What if you could go back in time and build the perfect Midcentury Modern house right from the start? And what if you had a secret weapon from today’s arsenal in the form of modern materials and methods? That is the beauty and the superpower of renovation.
The challenge faced by so many skilled architects of the past were resources that fell short of their vision. Such was the case with this notable house designed in the 1950s by Austin modernists Arthur Fehr and Charles Granger. The architects sought to achieve lightness and delight in their work, but structural techniques of the time undermined their goals.
When architect Nick Deaver’s clients approached him to revive the building, he knew his primary assignment was to achieve that vision of lightness, but he also had to make it livable and lovable for today’s modern life. “We are not given many houses that are of as high quality as this one—as an idea house,” says Nick. “And that’s the struggle an architect goes through: Where is the room for departure? What do you hold onto and where do you move apart?”
The struggles with the original house and later additions and alterations were real. Space for the primary bedroom was inadequate, entertaining areas were tight, and the whole floor plan was chopped up with walls and an ill-placed stair—all this on a steeply sloped site with a mature canopy of protected live oak trees. And then there were those ’50s materials. “These buildings were so thinly made, they are almost like a tent,” Nick explains. “You have these very heavy roof edges pressing down on light walls.”
The saving grace on the project were the owners themselves, who did not want or expect a blowout of the home’s square footage. “These are probably the first clients I’ve had that said and meant, ‘Less. We want less.’” Their only big ask was for a pool—no easy feat on that sloped site. In the end, they allowed Nick to remove square footage and rearrange walls and functions just enough to make interior spaces work better. Some walls became storage partitions, allowing daylight to flow through the house.
A sawtoothed addition at the back was removed and fresh fenestration applied at the rear and front in a new alignment of axial sight lines. The new fenestration marked a major departure from the original, as it emphasized verticality, not midcentury’s horizontality. “There was quite a bit of angst in getting away from those horizontal windows,” Nick recalls. “But we tried not to be inhibited by every decision. We wanted to take the intention of the time and take it to the next level. Replacing those windows with vertical ones gives you a daylight view that draws you through the house.”
Also to that end, a new window at the rear of the lower level was added to align with the one at the front foundation wall. The effect makes the house appear to hover above its foundation. Said one judge appreciatively, “They had very good bones to work with, but they definitely pushed it, and it’s super successful. It’s a beautiful house.”
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Nick Deaver Architect
Architect: Nick Deaver, AIA, Nick Deaver Architect, Austin, Texas
Builder: Wilmington-Gordon, Austin
David Wilson, David Wilson Garden Design, Austin
Project Size: 2,680 square feet
Site Size: 0.46 acre
Photography: Casey Dunn
Cladding: Alaskan yellow cedar siding; Texas Architectural Timbers
Entry Door: Custom white oak by Grand Door Company
Faucets: Dornbracht, Kallista, Hansgrohe
Hardware: Emtek, Sagatsune
Lighting: Juno Lighting,
Range/Vent Hood: Wolf
Tiles: American Olean,
Windows: Windsor Windows & Doors