Before & After: We’re Taking Notes on This Expertly Rehabbed Midcentury in Austin
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Before & After: We’re Taking Notes on This Expertly Rehabbed Midcentury in Austin

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By Lucy Wang
Clayton & Little Architects’ sensitive treatment of a treasured Roland G. Roessner-designed home is a model for midcentury preservation.

With their three daughters out of the nest, Tracey and David Hime were ready to downsize from their 4,800-square-foot residence to a smaller home closer to central Austin—but then they fell in love with a Roland Gommel Roessner-designed midcentury classic on Balcones Drive that was so compelling, it put their moving plans on hold.

"Even though we knew nothing about midcentury modern, or Roland Roessner, we could tell that a very thoughtful architect had designed the home just by the way the rooms related to each other, the way there were great sightlines," say the couple, who, after purchasing the home from the original owners Shirley and Lansing Thorne in 2013, dove deep into all things midcentury to start a multi-year renovation project.

Designed in 1956 by acclaimed architect and University of Texas professor of architecture Roland Gommel Roessner, the midcentury home set atop a hillside is notable for its cantilevered concrete balcony. Like Roessner's other designs, the residence features an open floor plan, clean lines, and simple forms.

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In researching the home, the Himes not only learned that Roessner was one of Austin’s premier midcentury architects, but also of the ongoing fight to preserve Roessner’s legacy, which is continually threatened by demolition.

Before: Exterior

When the Himes purchased the home from the original owners, the house had been minimally altered. The 1956 home had belonged to a cluster of innovative Roessner houses situated along Balcones Drive; however, many of those structures have since been demolished.

After: Exterior

The cantilevered front porch and railing were restored, as was the original dry-stacked limestone below. The roof overhang was notched to accommodate the heritage live oak.

A new landscaped walk was added to bring pedestrians up to the house from the street, while new landscaping emphasizes the home's tree house-like feel.

To preserve the original character of the home and sensitively update the structure to meet their needs, the Himes hired Paul Clayton and Emily Little of Clayton & Little Architects on the recommendation of a relative. Architect Emily Little’s involvement was particularly fitting—her childhood home was on the same street, and she had been familiar with the house most of her life; in fact, her parents were friends with the original owners.

"The homeowners were deeply involved at every step in the process," says Little. "We started together studying the original house plans and early photos provided by the owners’ daughter who grew up in the house. Once the Himes began understanding midcentury design principles, they were on board for the truest renovation we could achieve while meeting their needs as well as energy codes."

Before: Entrance

Before: The view from the main entry to the interior entry court and the front door with its original, open-air approach.

After: Entrance

A view of the entry to the courtyard and the carport to the right. Photovoltaic panels were added above the carport and the new guest "casita" behind the carport. The tall sconce at the entry is an original light fixture.

The architects did away with the open-air approach to the front door to create an indoor entry hall for more room to receive guests.

At 1,773 square feet, the midcentury home’s original footprint was nearly a third of the size of the Himes’ former home and needed to be enlarged to better accommodate their needs. 

Before: Courtyard

Before: The view from the entry walkway towards the interior courtyard. On the left is the screened porch that leads to the carport on the right.

After: Courtyard

A new soaking pool has been added to the interior entry court.

In the year spent developing the renovation plans, the architects designed two extensions—an office and utility room to the north side and a two-bed, one-bath guesthouse to the south—that were purposefully set back from the existing structure and imperceptible from the historic front view of the home. The original layout inside the house was retained save for the two bedrooms that were combined to create the master suite.

Before: Living Room

Before: The view from the entrance towards the living room and dining area. The sliding glass doors open up to the cantilevered balcony out front.

After: Living Room

The west brick wall continues to the interior and serves as an accent wall dividing the entry hall from the living room. A corner of the room is furnished with an Eames lounge chair, a Nelson Bubble Lamp, and a Silas Seandel coffee table.

An inset piece of mahogany is fitted into the recess of the original brick wall where the front door used to be.

A glimpse of the living room next to the cantilevered balcony furnished with a Milo Baughman chair and a petrified wood stump table.

The clerestory windows located on the south wall of the living room were added to bring additional daylight indoors and to realize Roessner's original drawings, which had included the windows—they were later cut due to cost.

