How do you make a 2,000-square-foot condominium feel Texan but not trite? That was the problem Alterstudio Architecture’s Kevin Alter had to solve for his client, who purchased a home in a Four Seasons residential development on Lady Bird Lake, one of the most scenic spots in Austin. Alter and his partners, Ernesto Cragnolino and Tim Whitehill, met the challenge by using classic materials—wood and steel—in artful, unexpected ways.
After much research and brainstorming, the architects hit on the idea of centering the design around seven giant Claro walnut slabs that they had found through a supplier in Sacramento, California, that harvests and mills only locally found dead trees (Claro walnut is a seriously endangered plant species). In the home, the slabs are deftly employed as seating and tabletops, and as a headboard in the master bedroom—where the client had wanted the largest possible slab used. But the one the architects located was too big for the freight elevator. So before placing the order, the team created a full-scale mock-up, which was lifted on top of the cab, through the hoist-way, to make sure that the actual wood could be hauled up to the condo.
In addition to the slabs, walnut is used throughout the space, with the occasional contrast of milled steel, which is used for the base of the bar because, said Alter, “everyone sitting at a bar is always kicking it.” The architects employed local woodworker Mark Macek to create the hand-milled walnut strips that form the screens used throughout the space and the wide-plank walnut floors. The wood furniture was custom designed and made by Atlanta-area craftsman Marco Bogazzi. “I’m interested in having things made exceptionally well,” said Alter.
Because correcting awkward levels in the ceiling would have been too costly, the architects turned to wallpaper to draw attention away from them—jute grasscloth from Twenty2 in the bedroom, Samui Sunrise from Eskayel in the living room.
The client, who also has a home in Dallas and one in Colorado, had hired the firm because he was impressed with its long list of architectural awards. This particular job did not require major architectural moves—no spaces were reconfigured—but the team did change all the surfaces, even the plasterboard walls. It was the first time they had worked on interiors only—an experience Alter had long desired. “I’m tired of other people messing up our architecture,” he said. Besides, he added, he liked the selection process; “it was like playing with all the things I’ve liked over the years.”