Austin: To The Hills

The land, located 30 minutes southwest of downtown Austin, was home to an old shed and an 1850s one-room cabin, the latter of which Kelly, Claire Whitehead, their two young daughters and the family dog called home for a year. Architect Shane Pavonetti was hired to design their new house, which was completed in 2016.

“We’d never designed a house before,” says Kelly. “We’re just those types of people who jump in and figure it out.” Fortunately for Pavonetti, these first-time clients knew what they wanted – steel doors, black trim, oversized windows – and how they live.

“We always hang out in the communal space, so it was important for us to have an open kitchen, living and dining area so we can all be together,” says Claire. “We didn’t want to put a lot of square footage into bedrooms because those are spaces used only for sleeping.”

Kelly and Claire preparing a crawfish boil. Click here for the recipe.

The only conflict during construction arose when the architect wanted to include mortar in the living room to help tie the new house to the older structures on the property. Claire, however, was not interested in Texas limestone. “You see it everywhere in Austin,” she says. “I know it can be done well, but it’s done really poorly a lot, and I was terrified of that.” The compromise turned out to be textured brick that the homeowners painted white.

From the main living area, the bedrooms are accessed off a long hallway with large windows that open into a screened porch. “We knew we wanted a long hall, but I’m not sure why,” says Claire. “I think I saw a picture in a magazine and was like, ‘That’s a nice long hall.’”

Kelly and Claire describe the house as minimal, industrial and a little bit farmhouse modern, but what they love most about it is that it’s easy. “We don’t have rooms or much of anything that we don’t use,” says Claire. “We’re not big cooks. We have one pan, one cookie sheet. We don’t have more than we need.”

Both are surprised by how the house gives them opportunities to be creative, which is a nice balance to their scientific work as nurse practitioners. The yard is where Kelly is creative, and Claire’s ingenuity can be seen in the interior finishes. When the couple wanted brass hardware but found it beyond their budget, she had an idea. “I realized that everything is brass underneath the plated finish, so we had all our faucets de-chromed. It ended up being a third of the cost of brass.”

With two open porches, one screened porch, an outdoor dining shed, a fire pit and four acres to explore, it’s easy to see why this family spends most of its time outside. “We have goats, chickens, a dog, a puppy and a couple of barn cats,” says Kelly. “It’s like the kids have their own petting zoo.”

Photo courtesy of Molly Winters.

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