A Home High Above Lake Austin Balances Perfect Views With a Wabi-Sabi Aesthetic

A Home High Above Lake Austin Balances Perfect Views With a Wabi-Sabi Aesthetic

By Caitlin Wheeler
Transparent walls and Japanese design cues define this renovated home in an Austin suburb.

The home’s location was ideal: off a secluded street, on an oak-shaded property, with a wide-open, fabulous view of Lake Austin and the surrounding hills. But the home’s appearance was less so: a dated brick-and-stucco exterior with heavy masonry porches, and inside, tightly packed rooms that divided rather than unified.

Owner Jiro Okochi brought his Japanese-American heritage (his ancestors were in the samurai class), Kim Okochi brought her passion for modern design, and together with Clark Richardson Architects, they transformed the place into a home worthy of its view.

The team focused on interior modifications, blasting through load-bearing walls and replacing them with steel beams in order to open up what architect Ed Richardson calls "interior void spaces."

To turn the home to face its view, the team moved the kitchen to the rear, where it became the fulcrum of the primary living area. The space, which includes the living and dining rooms, is backed by walls of windows.

The kitchen, smooth and white and flawless, with classic details, extends to a breakfast room, made cozy by a pillow-piled reading niche, and features a double sliding-glass door in the corner. It disappears when open, dissolving barriers between the home’s interior and exterior. Richardson, seeking to balance the natural light from the windows, made the bright room brighter by adding a skylight.

Contrasting the smooth perfection of the kitchen, the dining room hints at Jiro’s Japanese-American heritage with a wabi-sabi aesthetic. Thus, while the floor matches the shiny white oak in the kitchen, the wall and ceiling are a rough-hewn dark Cypress wood, custom stained and wire brushed.

 "These boards were specifically chosen because they embody the wabi-sabi idea of beauty in imperfection," says Richardson, emphasizing the "knots, color inconsistencies, and pattern inconsistencies" in the wood.

The darker wood also brings a warmth and intimacy to the dining room, which sets it apart from the matching brightness of the kitchen on one side and the living room on the other. Richardson continued the dark wood straight from the dining room to the roof of the deck, making the area part of the same intimate living space.

The living room, like the kitchen, features skylights and white paint. But the Okochis wanted it to be a more personal space, and they filled it with elegant Japanese pieces: tapestries, furniture, and a carved wooden fish hanging from the ceiling that references jizai kagi, the Japanese tradition of cooking meals over a sunken hearth using a suspended pot.

The fireplace, with a matte black exterior surrounded by hand-finished Venetian plaster, brings the wabi-sabi motif to the living room. Richardson placed it directly across from the identically finished range hood in the kitchen, which is smaller but not less striking.

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Moving away from the neutral colors inside, the Okochis chose bright purple cushions for the deck as "a contrast and compliment to the green in the trees in the background," explains Richardson. "Like green, purple is a secondary color," he adds. "It brings both warm and cool connotations, appropriate for an outdoor space."

Outdoor living, says Richardson, is an "Austin thing."  "All over the city," he explains, "houses are being reconceived with this emphasis in mind: How do we think about outdoor space not as the other, but as something integral—if not central—to domestic living."

Related Reading:

8 Japanese-Inspired Spaces We Love

10 Zen Homes That Champion Japanese Design

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: April Clark, Clark Richardson Architects / @clark_richardson_architects

Builder: Glauser Building Company

Structural Engineer: Arch Consulting Engineering

Lighting Design: Clark Richardson Architects

Interior Design: Clark Richardson Architects

Cabinetry Design: Austin Wood Works


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