"Couple finds ‘Wright’ Design for Hill Country"

By Louise Metzger

Special Sections Writer

Frank Lloyd Wright, one of America’s most influential architects, found inspiration in nature- the horizontal lines of the prairie, rich colors of wood, and the texture of stone. A local couple has brought elements of Wright’s Prairie Style to the Texas Hill Country.

When they moved to Austin, the couple commissioned the house for a steep hillside overlooking a canyon. “I began studying Wright’s style in high school. It has really been a lifelong love for me. His style is contemporary without being cold, and we are fond of his extensive use of wood,” the owner says.

They had visited historic homes designed by the architect and chose Higgs Custom Homes to interpret the design elements to fit the area. Joe Higgs made the five-acre property available to the couple from the builder’s inventory and worked with them to bring their dream to the Hill Country.

The site in West Austin, with a steep drop-off into the canyon behind it, provided the perfect point for a home reflecting Wright’s influence. The builder welcomed the challenge provided by the topography. Higgs specializes in building homes on sloping lots.

Wright’s philosophy dictated that one of the most important elements of good residential design is integrating a house with its site. Architecture, he believed, has an inherent relationship with the land.

“Every part of the exterior was taken into consideration in his designs. The siting of a home – where it’s located and how it sits on the land – was very important to Wright,” says Jim Fisher of Impact Design, the project architect. “The Prairie Style emphasizes the sense of approach, viewing the architecture as a series of different angles, providing a sense of expectation to the front door,” he says.

“In the Wright style, this home isn’t approached directly from the street. It is angled just slightly to allow it to nestle into the lot,” says Melissa Baker of Higgs Custom Homes.

The Prairie Style, named for the Midwest where Wright grew up, takes some of its inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement of the 20th century. It emphasizes the horizontal, both in geometry and materials.

The exterior features strong horizontal lines with a low sheltering roof grounded by masonry columns at the entryway. The base is native chopped white limestone and stucco was applied above the masonry to integrate the southwest influence. Windows are grouped in a pattern complementary to the style. The standing seam metal room was modified to a low pitch and reflects regional tastes.

The rectilinear elevation introduces the geometrical designs inside. The living room features a simple sunburst fireplace and anchors one end of a long hallway. An area lined with built-in bookshelves anchors the other end and provides an entryway to the master suite.

“The library corridor to the bedroom provides a place for our books, but it also marks the transition between public and private spaces in the house,” the owner says. The kitchen and formal dining room are on one side of the hallway, across from the TV room and breakfast area.

Custom millwork is an important element in the home. “Since the interior woodwork is in the hallmark of the Prairie Style, the owners placed a strong emphasis on having the best trim carpenters,” Higgs says.

Generous wood panels and bands wrap the columns in the main living areas. The maple floor in the dining room is accented by a cherry border, which continues the horizontal influence of Wright.

The kitchen and baths depart only slightly from the Prairie Style. A skylight floods the kitchen with natural light. Recessed lighting fixtures accent the wood cabinets, as well as glass display shelving in one corner. The appliances are stainless steel and the hardware is chrome.

The master bath features recessed medicine cabinets, a doorless shower, and whirlpool tub. Glass block accents the walls, and the floors are slate.

Downstairs there’s a common area, three bedrooms, two baths, and a laundry room. “Our young adult children can come home and still have the privacy they crave because the lower level is their space,” the owner says.

The rear of the home opens to spectacular vistas of the canyon and two decks offer great spaces for entertaining.

“It is a home we designed for our family, in the hope that it will be a place where our family gathers as it changes and grows. This, more than anything else, is the expression of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright – not the materials or style – the concept of a home that meets the needs of a family,” the owner says.

Higgs enjoyed his role in creating a Wright-influenced home in Austin. “The homeowners went to the drafting table with a definite idea of the details and features their home should have. We build any style of home the buyer wants. We listen to their needs and interpret them, then assist them in putting the finishing touches on their homes,” Higgs says. “Because of the quality of our subcontractors and the diversity of our suppliers, we are able to help our clients achieve any look.”

“It’s very satisfying to help homeowners’ dreams come true when they build with us, especially on such a unique project that brought the best of the past and present together to create a truly remarkable home,” says Melissa Baker of Higgs Custom Homes.

This article was featured on the front page of the "Homes" section of the Austin American Statesman