Architect Matt Fajkus encourages his clients to focus on three natural details whenever he’s planning a new project: solar orientation, breeze flow, and the preservation of shade trees. When an Austin family tasked him with updating their drab 1980s home, they agreed that focusing on these elements would elevate their property into the 21st century.
To make it happen, Fajkus proposed a stucco-clad, 950-square-foot addition that would open up to its verdant surroundings. "Daylight puts us in touch with the natural rhythm of the day, which is emotionally soothing," says Fajkus. "The compact nature of this project creates a direct connection to the human scale, using both side lighting and top lighting techniques in conjunction with a curated material palette."
Daylighting not only helps with building efficiency and performance, but it also creates a healthier indoor environment for the occupants. Inset, south-facing openings provide shading and mitigate heat, while built-ins provide perfect perches for reading or admiring the scenery.
"The depth and angled, framed views on the second level feel like pages of a story the inhabitants can rewrite each day," says Catherine Johnson, a principal of the Los Angeles–based architecture firm Design, Bitches, who recently reviewed the merits of the project as one of the judges for Andersen’s Bright Ideas Design Awards.
Additional apertures near the entrance and above the stairs pour light inside, distancing the home completely from its dark past. And as for the interiors, beautiful millwork is spotlighted by the sun—from the built-in bench, to the stair treads, to the ceiling. Black accents add a bit of edge to all of this streaming light, while white walls help it bounce from room to room. Unsurprisingly, the owners say that their energy bills dropped considerably after the renovation, and that they’re more likely to use their outdoor space, too.
"It would seem this new volume would conflict with the language of the existing house, but the contrast actually elevates the original while creating something totally new," fellow design judge Lisa Iwamoto of IwamotoScott says. Judge Kevin Kudo-King of Ols0n Kundig echoes that sentiment. "There are well-detailed and crafted elements that are contemporary but fit within a holistic design," he says. "This is a good family house with nice spaces for folks to inhabit."
Architect and design award judge Rebecca Rudolph of Design, Bitches couldn’t help but notice how the renovation’s strong ties to nature made it so successful overall—the large openings on the second story "create a beautiful, treehouse-like feel," she says. "The addition is integrated with the original in a surprising way, and the sunlight and warm wood add a coziness to the minimalism of the form." Fellow judge Brandon Berg of Andersen Doors & Windows says the project is a "great example of how large, expansive pieces of glass can totally change the mood of the room."
Andersen Bright Ideas Awards Winner (Single Family Category) Architect: Matt Fajkus Architecture
Project: Ames House (950-square-foot addition)
Location: Austin, Texas
Get the Pro Newsletter
What’s new in the design world? Stay up to date with our essential dispatches for design professionals.