Texas Two-Step

Texas Two-Step

By Erika Heet
Austin-based architectural photographer Patrick Wong, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture, asked the firm Cottam Hargrave for help in designing and building a live/work space on land he had purchased years ago from his grandfather. “The lot had become the neighborhood dump,” says Wong. “There’s a convenience store about 100 yards away, and it takes someone about that distance to finish a 32-ounce beer and throw it into the pile,” he says with a laugh, adding that he spent every weekend for a year removing 60 truckloads’ worth of bottles, cans, bags of trash—even a car bumper—from the site before it was empty enough to pour the slab.

The architects, led by principal Jay Hargrave, designed a simple, 1,700-square-foot structure that begins as a one-story at the entrance façade then rises to a second story at the back to accommodate the bedroom loft area. In the design phase, he and Wong, who initially asked for a bachelor pad, remained especially cognizant of the extreme sun exposure at the site, and planned accordingly. The angled roof protects the occupants—Wong, his wife, preschool teacher and amateur artist Cherry Li and her teenage daughter, Jasmine—from extreme midday sun, but the meticulously placed windows allow plenty of bright, constantly shifting light in throughout the day.

After the home was completed, Wong asked for the carport addition. "I handed Jay two books: one on Alexander Calder’s mobiles, and one on insects," says Wong. The result was a soaring, winglike steel, aluminum and Galvalume structure fabricated by the architects that gives additional protection from the sun, provides a smoother transition from exterior to interior, and allows clients and other visitors a covered space under which to park.

"Patrick wanted a very efficient, well-built house, and the program is fairly straightforward," says Hargrave. "The way he lives his life is intrinsically sustainable, so it was necessary to create something in which every bit of space would be well-utilized." Wong adds that he admires the flexibility of Japanese architecture and interior space, and relies on being able to use the main, open space downstairs "as a photography studio, a living room or even a dance floor if we ever feel like it."

Wong consulted with an old neighbor, Austin-based landscape architect Eleanor McKinney, on landscaping, and she steered him toward a maintenance-free hardscape, which Wong designed himself with crushed granite, square pavers and limestone and basalt boulders from Austin Stone Supply. The lawn was already in place and never needs water, notes Wong. Just beyond the glass entrance door is the living/studio area; the interior stair leads to the sleeping loft.

The rear of the concrete-clad house leads to the small kitchen, off of which Wong parks his scooter (he and his family rarely drive their car; they typically bike or walk around the neighborhood). The large planter from Big Red Sun serves as a focal point for the main axis, which runs straight through the middle of the house. Upstairs is the sleeping loft. The home uses cellulose insulation, made from recycled newspapers and other paper sources.

Wong’s photographs dot the living area/studio; a painting by Li is at right. The architects put in a black concrete floor and designed the overhead birch-ply blocks, which double as bookcases for the upstairs sleeping loft. Accompanying a Saarinen Tulip table is a loveseat from Palazetti. Architect Michael Graves designed the chair with the circular cutout; opposite it is one designed by architect Jim Wallace for Novikoff, and the pair of red-and-white Catifa chairs are from Arper. The stair is made from Radiata plywood.

A view along the main axis through the house and into the backyard, with the campanile of a nearby church beyond. "The architects worked to situate the house to take advantage of this view," notes Wong. On either side of the main hall is Wong’s office, storage and a bathroom, with the kitchen at the end. Above, the patinaed steel balustrade hides a vent and incorporates a sculpture Wong’s parents brought back from a trip to China. "They brought it back right when Jay was designing the panel, and it just fit," says Wong. "It depicts a crane and a tortoise, traditional Chinese symbols of long life." As the sun hits the cutout and sculpture through the day, it creates a play of light and shadows.

When planning the house as a single man, Wong asked for a "bachelor’s kitchen," noting that he could only make frozen pizza and sandwiches. The simple setup, which faces East and receives the bright morning sun, still accommodates the family well. The little door is shared by Wong’s two Italian greyhounds, Sage and Solo, and the family cat, Coco. As throughout the house, the Low-e doors and windows are from Anchor Ventana. Richlite countertops.

Light floods the second-floor bath, which is housed within a birch-ply "box" also containing storage. The water is heated by a tankless, on-demand unit from Rinnai. The architects continued the tile motif for the bath downstairs; the honey-colored tiles are from Dal-Tile. The lamp is by Kathleen Ash of Studio K Glass.

The open sleeping loft. Wong recently added a simple wall at left to create an enclosed sleeping area for Jasmine. He also built the headboard, which doubles as storage space for the large rolls of paper he uses as backdrops for photo shoots. Wong wanted a light floor; the architects whitewashed the tongue-and-groove subfloor decking, which helps bring in even more light from the dominant, East-facing window. George Nelson lamp.

Patrick, Cherry and Jasmine with Sage, Solo and Coco in the upstairs loft. "This house is very modern and minimal, and though there is an abundance of beautiful architectural detailing, it’s not at all flashy—it’s very low-key," says Wong.


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