Once the design plans for the enlarged 2,680-square-foot home were complete, the Himes brought on Burnish & Plumb Construction to bring their vision to life. Led by partner Brent McDonald, the one-year construction process saw careful salvaging and reuse of original material wherever possible. 

Before: Kitchen and Dining Room

Originally there was a large, mahogany-wrapped central element that housed the kitchen and divided the space from the dining area and living room.

A view of the dining area. Although the cabinets below the windows were removed, new cabinets were installed in the same place to keep the original design.

Before: the view from the dining area into the kitchen. The original floors were asbestos tile on concrete slab and carpet tile on concrete slab.

Before: Although the kitchen was closed off from the other living spaces, it had access to ample natural light and views, thanks to large north-facing glazing.

Before: In contrast to its dark wood-wrapped exterior, the kitchen interior features light tones. Note the small sliding glass pass-through between the kitchen and dining room that was kept in the remodel.

After: Kitchen and Dining Room

The mahogany-wrapped, load-bearing element was removed to create a greater sense of flow between the kitchen, dining area, and living room. The new flooring throughout is cork tile.

The remodeled kitchen is optimized for efficiency and fitted out with top-of-the-line fixtures and appliances, including a recessed exhaust hood and a handle-less oven that's touch activated. The countertops are "Venus" quartzite with a honed finish.

Since the load-bearing element was removed, a new steel beam was inserted in line with the rafters and supported by a new column hidden inside the existing double-wythe brick wall of the dining room. It was a process that necessitated "surgical precision" and careful replacing of the salvaged bricks one by one. The dining area is furnished with an Eero Saarinen Tulip Table in black marble, Saarinen Executive Chairs, and an original vintage pendant light by Florian Schultz.

The exterior envelope was also fully retrofitted for an airtight seal, which included new insulation for the roof and walls as well as new, double-glazed windows.

Before: Hallway

Before: the hallway ceiling was furred down to seven feet to conceal HVAC ducting. The family room is to the left; a screened porch lies to the right.

After: Hallway

The ceiling height in the central hall was raised, and mechanical equipment and ducting were relocated to the roof. The double sliding pocket doors on the left side, which were part of the original design, were replaced with new doors and hardware as well as custom pocket covers.

Before: Family Room

Before: The family room next to the kitchen and off of the central hall. Note the sliding window on the west wall, which had been installed so that Mrs. Thorne could keep an eye on her daughter playing while she was in the kitchen next door.

After: Family Room

Remotely operable clerestory windows under the raised roof allow more natural light and airflow. A new fireplace and shelving were also added; the central hearth mimics the design of the cantilevered front balcony. The original midcentury Herman Miller sofa and coffee table were given to the new owners and reupholstered.

The two-year renovation earned the project a 2017 Preservation Austin Merit Award for Rehabilitation and Addition, and the home was recently spotlighted in last year’s AIA Austin Homes Tour.

The master bedroom was created by combining two existing smaller bedrooms. One side of the room is wrapped in mahogany wood while the other opens up to a private courtyard and pool. Period-appropriate Nelson sconces flank the custom, built-in motorized bed.

Clerestory windows let light into the master bathroom that's fitted with custom millwork, such as the flush inset mahogany medicine cabinet. The light fixture is Carew Linear Sconce by Visual Comfort, the floors are Hasia Marble Light, and the countertop and backsplash are Nova Blue.

The new additions—an office and utility room on the north side and guest bedrooms to the south—were set to the rear to preserve the home's original street-facing appearance.

"We have done several midcentury renovations, but none on such a fine architectural example in original condition," says Clayton and Little. "Roessner projects are a favorite."

More Before & After:

An Enterprising Couple Revive a Dated Midcentury in the Hollywood Hills

A Muddled Eichler Gets a Dashing Update

 A Fussy ’70s Abode in Melbourne Gets a Hygge-Inspired Overhaul

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Clayton & Little / @claytonandlittle

Builder/ General Contractor: Burnish & Plumb

Structural Engineer: Duffy Engineering

Landscape Design Company: Word + Carr Design Group

Interior Design: Mark Ashby Design

Kitchen Designer: Kitchen for Cooks