A Breathtaking Austin Home Weaves Around Oak and Pecan Trees

Skirting towering trees and protected by floating canopies, this urban oasis is all about the outdoors.
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When a nature-loving, Austin couple came across a half-acre site dotted with mature trees in 2014, they instantly fell in love despite knowing that the trees’ extensive root systems would pose a significant design challenge.

To find the right architect, the couple attended that year’s AIA Austin Homes Tour, where they were introduced to a residence designed by A Parallel Architecture that was so compelling they immediately contacted the firm’s co-owners, Eric Barth and Ryan Burke, on the hunch that the architects would be the perfect fit for their challenging project.

Located in the heart of the city, the property "provided the best of both worlds," explain the couple, who were drawn to its location and its many mature trees that created the feeling of being immersed in nature.

The couple’s intuition was correct. Barth and Burke not only assured their clients that they could carefully design around all of the trees on the property, but also that they would craft a home that emphasized indoor/outdoor living without sacrificing privacy.

"We sought to design indoor and outdoor rooms simultaneously, placing an equal emphasis on the landscape design and the architecture," explain the architects, who note that building the home around a large courtyard was also a top design priority.

In response to a geotechnical report that revealed poor soils, the architects deepened the piers to support a structure slab that floats eight inches above grade. The unusual foundation design allows the elevated home to sit very close to the trees without negatively impacting the root systems.

Located within a walled compound, the 2,902-square-foot home feels like a private oasis despite its central location in an Austin suburb. The living spaces open directly onto a sheltered courtyard that’s protected on the north and south sides by a pair of low-slung bedroom wings. A large outdoor pool and guest suite are located at the rear of the rectangular lot.

The view from outside the entrance gate, which was constructed from steel with welded wire infill. The entry path was made of Leuders limestone, the same material used on the outdoor patios and fireplace.

Natural materials, mainly timber and stone, were used throughout the interiors, which are minimally dressed to keep the focus on the outdoors.

"While the property is quite large, the clients were looking for a modestly sized home," note the architects. "So, an early challenge was designing a small house that could be configured to capture and control outdoor space in order to amenitize the property. We pushed ourselves to maximize the degree to which this small footprint could offer the seemingly contradictory features of privacy, openness, intimacy, and expansiveness."

Walls of glass promote constant connection with the outdoors. The chairs that flank the double-sided fireplace are Kenmare armchairs by Modloft.

The homeowners took advantage of virtual reality technology for selecting and placing their furniture, including the pictured Reid section from DWR and Black Marble Saarinen dining table with Cora custom side chairs from Room and Board.

Folding glazed doors open up to seamlessly connect the open-plan kitchen and dining room to the courtyard. The kitchen is dressed with Sapele Mahogany cabinetry, Caesarstone Stratuario Maximus countertops, and rift-sawn white oak flooring.

Key to achieving those features was crafting a home that could be comfortably enjoyed, indoors and out, year-round. As with all their projects, the architects began with an extensive program survey and rigorous site analysis that informed the U-shaped building footprint, which weaves through the towering oak and pecan trees and takes advantage of seasonal shading while protecting root zones. 

Ipe decking connects the main house to the rear guest suite/pool house and pool, which were strategically placed to take advantage of natural shade conditions.

Also integral to the design was the floating canopy structure that shelters the outdoor living spaces from the intense Texas climate and helps channel prevailing breezes. Minimalist and elegant, the canopy structures gave rise to the project’s name, Canopy House.

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The west-facing outdoor patio is protected by deep roof overhangs lined with southern yellow pine.

"The canopy structure was carefully edited down to only its essential parts," explain the architects. "Every component was designed so that each member is purposeful and is exactly the size and shape it needs to be and no more. The fabrication and assembly process was fully considered to allow for straightforward construction."

On the site's southwest side, the second canopy structure atop the guest suite features deep overhangs to shelter the pool and lawn from the intense setting sun.

"Given the hot Texas climate, these deep shaded patios with generous connections to the indoors are enjoyable year-round and nearly double the amount of living space in the home," explain the architects. The project was the recipient of a 2019 American Architecture Award. 

Walls of glass blur the boundary between indoors and out in this bathroom. The floors are Jerusalem Bone limestone.

For sustainability, the Canopy House features a steel structure system and extensive masonry finishes to ensure durability and low maintenance needs. Likewise, the landscaping features xeriscaping and native plants.

Canopy House exploded axon

Canopy House section and floor plan

Related Reading: Budget Breakdown: This Svelte Lakeside Retreat in Austin Cost Just $446K

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: A Parallel Architecture / @aparallel

Builder/ General Contractor: Miars Construction

Structural Engineer: Bufkin Engineering

Landscape Design Company: A Parallel Architecture/ Spencer Landscape and Design

Cabinetry Design/ Installation: Tim Cuddy


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