A Midcentury Masterpiece Apartment in Austin Asks $770K

Unit No. 3 in the Harwell Harris–designed Cranfill Apartments still shines from a mid-2000s restoration by Alterstudio and Mell Lawrence Architects.
Text by

The landmarked Cranfill Apartments in Austin, Texas, are considered some of the best work of modernist architect Harwell Hamilton Harris. Built in the late 1950s, the two-story triplex is organized around a majestic live oak, with loft-like living spaces and dramatic walls of windows. Unit No. 3, the largest of the three, was recently listed for sale—offering an interior that was lovingly restored by its former architect-owners.

A massive oak tree is the focal point of the communal entry courtyard. The apartments were originally designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris for Thomas Cranfill, an English
professor at The University of Texas at Austin courtyard.

The star of each unit is the double-height living room, featuring a dramatic wall of windows framed by exposed masonry block walls. Shown here, Unit No 3. was restored several years ago by Ernesto Cragnolino of Alterstudio and Krista Whitson of Mel Lawrence Architects, who used the apartment as their personal residence.

Ernesto Cragnolino, a partner at the local firm Alterstudio, and his wife, architect Krista Whitson of Mell Lawrence Architects, purchased the building in 2004. Saving the interior from unsympathetic developers, the couple spearheaded the restoration of each unit, calling the one currently for sale their home for nearly 10 years. The duo also led efforts to have the building designated as national, state, and local historic landmarks in 2013.

The windows create a connection with nature uncommon in the middle of Austin. Biographer Lisa Germany described the apartments this way: "Hidden behind a conventional house on a remote street, the concrete block apartments held out Harris’s favorite surprise: a rich and private exposure to nature. Quiet and elegantly functional, they are among his best work." 

"You wake up in the morning and on one side you have an amazing elm tree and on the other side an amazing oak tree. It’s fundamentally engaged with nature in a very powerful way," Cragnolino said in a 2014 interview, shortly after selling the unit to its current owner.

An open mezzanine bedroom sits above the living area and serves as the master bedroom. Redwood board-and-batten siding covers a half-way in the loft space.

The last time a unit in the building was up for grabs it was 2018, and now the listing of unit No. 3 offers another opportunity to live in this iconic midcentury space. Offering two bedrooms and two bathrooms spread across nearly 1,400-square-feet, the updated interior pays homage to Harris's original design. Keep scrolling to see more of the property, which is currently listed for $770,000.

Nestled underneath the loft, the kitchen is open to the dining area. The space is outfitted with ergonomic cabinetry and the cabinetry is painted in an original shade.

The kitchen features updated stainless-steel appliances alongside the original stove and oven.

Upstairs, the master bedroom offers access a private balcony overlooking the front courtyard. A wall of bookcases run the width of the room.

The bedroom also features a small study area in the corner. Hardwoods installed throughout the unit during renovations were installed according to Harris's original specifications.

A look at the luxurious marble-clad master bathroom. This second bathroom was added as part of the renovation by Cragnolino and Whitson.

This unit also offers a second bedroom—making its floor plan unique from the other one-bedroom units. The space was converted from a former mechanical room.

A look at the second bathroom, which features updated finishes. 

1911 Cliff Street, No. 3, in Austin, Texas, is currently listed for $770,000 by Brian Linder, AIA, and Rick Grahn of The Value of Architecture.

Know of a home for sale or rent that should be featured on Dwell.com? Find out how to submit to Dwell.


Get the Real Estate Newsletter

From midcentury classics to the best contemporary spaces for sale, see the latest listings for modern homes on the market around the world.