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

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By Lauren Jones
An architect teams up with Faye and Walker to build a white gabled lake house overlooking Texas Hill Country.

Jeff Gunning has been a commercial architect in Dallas for 35 years, but when it came to his own home to be perched above Austin’s Lake Travis, he called in fellow architect Sean Guess of Faye and Walker Architecture. He wanted something simple, elegant, modern—and most importantly, budget-conscious. Having seen some of Guess’s other projects ("I actually found Sean from a story in Dwell," he remarks), Jeff knew that the architect could bring the brief to life.

General Conditions
Concrete Driveway
Stucco Building
Wood Framing
Wood Decking
Casework & Countertops
Standing Seam Siding
Framing, Cabinets, Trim (Other)
Metal Roof
Doors & Hardware
Interior Glass & Glazing
Plaster & Gypsum Board
Wood Flooring
Finishes (Other)
Plumbing & Fixtures
Residential Fireplace
Site Work
Contract Fee
Grand Total: $445,741

The site, which Jeff and Karen Gunning purchased in 2016 for $146,000, spans 5.7 acres. It has a single point of entry and a rough, winding road along a ridge that climbs some 80 feet, which made getting trucks to the site during construction a challenge. To the north, there is a cliff and Hill Country views, while the south faces deep forest.

In 2014, Jeff and Karen Gunning began researching building another house, hoping to create a single, contained volume without compromising their retirement funds. The resulting Tree House comprises three pitched volumes with cutaways to create a porch in phase one and recessed window planter ledges in phase two. Simple wood columns provide support.

To begin, the architects decided to set off on their own paths, allowing them to take on Jeff’s vision from entirely different stances. 

"This was my first intense collaboration with another architect on a project, not to mention his own residence," Guess says. "In the past, I’ve collaborated with other practitioners in some concepts, but it’s never been this comprehensive."

The home is composed of four materials: white standing-seam metal, Lueders limestone, wood, and white plaster, the latter used for exterior walls where the pitched volumes have been cut away.

Jeff really wanted to make sure the site was engaged, and proposed two separate structures: a phase one and phase two. His idea was a stacked plan, while Guess envisioned something a bit more linear and one-level. In the end, a multi-level plan seemed ideal. 

"I wanted it to act as a lake house on the weekends, and later, add on when we retired there," says Jeff. "So it made sense, in terms of construction, to do in two phases. Plus, we have grown kids, so the idea of having two living spaces and two kitchens next to another was practical."

A cedar-clad stair leads up to the 1,005-square-foot phase one house, while maple panels line the pitched interior

In order to make sure they captured the view, the architects "walked far enough to the water to figure out what elevation the house had to be at to see the lake," recalls Jeff. Phase one would be set at a 90-degree angle, running north to south against several existing oaks, affording captivating sunrise views, while phase two would be set down the hill and connected via a roof deck. 

Like phase one, phase two will have a wood-clad foyer and dining area that will act as an extension. 

The pair worked with Juniper Construction and made the decision to frame everything with wood, something Guess actually prefers on each of his projects. 

"From a budget standpoint and structurally speaking, it’s important to do things out of wood as opposed to creating framing situations that require steel," he explains. "That drives the cost of materials and labor up."

Thoughtfully placed windows provide gorgeous views. The treetops inspired the Gunnings’ name for the home, Tree House.

Though choosing wood over steel can make it more difficult to create an architecturally dramatic moment, the contractors built the stair overhang with finesse. 

Guess also conceptualized a Leuders limestone–clad wall that extends upward from the lower-level porch and garage, something Karen had requested after seeking inspiration on Pinterest. The home was further clad in cedar with a white, standing-seam roof and white wall panels. 

Some of the furnishings came from the homeowners’ Dallas home, including the wooden chairs they purchased 35 years ago. The sofa is the Madison Sleeper Sofa from Bo Concept, while the side table is from Target. The lamp is from CB2. A British, antique officer’s cabinet contrasts with a modern bookshelf from Crate and Barrel. 

Inside, the architects executed some clever framing tricks to re-center the living room gable to make room for a discreet HVAC unit. They were also able to make the windows feel like a single unit.

"The team was a critical part of staying on budget, and I think they pushed beyond what they'd normally do to make it all happen," says Jeff.

In the dining room, an Andover custom table by Room and Board and Globus Chairs from Design Within Reach continue the neutral color palette. The white, monochromatic kitchen has quartz countertops by Prestige and Phoenix Ivory Counter Stools from CB2. 

Overall, the project cost $195 per square foot, which is "pretty remarkable in today’s market," Guess says. 

With phase one is now complete, the two are currently working on plans for phase two, and hope to have it finished by 2022. 

More Budget Breakdown:

A Gloomy Apartment in Israel Does a Full 180 for $115K

A Moldy Shed Becomes a Lively Backyard Hangout for Less Than $40K

A Playful, Postmodern ADU in Los Angeles Is Built for $249K

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Faye and Walker Architecture / @fayeandwalker

Builder/General Contractor: Juniper Building Company

Structural Engineer: Duffy Engineering

Civil Engineer: O'Brien Engineering Services

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