“We like to elevate the architecture by trying to draw your attention away from it,” says architect Nick Deaver. This project began as little more than a shack, a building many would not have thought to save. Its principal virtue was a 5-acre site immersed in nature, tumbling down to the Blanco River.
It was that immersion in nature that drew Nick’s clients to the site. Both had grown up on farms and wished to provide that experience to their young son. “They were both from creative fields in Austin, who don’t have to work in an office. They wanted to be close to the city, but in a more rural, nature-driven place,” says the architect.
The budget was very tight, which drove the preservation of the original building and its position next to an existing driveway that serves as an aqueduct in heavy rains. “The house was a fisherman’s cottage near the river. And there had been an addition that expanded it into a kind of suburban house,” Nick recalls. “But Wimberley has a kind of crudeness and rawness that creative people celebrate. This building was very modest, but there were elements we could elevate.”
The big moves were to remove most of a front porch and to add an L-shaped addition to the rear and side to create a private owners’ suite and office. The compact interior was reconfigured to establish a breezeway from the front to the back of the house, aiding in natural ventilation. New floor-to-ceiling glass walls help the space feel larger, while connecting the occupants with nature even while inside.
“Instead of having vaulting high ceilings, we decided to use the low ceiling as an asset,” says Nick. “We have 8-foot ceilings, but by bringing the glass all the way up, it makes them seem taller. And an 8-foot window costs far less than taller units.
“Part of the idea of this, is a strong belief in trying to do things with minimal means and few resources,” he explains. “There were some unfortunate things here. But we decided to use them as assets, not just because of the cost but also the consequence to the planet of doing more than you need to do.”
There were also unfortunate mistakes during construction that turned into happy accidents. When the window order came in, they were white windows instead of the bronze Nick had chosen to blend in with the affordable galvanized siding. And white metal siding was too expensive to swap out to preserve the color match. “Our clients wanted the bronze windows, but we gave it some thought: Maybe the white window is the better solution,” says Nick. “Crisp white windows with rugged brown siding—we thought it better reinforced our design intent.”
“The economy on this and the clarity is very impressive,” said one judge. “It’s exemplary for what you can do with a very tight budget and a strong hand. It’s just smart.”
Nick Deaver Architect
Architect: Nick Deaver, AIA, Nick Deaver Architect, Austin, Texas
Builder: Melde Construction Company, Austin
Project Size: 2,500 square feet
Site size: 5.84 acres
Construction Cost: $284 per square foot
Photography: Casey Dunn
Cladding: Corrugated paint drip galvanized metal
Cabinetry Hardware: Sugatsune
Counters: Custom concrete
Entry Door Hardware: Emtek
Passage Door Hardware: Valli&Valli
Windows: Marvin Integrity casement, site-built insulated glass.