Interactive floor plan: West Lake House by Specht Harpman architects, Texas
New York-based architects Specht Harpman undertook the ultimate renovation of this modest 1970s house in Austin, Texas, at the behest of their client. The original structure was retained and refurbished, but such is the scope of the remodeling work that to all intents and purposes this elegant structure appears to have been built entirely from scratch.
The site is densely wooded, with plenty of large oak trees that the client was keen to retain. The architects’ approach was to thread the new structure around the existing trees, keeping as many as possible while using their twisted trunks to set up evocative vistas and framed views.
The sylvan garden approach takes one along a straight paved pathway leading into a generous entrance living room, complete with glazed walls, centrally located fireplace and Gilbert & George staring down over the sofas, creating an airy and spacious heart for the house. The structure is arranged across several different levels, reaching out into the surrounding landscape through a series of low-lying masonry walls that extend from the house, roughly aligned on the four points of the compass and delineating the sub-divisions of the internal living space.
Enormous quantities of soil were excavated to create taller ceilings and more sense of space in the reconstructed house. Visitors get the sensation of looking across from one glazed pavilion to another, but also up and down, past a thicket of tree trunks.
The ground floor is given over to family activity, while the more insular upper storey houses the private bedrooms above. To the left of the entrance is a private study with garden views, while steps at the far end of the sitting room lead up to the centrally located staircase, beyond which is the kitchen and dining area, raised up over the garden and looking over the terrace and pool.
Built-in shelves are located at key points of the house to display the clients’ collection of ceramics and other artifacts. A media room is tucked away behind the dining room, while four bedrooms are located upstairs, with the master suite given its own ’block’ above the main living space.
Rendered walls, flat roofs, exposed concrete and timber floors are combined with bold internal colours to create an ensemble that banishes any memory of the earlier house while also enhancing the setting of the new structure. Elegant and expansive, the West Lake residence belongs to a long tradition of calm, considered American Modernism.