Though the Zilker neighborhood in Austin, Texas, is best known as the home of the beloved Austin City Limits music festival, its charms also extend to its homes—specifically, the work of architect A.D. Stenger, who designed many of the enclave’s ranch-style houses in the 1950s and ’60s.
So when a couple purchased an empty lot in Zilker, they tasked local architect Paul Lamb with designing a home for them and their daughter that fit in with the surrounding architecture to the point that it looked like it had been there forever.
For inspiration, Lamb and collaborator Ted Young first looked to the work of Californian architect Cliff May, whose low-slung, pitched-roof buildings birthed the original ranch style in the 1930s. But since the clients also wanted to include references to their Southern and central Texas roots, Lamb proposed a happy medium: a mix of the architecture of south Texas brush country and the easy-living houses of Southern California.
The result? A breezy, light-filled home that balances calming, earthy textures with strategic bursts of color and pattern. “We wanted everything to feel pretty light, but not stark white,” says the wife, who works in commercial real estate development and did most of the interior decorating. “Our philosophy for most of the house was to make the rooms we spent the most time in pretty neutral and then explore with color in other areas.”
One of the home’s most vibrant spaces, the living room blends traditional warmth with contemporary chic, where a cheerful yellow sofa complements the vintage black Terje Ekstrom chairs. “We definitely wanted it to feel a little bit more special, but not too precious,” the wife says. “We wanted two separate seating clusters, and one of them to sort of stick to each other, but not match.”
Though not an essential item in Texas, the fireplace was inspired by a large stone one used for cooking in the husband’s childhood home. The hearth that extends from the fireplace was initially designed as seating, but it’s since become a perch for art and other tchotchkes.
Lamb designed a dropped slatted ceiling beneath a series of skylights, a move that provides the perfect filter for harsh Texas sunlight and keeps the home cool, along with the mortar-smoothed limestone walls and dark tiled floor. The vintage Afghan rug was one of the first items the couple found for the dining room, so they designed the room around that. Since the husband is one of six kids, they sourced a vintage table that could handle big Texan family gatherings.
Initially, they weren’t sure whether the snakelike woven light fixture they’d had made in Mexico would work in the home. But as soon as Lamb saw it, he knew it needed to go in the dining room where it brings an organic touch of drama. “It’s amazing,” he says, “really a one-of-a-kind thing.”
“He’s a big chef, but I think those two were the least-demanding clients about the kitchen,” Lamb says of the husband, who is a founding partner of a buzzy Austin hospitality company. “We were so surprised.”
But there were still certain must-haves. Most important was having a big island in the center—unencumbered by sinks or cooking appliances—for prep work. After a diligent search, they found a quartzite slab large enough to use for both the island and the countertops. The terra-cotta grout for the glazed tile backsplash was selected to complement the brown veining in the quartzite.
The minimalist cabinetry reflects the subtle green palette throughout the home, which references the tiles on the exterior. But it was essential to maintain a balance of light and dark. “We knew there was going to be a lot of light in the house, so we did dark floors to give it a kind of shady, cool feeling balanced with soft white walls and different greens,” Lamb says.
To keep mornings efficient for the busy couple, Lamb created two separate shower niches accented with aged-brass panels and fixtures, framed in a soothing archway. “It was a masonry reference, since it’s a stone house inside and out,” he explains. “It’s a way of getting a soft form without literally being an arch.” The mint-green tile grout on the Fireclay tiles again subtly references the home’s green palette.