A Cleverly Camouflaged Family Home Floats Above the West Texas Mountainside

At the intersection of mountains and desert, the vast and rugged beauty of the natural landscape inspires a home for a family of four.

At the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, 800 feet above El Paso, Texas, a young couple owning an acre of unspoiled land eagerly began to envision their future residence. With one-of-a-kind views, and protected park land on two sides, the site was rife with opportunity to create a dynamic home worthy of its inspiring surroundings.

Perched high on the mountainside, the home is sited to take advantage of unobstructed views to the south of downtown El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, beyond.

The couple soon connected with architects Darci Hazelbaker and Dale Rush of Tucson-based Hazelbaker Rush, whose design vision resonated with their hopes for the site. "They appreciated our sensibilities towards the land...and how a home can inspire new ways of living," recalls Darci. Collaborating through the home’s design, and eventually, construction, the couple added two children to their family in the process.

The undulating terrain and soaring elevation of the lot gave the team a unique opportunity to take advantage of several distinct outlooks when siting the home. "It was very important to pay due respect to the fantastic view their high perch on the mountains affords," explains Darci of their clients’ uniquely positioned parcel. With the distant glimmer of city lights on full display to the south, and equally alluring sunset views across the horizon to the west, the site offered no shortage of unique vantage points to showcase.

Rather than undertaking dramatic excavation, the team instead opted to minimize sitework, stepping up the home into the hillside. "Instead of using large retaining walls and attempting to flatten the steep site, we created a series of terraces that step up the hill and allow the home to connect to its direct outdoor environment at every level," explains architect Darci Hazelbaker.

El Paso, a historic masonry town, celebrates traditional stonework in its local building vernacular, past and present. It is within this geographic and cultural context that the team carefully selected local basalt stone to ground the home’s lower volumes. The texture and grey hue blends in almost undetectably with the surrounding hills covered in native weathered grey rock and deep green agave. "In this context, we wanted the stone mass of the home to feel of the place – a part of the hillside," explains Dale. In stark contrast, the upper, private volume of the home is rendered in white stucco, appearing from afar to float weightlessly in front of the mountainous backdrop. "The bedroom mass is meant to feel light, the place where kids dream and play and float over the landscape," reflects Dale.

The stone and stucco volumes of the home meet, creating a sheltered "outdoor living room" underneath. The lower volume contains public space including kitchen, living, and dining rooms, while the elevated stucco volume houses the family’s private sleeping quarters and a play area for the kids.

The stacked basalt stonework, a traditional building technique in the local architectural vernacular, beautifully marries a modern corner window from Western Window Systems in the home’s living room. Viewed straight on, this low corner opening frames southwest views of the horizon with Mount Cristo Rey at the center.

Carefully positioned openings were integral to giving the clients unfiltered exposure to the beauty of their surroundings, while simultaneously prioritizing ease and functionality of family life. With this central objective in mind, the team turned to Western Window Systems for their unique needs. "For a home like this, the window is meant to frame the view," says Dale. "We want a simple product that almost disappears," he continues. "Western Window Systems makes windows and doors that reduce and simplify the frames, stiles, and sashes."

An expansive Series 600 Multi-Slide Door seamlessly connects the kitchen with the outdoor pool and terrace. "Some spaces like the kitchen and dining want to have a nearly unobstructed connection to the exterior and the view beyond," explains Dale. "The large expanse of glass here makes it feel as if you are right outside." The sizable opening allows sunlight to pour into the home, while the deep overhang mitigates solar heat gain.

When the multi-slide door is open, the kitchen’s barrier to the outdoors completely disappears. "The kitchen is one large open space that almost acts as a ‘stage’ for the nightly cooking process," says Darci. Walnut millwork and polished concrete floors anchor the family cooking and gathering space.

The home’s master suite integrated a Series 600 Multi-Slide Door to flexibly connect with the outdoor space beyond. "In the bedroom, we wanted the ability to open the sleeping area to the garden or to open the bathroom to the garden. The Multi-Slides were perfect for this flexibility," explains Darci of their selection.

"The landscape disruption and grading were kept to a minimum so the desert feels like it grows right up to the threshold of the home," reflects Dale. "The terraces to the east are meant to be a transition from the wild and rugged desert landscape to a more cultivated desert garden that becomes more curated and manicured as you get closer to the home." State-owned land to the east offers both inspiring beauty and built-in privacy for the master suite. 

Beyond aesthetic understatement, the curated experience of living in the home and moving through the space was paramount in the selection of windows and doors. "Every opening in the building is a choreography of some kind," explains Darci. "[The] change in perception as you move through and live in a space is a key element to designing the experience." This experiential quality is on full display at the home’s second-floor public space. Walking down the hallway, an elongated horizontal window from Western Window Systems frames a panoramic view of all of downtown El Paso, Juarez, and the expansive New Mexican desert. A smaller window at the end of the hallway continues to shift and refine the view, deepening the interactive experience with the environment. "As you approach this window, the focus changes from the far off slope to the canyon below, and when you get right up next to the window, you are floating 30 feet above the ground on the edge of the canyon that is starting to fall steeply away," Darci muses.

The home’s elevated upper volume dramatically perches above a canyon 30 feet below. Horizontally stretched Series 670 Fixed Windows offer postcard views of downtown El Paso and Juarez. At the end of the hallway, another fixed window precariously overlooks a steep drop to the canyon below. "There are constantly little nose smudges on the window because the best way to experience this lookout point is to press yourself right up to the glass and feel like you’re flying," says Dale.

Carefully positioned openings shape how the family interacts with their environment on a daily basis. Whether picking fresh herbs and vegetables from their desert garden, marveling at eagles and hawks soaring through the canyon below, or catching glimpses of deer or rabbits roaming through the property, the family enjoys intimate exposure to the rugged West Texas mountainside – all from their front doorstep.

Against the backdrop of the mountains, the home’s upper volume appears from afar to float weightlessly in a sea of native grey rock, cacti, deep green agave, ocotillo, and yuccas that blanket the hillside.


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