The last time Blake Trabulsi and Allison Orr had a party at their house in Austin, Texas, it lasted until 5 a.m. Observes Trabulsi: “People are so comfortable here, they never want to leave.” That could have something to do with the gentle mien and modest scale of the couple’s ten rooms—–half in a 1930s bungalow and half in a new addition by Rick Black Architect (the Austin partnership of husband-and-wife architects Rick and Cindy Black). As Trabulsi, a graphic designer, and Orr, a choreographer, explain it, they aimed to expand without making the original obsolete. Here’s their story.
Trabulsi: We’d been living here since 1999, and when our rent went up, we asked our landlord if we could buy it. It’s in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Austin—–just five minutes from downtown, on a quiet residential street with a variety of architectural styles.
Orr: We thought about moving. But we love our neighbors; we just couldn’t leave them. And the house had a sense of history to it, which is important to us. But we needed a bigger kitchen—–the old one was tiny—–and the master bathroom was pretty gross. And because I work at home I needed to be able to commute to a room where I could close the door behind me. The idea was to create a separation between home and office.
Trabulsi: We talked about a two-story addition. But it would have been way out of our budget, and it would have overwhelmed the existing house. We figured out early on that we didn’t want to build something so large that the old spaces wouldn’t be used.
Orr: Even though we ended up doubling the size of the house, it still has a “regular” scale.
Trabulsi: There’s no wasted space. We give credit to Rick and Cindy for that. Their own house—–which they designed—–is only 980 square feet.
Orr: They’re good role models for us.
Trabulsi: And it helps that we spent a year in the design phase, all of us thinking about the house and refining it.
Orr: It feels open when you walk in; you can see all the way through to the backyard. Yet as you proceed further, the volume changes and things reveal themselves. There are a lot of little spaces where you can have conversations. The house really encourages—–and I know this may sound cheesy—–connections between people.
Trabulsi: The living room was relatively narrow, and when we set up the space, I knew that everyone would be facing the wall with the TV and audio equipment. One of my clients has a home design shop, where I noticed the tree wallpaper. I thought it would be a perfect graphic element for that wall—–the tree design would add depth to the space. And it would continue the forest theme, picking up on the woodwork that we used in the addition.
Orr: The new rooms are modern—–the bathroom is practically a spa—–but they never feel stark or impersonal.
Trabulsi: One interesting thing is that you walk through the shower to get to the bathtub. It was something Rick and Cindy proposed as a way of dealing with the fact that we wanted a shower and a tub, but we didn’t have a lot of space to play with. We resisted—–we thought it wouldn’t be convenient—–but in fact it worked out perfectly: We have one contained wet area.
Orr: We weren’t trying to do an authentic restoration. It was more about respecting the house’s basic elements.
Trabulsi: The kitchen countertop is Fireslate. I like its color [black] and texture [matte]. I like that it’s durable and not too precious. We chose white appliances, instead of stainless steel, which we felt worked better with the bright, open feeling that we were going for. But even with all the openness, there’s also quiet.
Before we built the addition, I kept my drums in an enclosed back porch, which didn’t even have a door on it. When I played, you heard it everywhere. So in the renovation, we made sure the back room where I play has soundproofing in the walls.
Orr: I wake up and lie in bed and look at the woodwork around the doors and windows, and how light bounces off things, and I think about how beautiful it is. I never did that in the old house.