written by:
October 23, 2009
Originally published in Best New Kitchen Designs

An entreprenurial pair of Belgian brothers land in one of Texas's few bohemian oases, become property owners, and find that sharing a house in adulthood isn't half bad.

The Bercy residence seems to close the ever contentious gap between art and architecture. Says designer Thomas Bercy: “We tried to get the house to an artistic level, almost as if it were an installation as much as it was a house.”
The Bercy residence seems to close the ever contentious gap between art and architecture. Says designer Thomas Bercy: “We tried to get the house to an artistic level, almost as if it were an installation as much as it was a house.”
1 / 6
Modern bedroom with wooden floors.
Thomas Bercy’s austere bedroom.
2 / 6
The minimal aesthetic is seen in the galley-style kitchen, where the cabinets have no visible hinges or knobs. The stainless steel  appliances are by KitchenAid.
The minimal aesthetic is seen in the galley-style kitchen, where the cabinets have no visible hinges or knobs. The stainless steel appliances are by KitchenAid.
3 / 6
The red acrylic hallway.
The red acrylic hallway.
4 / 6
Above the front patio, the designers created a trellis of Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood. This transformed the very important function of keeping the Texas sun at bay into one of the most striking elements of the house. The sun break wraps up and then over the
Above the front patio, the designers created a trellis of Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood. This transformed the very important function of keeping the Texas sun at bay into one of the most striking elements of the house. The sun break wraps up and then over the second story with an artist’s flair. “It does more than just shade the windows,” says Bercy.
5 / 6
The exterior walls of the Bercy house are constructed with Thermasteel, panels made from galvanized steel and a unique resin that provide structural framing, insulation, and vapor barrier with an R-29 rating twice the required amount. “We have so much gla
The exterior walls of the Bercy house are constructed with Thermasteel, panels made from galvanized steel and a unique resin that provide structural framing, insulation, and vapor barrier with an R-29 rating twice the required amount. “We have so much glass that we have to offset it by having very efficient ceiling and wall systems,” says Bercy. “We wanted movable glass walls instead of tiny little sliding glass doors that pop off their tracks all the time,” says Bercy. So he and Chen tracked down the double-glazed, insulated, six-by-nine-foot doors rom a company called Fleetwood. “They’re a little more expensive, but when you slide the heavy doors open, you’re making a profound gesture to leave the house and step outside,” says Bercy. The word “doorknob” isn’t used much around the house for the simple reason that there aren’t any. “We didn’t want to clutter the house up with traditional hardware,” says Bercy. Instead, they used pulls found in boats that lie flush when not in use so that the doors become hinged extensions of the walls—the idea being that the door disappears and the core appears continuous.
6 / 6
The Bercy residence seems to close the ever contentious gap between art and architecture. Says designer Thomas Bercy: “We tried to get the house to an artistic level, almost as if it were an installation as much as it was a house.”
The Bercy residence seems to close the ever contentious gap between art and architecture. Says designer Thomas Bercy: “We tried to get the house to an artistic level, almost as if it were an installation as much as it was a house.”
Project 
Bercy Residence
Architect 

In a city known for its progressive politics and creative residents, the Bouldin Creek neighborhood in south Austin, Texas, may be the epicenter of the city’s bohemian personality. This is where artists, writers, photographers, designers, and musicians can still find places with decent rent without having to sacrifice the proximity to downtown’s galleries, shops, and coffee bars. It’s also one of the only centrally located neighborhoods left in town where an aspiring architect has the chance to find a vacant lot to build on, as well as open-minded individuals willing to experiment.

Modern bedroom with wooden floors.
Thomas Bercy’s austere bedroom.

For Thomas Bercy (27) and Calvin Powei Chen (29), both just a few years out of the University of Texas architecture school, the neighborhood was exactly what they were looking for. With a downtown lot, not only would they be able to build the inaugural house in Austin for their design firm, Bercy Chen Studio, they would also be able to provide Bercy, his brother Yannick, and Yannick’s family a place to call home in an up-and-coming part of town. “Since my brother and I were both living in Austin, it was financially feasible for us to develop a property,” says Bercy, who is Belgian and came to Texas with his family ten years ago. “And for Calvin and me, it was a starting point to get something built.”

