An eclectic pastiche of urban grit and contemporary minimalism with a down-home sensibility, the laundromat at 918 Pine in San Antonio acts as an almost synecdochic reflection of the burgeoning Dignowity Hill neighborhood it occupies. David Ericsson, an architectural designer at Lake|Flato, purchased the property in 2011 with the intention of turning it into his new home. Though it was littered with garbage, needles, and debris, he immediately recognized the potential of the space. “I didn’t have the money to erase the building’s past,” he explains. “I had to leverage its idiosyncratic characteristics, which ended up working to my benefit.”
The 1929 brick-and-concrete structure, which had originally housed an old steam laundry, had stood vacant for 20 years and before that had served as a storage facility for a nearby church. An 18-ft-wide addition composed of cinder block with a salmon-colored, brick-patterned stucco finish was tacked onto the front of the structure in the 1950s.
Ericsson spent six months designing more than 30 iterations of the project. “At the time, I was 26 and single and had no idea what my life was going to look like,” he says. “I didn’t need to fill 4,000 sf by myself, and I needed it to be flexible.” His first move was to reduce the conditioned space by carving out a 300-sf atrium along the northeast corner of the building and removing the roof of the front addition to create a 1,000-sf walled garden. Then it became an exercise in designing for flexibility, dividing the house into two units in a way that a wall could easily be removed to create a single dwelling.
Operating on a tight budget, Ericcson “decided it would be a good idea to serve as general contractor on the renovation, because I know nothing about construction,” he chuckles ironically. “That was a terrible process, but I stuck with it.” He soon realized the old building would need both a new roof and a new foundation, making his already tight budget even tighter. Though the property had been rezoned residential, it had never had a Change of Use permit filed, which meant that occupancy couldn’t be granted until construction was complete, further increasing expenses.
As a result of all this, minimizing costs required a creative approach to the design and construction process. Rather than pricing custom fabrication after designs were complete, Ericsson first selected his fabricators and then designed to their experience and a limited material palette. The result was an affordable system of floor-to-ceiling steel angle frame windows that wrap the garden walls, delivering natural light and outdoor views to all the bedrooms and primary living spaces. A new steel-and-glass door with a barn-door shading device was inserted into the single bay that lacked openings, while the other three bays retained their original double-hung metal sash windows.
Bathroom vanities and kitchen counters were constructed in the same design language, with steel tube bases and steel angle frame concrete countertops. To add texture and variety, interior walls were clad with whitewashed tongue-and-groove pine siding set on a 3/4-in upturned steel angle base. “The new work reads as a patchwork,” Ericsson reflects. “Keeping the wabi-sabi in the craft became part of the design narrative, leaving an aesthetic that accommodated the constraints.”
Anastasia Calhoun, Assoc. AIA, works at Overland Partners in San Antonio.