Faced with a steep hillside plot and stunning lake views just beyond the tree canopy, San Antonio-based firm Lake Flato’s design direction for Blue Lake Retreat was obvious: build upwards. The result is a stunning, vertical tree house-like home rising three stories for nearly 180-degree panoramic views in Texas Hill Country.
Commissioned by a client who spent childhood summers at the same lake, Blue Lake Retreat was created as a vacation home for the client’s family and generations to come. In addition to staying power, this seasonal escape into nature—the home in Marble Falls is about 50 miles from Austin—also needed to be relatively low-maintenance, which led the architect to select materials primarily for their durability and to take sun and wind exposure into careful consideration.
While Western red cedar clads the least vulnerable northern facade, the three other facades are covered in rusted, corrugated steel for protection against harsh exposures. The exposed structure is also made of steel. A hybrid system of steel and wood framing was used to reduce the home’s embodied energy. The home is securely anchored into the hillside with a reinforced concrete foundation.
Yet the drive for durability and worry-free maintenance didn’t preclude the Blue Lake Flathouse’s elegant design and surprising sense of lightness. Transparency was achieved not only through ample glazing, but also with the architects’ decision to place the staircase on the side of the home, enclosed in an expanded metal scrim. Large outdoor terraces and balconies on every floor also reinforce a connection to the landscape.
The undeniable highlight of the home is the top floor that houses the main living areas and overlooks panoramic views of the lake right above the tree canopy. North-facing, floor-to-ceiling glazing wraps around the primary living areas and is joined by a cantilevered deck with additional seating and dining space. A deep, corrugated metal roof supported by Douglas fir beams protect the spaces from the Texan heat and provides privacy from the road above. Windows and doors are operable to allow for natural ventilation.
A welcoming of nature can also be seen in the materials chosen for the modern interiors, which include white gypsum board walls and rift sawn white oak cabinets and flooring. Naturally durable Cumaru wood selected for the outdoor decks will weather naturally and develop a silvery patina over time.
"Reducing the home’s conditioned space to the minimum required to serve the client’s needs helps Blue Lake Retreat achieve a more responsible stewardship of our natural resources," Lake Flato told Dwell.com. "Its use of outdoor spaces resulting in a smaller conditioned building, along with a tighter envelope and highly efficient mechanical units, have all contributed to lowering its energy usage. In addition, continued energy monitoring will help to ensure that the home will perform at optimal energy efficiency."
Designed to replace a 1970s house, Blue Lake Retreat was built in the same location as the original structure but with a smaller footprint, which allowed the design team to reseed part of the landscape with native plants.
"Arguably, the most successful aspect of Blue Lake Retreat’s design is extroverting the majority of the home’s program, thus affording many opportunities for the client and her family to engage with nature and not just look out at the surrounding scenery," continued Lake Flato. "With more gathering spaces outside than inside, Blue Lake Retreat offers a true connection to nature."
Architect of Record: Lake|Flato Architects / Gus Starkey
Builder: Duecker Construction Company / Glen Duecker
Structural Engineer: Datum Engineers / Scott Williamson
Civil Engineer: Pape Dawson Engineers / Tom Carter
Landscape Design Company: Thompson + Hanson / Lance Thompson
Lighting Design: Spectrum Lighting / Stella Bustos
Interior Design: Plus Two Interiors / Hilary Crady
Cabinetry Design: KingWood Fine Cabinetry / Greg King
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