What they built is a beautiful combination of functional architecture and modern aesthetics that is as much a sculptural showcase as a functional home. Two steel-framed rectangular volumes—one has a single story and the other has two—stand parallel to each other, though they have been staggered to take full advantage of the narrow lot and to provide ample outdoor living space. The buildings are connected by a glass-walled hallway that bridges a reflecting pool and water garden and there is an abundance of over-sized sliding windows, doors, and glass panels to blur the line between the built environment and the natural one.

The red acrylic hallway.
The red acrylic hallway.

The elements that succeed the most in blending form with function are the acrylic panels used to create separate rooms at the core of each volume. Each of these rooms—one blue, the other red—houses a hot water heater, a heating and air-conditioning system, and a bathroom. At night, fluorescent lights installed behind the panels illuminate the rooms like inhabitable Dan Flavin sculptures. “I call these the organs of the house because they keep it running,” says Bercy.

Work on the project started in 2000 when Bercy and Yannick, who works as a software engineer for Motorola, began searching for a lot in Bouldin Creek. After two years of near misses, they finally found the land they’d been looking for. By then Bercy had teamed with the Taiwanese-born Chen, who’d made his way to Austin via Australia.

Above the front patio, the designers created a trellis of Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood. This transformed the very important function of keeping the Texas sun at bay into one of the most striking elements of the house. The sun break wraps up and then over the
Above the front patio, the designers created a trellis of Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood. This transformed the very important function of keeping the Texas sun at bay into one of the most striking elements of the house. The sun break wraps up and then over the second story with an artist’s flair. “It does more than just shade the windows,” says Bercy.

From the beginning, the challenge for the design partners was to figure out a way to design a house for two different lifestyles—Thomas is single and Yannick is married with a two-year-old daughter. At first, the designers struggled with how to divide up the space inside a single structure; it wasn’t until Chen suggested two separate volumes that the design started to come to life. As Chen explains, “As soon as we started breaking down the volumes, we started getting the rooftops and the patios. It became a more engaging environment.” It also af-forded the perfect solution to the Bercy brothers’ lifestyles. Yannick and his family would live in one rectangle, while Thomas would occupy the top floor of the other. The living room, kitchen, and dining room would be created as common areas.

During construction, Bercy and Chen used common materials but in uncommon ways. Inspiration for the retractable shade on the roof deck came from their interest in the primitive architecture of North Africa, where the Moors would drape canvas over their roofs to keep cool. The roof deck’s shade came from a local plant nursery. Cabinet-grade birch plywood was sealed and used for the interior walls and ceilings. The house also has several green features, like passive-solar siting, that prompted the city of Austin’s Green Building Program to award it a two-star rating (out of a possible five). “Because we’ve both lived in different places around the world, we don’t easily take things for granted or think a house is supposed to look a certain way or a material is supposed to be used in a certain way,” explains Bercy.

That philosophy was sorely tested during the construction of the red and blue acrylic rooms. The designers first had to build separate steel frames for the walls and then figure out a way to attach the acrylic, which expands and contracts when temperatures fluctuate (they ended up using a double-sided construction tape). Meanwhile, before they could install the acrylic onto the steel walls, the material unexpectedly began to warp in the hot Texas sun. “When they were delivered they were perfect,” laments Bercy. “Four days later, every sheet had enormous waves in it. We were still able to use them but our installation costs doubled.”

In the end, the effort paid off. Commissions are starting to trickle in as neighbors and passersby stop by to check out Bouldin Creek’s newest showpiece. Bercy and Chen aren’t the first designers to make their mark in the neighborhood, but the locals know a good thing when they see it.

 

To see more images of the project, please visit the slideshow.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

