Rock 'n' Roll Refuge - Design Bureau

Rock ‘n’ Roll Refuge

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

by Brian Libby
photography by Alan Foreman
model: Scarlet with Wallflower Management
stylist: Caitlin M. Ryan
hair and makeup: Willow Witten

The Homeowners

Sam Shah once considered himself a lifelong New Yorker, until his work started bringing him to Austin music events like South By Southwest and Austin City Limits. “The first time I got off the plane I was just so blown away by Austin and everything it had to offer,” he recalls. Then when Shah met his future wife, designer Anne Suttles, the stage was set for taking to Texas permanently. 

Acting as both their residence and the headquarters for their music managing business, General Public Management, the Bouldin Residence juxtaposes clean lines with rough-hewn reclaimed materials, which give the space a lived-in feeling. “I didn’t want to be in an über-modern space,” Anne says. “We needed it to feel comfortable.”  Contemporary but not cold, artfully fun without over-the-top kitsch—the Bouldin residence reflects the owners’ personalities.

“There’s a lot of them in this house, which I like,” says the Bouldin Residence’s architect, Kevin Alter of Alterstudio. Alter serves as director of the University of Texas School of Architecture while also running Alterstudio as a collaborative business that empowers his students to do real work. 

The house itself occupies a corner lot in its namesake Bouldin neighborhood, home to many artists and musicians and popular for its easy walkability to downtown Austin. “That was so important for me, coming from Manhattan,” Shah says. “I don’t want to jump into my car for everything.” Bordering the busier street, a concrete wall creates a private courtyard with a pool. On the quieter side, the house opens up to the neighborhood with floor-to-ceiling glass.

This Is It

A neon sign stating “This is it!” illuminates the couple's stairway, bring with it a sense of whimsy and nostalgia. “Through one of the windows upstairs, the red light [from the sign] comes out,” Suttles explains. “We can see it when we take walks at night. It’s like making art out of your whole house. It’s a reminder that we’ve gone through all this crazy change, but we’ve flown through it. It’s like a dream life without being a cheesy fantasy. It’s really happening on our terms. This really is it.”

The stairway also features a bold, vintage diamond-patterned wallpaper, a vast departure from the white walls elsewhere in the house. "We’ve been in love with that wallpaper for years,” Suttles says. “We  originally were going to paint the stairs a glossy hot pink. Stairwells can be boring, but we didn’t want some dramatic over-the-top [stairwell]. This makes it fun, but it’s not the red carpet at the Oscars.”

Funky Touches

In the master bathroom, simple white tiles are complemented by a floor pattern in the large, open shower that mimics the floor pattern of stick-on bathtub decals from decades past. Also upstairs: the office for General Public Management, where the walls have been decorated with records by artists Shah has represented, including John Mayer and Ray LaMontagne

Wood and Glass

Blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces, the palette of concrete and stained wood was used both on the exterior façade and indoors. Downstairs floors are concrete, while upstairs features rough wood floors that were reclaimed from a barn in Missouri.

“They were sanded, just enough that you don’t get splinters,” Alter says. “And it will weather differently in different places. They already had this lived-in quality, which calmed down the white walls and the other sleek surfaces. We all liked the juxtaposition of slick and rough. Having slick and rough elevates both.” At the top of the stairs, a square segment of glass is set into the floor, which helps distribute natural light into the first-floor interior and highlights the contrast in materials.  

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