A Mighty Oak Tree Frames This Family Home in Austin

Matt Fajkus Architecture creates a grounded take on a tree house in Texas.
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Tree houses, with branches at their center and foliage above, occupy a special place in the architectural imagination. Their charm is in large part derived from the way they slip gravity’s bond and hover over the ground below. In Austin, however, Matt Fajkus Architecture has achieved an unusual feat: Designing a tree house that soars while remaining firmly planted on the ground.

The tree is a live oak and serves as the focal point around which the home’s three pavilions are positioned. This U-shaped configuration creates a neat division between public and private areas while ensuring that each unit has ample views of the tree and its surroundings. The three wings positioned around the oak tree create an outdoor living space, where residents and guests can congregate.

The structure's white stucco second story nods to the architecture of traditional tree houses and is used as sleeping quarters for the owner’s children. The leaves of the central oak tree can be seen peaking out above the façade.

An intricately detailed staircase leads to the central wing’s second level. Its walnut treads and top rail harmonize with the welded steel rod railings. The geometric pattern on the staircase’s risers comes from encaustic tiles that were handmade in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Beyond the staircase, at the heart of the main wing, a two-floor atrium rises from the concrete floor. Its array of windows, many of which are different sizes, connect the indoors with the central oak tree and the outdoors beyond it. The top of the wall slopes inwards, leaving the oak tree with room to grow.

The central oak tree sprouts out of the rear deck. The atrium’s array of windows draw the eye in the tree’s direction. The wood cladding of the single-story wings provide a pleasant contrast with the central volume’s stucco finish.

In the airy kitchen, meals are prepared on a Silestone White Storm countertop. The backsplash’s tiles match those on the staircase’s risers. In the adjoining dining area, a Caboche suspension light by Foscarini hangs over a CB2 dining table and Real Good Chairs by Blu Dot.

The living room sits a few steps down from the kitchen-dining area, and is demarcated by a board-formed concrete planter. Occupants can gather in the Blu Dot sofa and chair. Amid the concrete and fabric, an Ikea coffee table provides a warm wooden touch.

The master bedroom looks out at the garden through a full-height glass wall. The Ikea bed sits between Four Hands tables and lies beneath a floral photograph by Stacy Kirk. Opposite the bed, a Jaya chair is situated for quiet contemplation.

Thanks to a sliding glass door in the shower, even the master bathroom manages to retain a connection with nature. Custom cabinetry, a Sielstone Niebla counter and Kohler Verticyl sink, however, all offer compelling reasons to stay inside.

The bedroom wing flows smoothly from the interior to the garden. The tongue-and-groove of the bedroom’s ceiling continues out onto the roof’s soffit. A private porch allows the owners to enjoy their backyard with a modicum of privacy.

Project Manager: Travis Cook.

Design Team: Travis Cook, Matt Fajkus, AIA, David Birt.

Design Support: Thomas Johnston.

General Contractor: Don Fry of Brodie Builders


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