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One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

On a quiet Austin street named for the Boy Scout camp that once stood on its grounds, street after curving street is lined with typical builder-grade stone houses. But one couple wanted something different. The only problem for architect Alterstudio Architecture, LLP, was that in a community governed by a homeowners association with strict covenants and building restrictions, “different” was a difficult sell. 

“It doesn’t say that you’re not allowed to build a modern home, but it does have requirements for the pitch of a roof, how much glass you can use, et cetera,” Kevin Alter of Alterstudio says. “The clients were convinced that they could get what they wanted even though our experience with these things is that generally people want everything to look exactly the same.” As it turned out, the modern but modest house Alter and his team proposed got an unexpectedly warm reception from the neighbors. “We were able to convince [the homeowners association] that it was a good idea in part because had we built the exact same house as the others it would have blocked the light from the neighbors,” Alter says. Because of the house’s largely glass façade and low horizontal orientation, the community’s views and access to natural light remained intact. 

Divided into a public wing on the right and a private wing on the left, the house is connected by a glass corridor and a central courtyard seeded with Emerald Zoysia, a softer alternative to the coarse St. Augustine grass found throughout the city. Intricate brickwork casts interesting shadows throughout the day. Inside, rich features like mahogany floors and stone finishes warm up the space. “You drive through that neighborhood and it’s pretty stifling, more or less the same house over and over again,” Alter says. “And then you walk into their house and it’s like you’ve gone through some kind of portal—you come out the other side and you re-see the world in a different way.”

 

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