With our annual issue devoted to the outdoors on newsstands, we did a lap of Instagram for some extra inspiration.
May 23, 2016
forest for the trees english prefab mobile home facade chesnut cladding
On the edge of a historic park in an English shire, a prefabricated home sets a new design standard.
May 23, 2016
tread lightly australia
A family home on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is built to blend in with its lakeside setting.
May 23, 2016
jardins party dining room hay chairs local wood floor
A pair of architects help a client carve out an oasis of calm amid São Paulo’s bustle.
May 23, 2016
hwm6zf 1
No matter where you're located or what time of the year it is, having a fireplace in your home is a treasure that’s continuously sought after. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping a fire going through the cold winter months, it can also be a cherished asset that provides an extra level of year-round comfort—not to mention how it can help define the layout of a space by acting as a sculptural element.
May 23, 2016
An office Crosby Studios designed for NGRS in Moscow
Crosby Studios just cares about the essentials.
May 22, 2016
cold sweat seattle floating sauna gocstudio
A cadre of designers let off steam after hours by building and sailing a seaworthy sauna.
May 22, 2016
in the swim off the grid campsite healdsburg california swimming pool solar heat lap pool ipe deck loll designs lounge chairs
An off-the-grid house that is little more than a decked campsite—albeit with a roof—includes a swimming pool for a family that loves to enjoy the elements.
May 21, 2016
A print by Kristina Krogh
From flat to physical, Kristina Krogh masters every dimension.
May 21, 2016
scifi
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 21, 2016
beverly hills living room piano view
Architect Noah Walker, principal of Los Angeles–based studio Walker Workshop, shares completed and work-in-progress residential designs on his Instagram page (@noah_walker). Take a peek at some of the striking modern houses here, and tour the Venice House on the Dwell Home Tours on June 26.
May 20, 2016
ripple effect san fancisco small space yard outdoor monica viarengo pebble mosiac artificial turf slide
A San Francisco landscape designer finds a small-space solution that’s anything but narrow-minded.
May 20, 2016
Oslo living room with light wood floors and wood slab table
A pair of designers in Oslo, armed with tricks for introducing color and daylight, remake their compact late-19th-century apartment.
May 20, 2016
family affair backyard addition portrait
In coastal Massachusetts, a resourceful couple and their equally enterprising children use reclaimed materials to create a versatile 168-square-foot backyard building.
May 20, 2016
speed machine australian beachside prefab archiblox facade colorbond ultra steel cladding queensland blue gum wood
With little time to waste, an Australian firm erects an efficient prefab overlooking the ocean.
May 20, 2016
Christian Benimana at Design Indaba
When he was younger, there wasn't a single architecture school in his country. Now, as part of MASS Design Group, Christian Benimana shares how architecture can heal and inspire Africa.
May 19, 2016
01 1
This Italian villa is serenity incarnate.
May 19, 2016
michael cobb interior
Alternative materials help a house in California’s wine country tread lightly on the land.
May 18, 2016
13266797 1799532953608317 1984666518 n 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 18, 2016
Industrial kitchen built on a budget.
In Austin, Texas, architect Sean Guess forges an inventive industrial kitchen for a cost-conscious couple.
May 18, 2016
great danes dining area
In an up-and-coming area of Copenhagen, a pair of designers and their twin girls inhabit a converted loft, filling it with serious design savvy and a hefty dose of creativity.
May 18, 2016
25687 preview low 1633 2 25687 sc v2com
An 1885 house in Montreal dips a little into its backyard for spare space.
May 17, 2016
modern ecoconscious pavilion walkway roof
A couple’s retirement home on a nature preserve in Carmel, California, emerges as a series of eco-conscious pavilions that rest lightly on the land.
May 17, 2016
Formafantasma's designs for Alcantara's Touching Tales
In a 17-century palazzo, two young design studios explore a very modern material.
May 17, 2016
25104 preview low 567 9 25104 sc v2com
An extended clan, separated by business, gathers for holidays at a forested getaway near Sutton, Quebec.
May 16, 2016
it takes a village exterior
A family matriarch enlisted an architect, an interior designer, a builder, and a landscape architect to help realize her vision for a diminutive, low-key lakeside getaway.
May 16, 2016
starry night light installation
A celestial light installation illuminates the garage door of a recently renovated Toronto house.
May 16, 2016
kiwis big adventure facade
Three designers jump-start their practice with an affordably built abode in New Zealand.
May 16, 2016
Once a horse stable, this Chicago house first got a superficial makeover from Oprah (we wonder whether Stedman likes modern) before architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang was called in for a more substantial renovation and a dazzlingly porous brick screen.
We catch up with the creative couple living in Studio Gang's Brick Weave House.
May 16, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent sabine marcelis rotterdam netherlands clee wei swee dawnlights sabinemarcelis boijmans leeweiswee16
The sleek lighting designs of Sabine Marcelis are capturing the attention of fashion houses and architecture firms alike.
May 15, 2016