guy up and over a limb. The same thing happened with the cranes for steel erection. It was important to get the subs in this mind-set, too. We had to convince them we really wanted to save them.”

Site-specific challenges are just part of the deal, Clark says. “Challenging sites make interesting houses. The trees and weird shape of this lot is what it’s all about it; all of it makes the home a success. We didn’t want to take a single tree down. They provide shade and look nice. And they’re no challenge if you’re a creative architect. Ultimately they affected this design positively,” he adds.

Glass and more glass

If dealing with the slope and trees weren’t enough, Clark and Johnson needed to capture views of the lake as well. Fortunately for them, the lot sits on a peninsula, so views were plentiful. “This home is designed as an indoor/outdoor living space. On a lake there are breezes, so heat gain from all the glass doesn’t matter as much.” To reinforce the breezes’ cooling powers, Clark designed large overhangs that limit the sun’s ability to heat up the house.

The second floor features two windows — one 12 ft. and the other 16 ft. — that come together at a seamless joint. “It was difficult getting the seamless windows to come together so nicely, but the window supplier made it happen. They are vertical, straight and tight,” Johnson says.

Two large sliding doors create a similar effect on the main level, but are able to completely disappear into the walls. Johnson’s team created drains under the track that direct water onto the patio and into the landscape. “We knew there’d be a lot of rain blowing in, so we created the little trough in the tracks. The tracks that come with the doors include a weep hole on the exterior, but in this design there’s no place for water to weep because the tracks are set in concrete. So, we put a trench under it so the sill is an inch and a half above the concrete. It took some thinking to come up with, but the architect and glass company came together and made it work,” Johnson says.

The open floor plan was important to this home’s design. “On a weekend, there’s a minimum of 10 or 12 people staying at the home. They want to be together in one space,” Clark says. In this home, being together can take place indoors and out, simultaneously, in the three outdoor living spaces. “One outdoor space sits in front of the master bedroom, there’s one in front of the living room and one with a fire pit.”

To add interest to the home, Clark used board-formed concrete throughout it for an interesting effect. “The concept is to make concrete look like wood. The concrete oozes between the boards and takes on the texture of the wood; you can even see the knots in the wood. We like the 2x6 wood because of its width,” he says.

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