This Clever, Affordable Homestead for a Retired Texas Couple Is Two Houses in One

This Clever, Affordable Homestead for a Retired Texas Couple Is Two Houses in One

By Mandi Keighran
An architect designs a cost-effective home for his parents that allows for multigenerational living and responds to the harsh Texan climate.

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.

While the home is located in a ranch-style neighborhood surrounded by other houses, the plots are large enough to make it feel like a remote area. "Before we started designing, we brought tents and camped on-site," says architect Ryan Bollom. "You can watch the sun rise over the east hills, set over the west hills, and enjoy the stars at night. The place just brings a sense of calm and relaxation."

"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."

The design concept is based around an interior space protected by an outer wrapper. The facade is a cement stucco, and the exterior roof structure is supported by durable cedar timbers with a basic Galvalume metal roof over a TPO flat roof. "We tried to use standard materials and finishes to minimize costs," reveals architect Ryan Bollom.

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.

"We always comb through work we really like for general inspiration when starting a project, but usually there isn’t one project we draw from," says architect Ryan Bollom. "I’d consider The Barak House, designed by R&Sie in 2003, a more direct precedent for this home. Formally and conceptually it’s very different, but its core idea is a flexible wrapper over a more rigid home construction."

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 house features an expansive double roof system. A detached upper roof folds to exploit winds across the hill site, passively forcing extractive cooling, and offering a suitably oriented architectural support for solar photovoltaic panels. It also allowed for the creation of a unique roof deck that overlooks the landscape.

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.

The home sits over a single level on the site and has a long, linear form that extends landscape views to the horizon. It is aligned to frame both the sunrise and the sunset.

"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 house exclusively uses water harvested from the roof and stored on-site in a 33,000-gallon cistern.  

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.

Wood slat shading devices on the "outer wrapper" of the home help to modulate solar heat gain in the hot, often harsh, Texas climate.

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 outdoor dining space that extends from the living area of the primary residence is protected from mosquitoes with the use of screens in a timber frame. Large roof overhangs protect the interior from the sun.

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 living, kitchen, and outdoor porch areas in the primary residence are situated to enjoy sunset. The living room opens directly to the screened outdoor dining porch and a timber deck that overlooks the surrounding hills.

"My mom really wanted a fireplace, even though they don’t make sense in Texas and generally are an energy drain—and she wanted it to somehow serve the living, kitchen, and dining spaces," says architect Ryan Bollom. "So, we wound up using a clean-burning fireplace insert designed to fit in the transition that distinguishes each of the spaces without making them feel like different rooms."

The east side of the house—the secondary residence—is set back from the master bedroom in the primary residence so that it has direct sunrise views through corner glazing.

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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"My grandfather, George Fasullo, was an architect who died before I was born," says architect Ryan Bollom. "My mom used both of our drawings as wallpaper in the secondary living space." During the lockdown, Bollom formed an extended bubble with his parents, and he and his wife, also an architect, used the space as an office.

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 timber used in the scaffolding and off-cuts from the framing were kept and redeployed for furniture and accents on the walls—such as the timber block in the primary kitchen.

Every room in the house has access to natural light. The bathroom cabinets are standard mid-grade factory-built cabinets, topped by custom poured concrete countertops that the architects designed and built.

"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."

"My parents tell me they love the home every time they wake up," says architect Ryan Bollom. 

"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."

Floor plan of Dakota Mountain Residence by LowDO.

Roof plans of Dakota Mountain Residence by LowDO.

Elevations of Dakota Mountain Residence by LowDO.

Section showing the roof deck of Dakota Mountain Residence by LowDO.

Section through the porch of Dakota Mountain Residence by LowDO.

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