When architect Ryan Bollom’s parents retired, they approached their son to design their future home in Texas Hill Country. Bollom jumped at the opportunity, seeing it as a way to give something back to his parents after everything they had done for him. His sister and her family were living with his parents at the time, and the main challenge was to create a home that was flexible enough to accommodate two families, while also being climate responsive, efficient, and cost-effective. They also wanted to take advantage of the spectacular views over the hills.
"My family comes from modest means, and my parents’ starting goals were similarly modest," says Bollom, co-founder of Low Design Office (LowDO). "As an architect, this was a great opportunity to explore some of the core issues our office focuses on—delivering ‘high-end’ design in the most efficient and effective manner in terms of form, environment, equity, and accessibility. We asked ourselves whether we could design and build something for $150 per square foot and have it compared to homes that cost four or five times more."
Given the primary challenge of housing two families, Bollom immediately began thinking about the idea of "co-housing". A form soon emerged comprising two interlocking, yet independent, homes. The form was also driven by a desire to optimize environmental performance and reduce material costs.
Rainwater serves as the water source for the house, so another starting point was how to apply a shed roof typology. This roof structure was then deconstructed as necessary to eliminate excess material, utilize the prevailing wind patterns, and shape outdoor space. It ended up becoming a defining feature—the home features a sheltered roof deck beneath a second "shed" roof.
"Building such an expansive structure for a second roof was time consuming and costly, but we justified it financially because of the substantial savings we gained by eliminating such a large amount of envelope while greatly enhancing the performance and function of the house," says architect Ryan Bollom.
The homestead is located in Dripping Springs—which is considered the "gateway to Texas Hill Country"—and the site sits amongst rolling hills with sweeping views to the north. Although the site isn’t completely flat, Bollom’s parents were adamant that the home be limited to a single level so that they could easily access the entire home as they age.
"We wanted to make the house feel like part of the landscape rather than a giant object sitting on it—so it was definitely a challenge to site it and make one story work across the topography," says Bollom.
The main design concept is an outer wrapper that protects an interior space, with a progression of layered living spaces—interior, screened, and outdoor. This concept also resulted in environmental performance benefits in terms of protection from the sun and air movement.
Clerestory windows bring diffuse light into the deep interior spaces and provide natural light in every room. "Connecting the house to the landscape was a primary design goal from the beginning, but we wanted it to result naturally from a core design concept," says Bollom.
The "primary" residence—where Bollom’s parents live—is situated on the west side of the home. The entrance is through an exterior breezeway that allows a constant wind to pass through sheltered outdoor living spaces on the north side of the home. The entry opens into a living area which connects to a kitchen/dining space, both of which open to an outdoor deck. A master suite is located next to the dining room.
The secondary residence—where Bollom’s sister and her family originally lived—is on the east side of the house and is now used intermittently by the extended family. It features bedrooms and a bathroom situated around a smaller living area. A shared kitchen runs along the south side of the house, creating a thermal buffer, and acting as the pantry for the primary residence and main food prep and dining area for the secondary residence.
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A simple, yet refined, material palette was employed throughout in order to minimize the cost of the build. Exposed concrete floors blur the boundary between indoor and outdoor space—particularly in the screened outdoor dining area that adjoins the living space of the primary residence—and the interior walls are painted white to keep the focus on the colors in the landscape.
In order to save even further, Bollom served as the general contractor for the project and helped with labor throughout the construction—from rough framing to finish carpentry.
"The goal from the outset was to try and keep the cost below $150 per square foot," says Bollum. "After making adjustments for the large amount of built exterior space, the cost was actually only $128 per square foot. However, this number is exceptionally low because I donated all my labor and general contracting fees, so a more realistic total cost would be around $162 per square foot."
"There aren’t many things more rewarding than designing and building a house for your parents," says Bollum. "They’ve sacrificed so much to provide opportunities for my sister and I, so it’s the least I could do for them."
Contractor: Low Design Office
Structural Engineer: Persyn Engineering
Photography: Chase Daniel
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