• The siting of the accessory dwelling unit creates a private sanctuary for the residents. Photo by Andrea Calo.

Location Austin
Client Stephen Sharpe
Architect FAB Architecture
Design Team Patrick Ousey, AIA; Jonathan Davies; Tim Zhang
Photographer Andrea Calo

From the fairly narrow street in an established neighborhood, one can get only a peek through the mature trees of the gray facade in the back of the lot. At this point, the procession begins to FAB Architecture’s Hillmont Studio — a small, modern accessory dwelling unit tucked behind an existing traditional home.

Walking past the new steel plate mailboxes and into a shared gravel courtyard, you already feel isolated from the street, which is mere yards away. As juror David Miller, FAIA, notes: “It really opens to the garden — a very nice procession of arrival.” The approach to the small unit subtly drops you down into the site itself. The form is simple: an assemblage of rectangular subtractions and additions. With its limited palette of dark gray tight batten and large exterior glazing, it seems at home, nestled in the rear of the property. As you reach the threshold of the entry, you are unaware of the surrounding structures, neighborhood, or density. This unassuming sanctuary seems to appear along the path just traveled. “This one was able to achieve a really striking balance of privacy for the original home and the accessory dwelling unit,” comments juror Julie Snow, FAIA.

Once inside, the studio’s bottom floor alone seems to include more space than the 850-sf project. The large, open first floor comprises two sides of full-height glazing: One side opens toward the existing house and street; the other opens toward the patio and large, mature oaks. The glazing wall along the patio is operable and can be opened to extend the living space on those days when the Texas climate allows this.

Along the other wall, full-height board-formed concrete not only extends through the space to form the patio beyond, but also shields the observer from the adjacent apartments, both visually and acoustically. A small yet refined kitchen space of dark walnut millwork and black granite surfaces completes this lower level.

The protruded stair form is tucked into the rear of the space and does not interrupt the openness of this lower volume. The turn to ascend the stairs creates a change of palette — light pine and white walls replace the concrete and darker hues of the ground floor. The landing of the pine switchback stair provides a view back to the entry courtyard and the quiet street — a connection of the circulations through the spaces. This light pine flooring, which is also the structural deck, permeates the entire upper floor, giving a delicacy to the spaces.

The material restraint was a factor in the Hillmont Studio’s award consideration. Juror Snow says: “It was really powerful in its ability to do a lot with a reduced palette of materials.”

Daylight pours in windows that ascend to the ceiling on the second level — daylight that bounces off light pine flooring and white walls — creating an airy feel, even though the ceiling is only eight ft high. The upper floor consists of three spaces: a bedroom with built-in storage along one entire wall, a small bathroom with adequate yet refined facilities, and a study or child’s room. Each of these rooms contains ample storage options along with abundant natural light.

Andrew Hawkins, AIA, is principal of Hawkins Architecture in College Station.

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