The Five Yard House integrates a contemporary addition with a historic Austin bungalow.
Architect Miró Rivera Architects
Contractor J. Pinnelli Company
Structural Engineer Smith Structural Engineers
MEP Engineer Positive Energy
Lighting Design ArcLight Design
Furniture Selection Rachel Mast Design
Landscape Architect Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
Austin’s historic Clarksville neighborhood is populated by a diverse family of Craftsman-style homes. At first glance, the Five Yard House fits in seamlessly with its kindred bungalows, but its restored facade and conventional front lawn conceal a generous contemporary expansion and four additional outdoor spaces. The Five Yard House is a lesson in balance between old and new, focusing on a desire for harmony between Austin’s past and its future.
The property sits within the bounds of the Smoot/Terrace Park Historic District, part of the larger West Line Historic District recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1912, this original Craftsman bungalow has been designated by the city of Austin as a contributing property in the Smoot/Terrace Park district. Maintaining a high degree of architectural integrity in the existing bungalow was therefore of the utmost importance, but doing so presented challenges during the renovation process. However, this did not deter the clients. One of the homeowners even participated in an Austin City Council meeting, speaking positively about living in a historic district. He stressed that, even considering the obstacles that a historic district can present for new construction, they had not been required to make compromises in creating their ideal home.
Both owners of the Five Yard House were heavily involved in the design and construction of their home. As a recently married couple with adult children living elsewhere, the clients wanted to start this new chapter of their lives in a walkable historic neighborhood. The wife has a background in marketing, while the husband worked as a designer for both Apple and Dell. Their professional experiences and passion for contemporary design allowed the couple to become fully immersed in the architectural process. “They were true partners in the process of designing the home — they were curious about every detail in a way that was both refreshing and gratifying,” says Miguel Rivera, FAIA, a founding partner at Miró Rivera Architects.
The clients first contacted the firm after seeing the 1917 Bungalow, another Miró Rivera renovation project only a few blocks away from the Five Yard House. The house — which happens to be Rivera’s own home — inspired the clients to look for a site with similar potential. The bungalow they found was in complete disrepair at the time of its purchase, having sat vacant and abandoned for many years. “But there was never any real debate about tearing down the house,” Rivera admits. “We knew from the outset that the home could and should be restored.” To carry out this complicated restoration, the architects sought out general contractor Joe Pinnelli, whose experience with historic preservation became essential to the project. The restoration took more than three years, during which time the entire log-pile foundation needed to be replaced and much of the interior had to be gutted.
The front facade of the bungalow, defined by a hipped roof and arched windows, was fully restored. Attention to detail went a long way in preserving the home’s historic authenticity: Replacement glass in the front windows was purchased pre-warped to match existing panes, and even the paint color is true to the original period of construction. The sides of the house are replicas, reconstructed with modern materials like Kolbe windows and ZIP System sheathing, in a compromise for cost.
While the front of the house looks as it always has, the renovation has undoubtedly altered the relationship between building and site. Instead of continuing to view the house as an isolated object on the lot, the renovation reimagined the house as a series of solids and voids. Drawing on typologies often seen in the dense cities of Europe and Latin America — where Juan Miró, FAIA, and Rivera are from, respectively — a main courtyard became the “center of gravity” in the Five Yard House, while the bungalow’s rooms were redesigned as auxiliary spaces.
Visitors enter through the home’s original wooden front door, which opens into a wide gallery. This passageway once allowed breezes through on hot summer days and now leads straight back to the new addition. After the initial construction of the bungalow, a bathroom had been added in the middle of the gallery, disrupting the flow of both people and air through the space. The bathroom was removed during renovation, and the gallery sits unobstructed once more. At the front of the house, the office and media room are divided by a pair of original Tuscan-style columns. What was once the kitchen is now a guest bedroom with an accompanying bathroom across the hall, and the original master suite acts as a second guest bedroom and bathroom. To preserve the home’s legacy of craftsmanship, both guest bedrooms kept their shiplap walls. The clients also introduced aspects of their own history into the space; one of the guest bedrooms is decorated with lamps made by the husband’s father and furniture from his grandparents’ homestead.
The restored historic spaces are linked to the contemporary addition via a “bridge” that provides visual and structural separation between the two halves of the house. This component was placed where the back door had previously been, maintaining lines of sight and movement through the space and minimizing disturbance to the historic exterior. A seismic joint separates the two foundations, allowing them to shift independently. A series of frames gives the illusion of compression as the user moves from the new volume to the old and expands as one passes through in the opposite direction.
The white drywall finish in the new half of the house acts as a backdrop for the owners’ collection of furniture and artwork. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are all organized around the central courtyard, visible through floor-to-ceiling reflective glazing that admits natural light while keeping out the heat. A small hallway off the kitchen connects the painting studio and master suite to the main living spaces. This single-story design takes advantage of the uncommonly long, flat site, and also succeeds in concealing the addition behind the profile of the original bungalow. The layout is ideal for the day-to-day lives of the clients, and when their children come to visit, the separation between guest and master bedrooms ensures that there is enough space and privacy for everyone.
The painting studio combines modern and rustic elements, using reclaimed wood floors, steel window frames, and a 12-foot ceiling with exposed wood trusses. The lighting is calibrated to 3000K to match the temperature of daylight, but the husband explains that, most days, he keeps the lights off, instead opting to paint in the changing natural light provided by the floor-to-ceiling windows on the northeast wall.
Designed by the architects in extreme detail (down to the number of dishes the clients own), the kitchen has also been customized to fit the lifestyle of the homeowners. As another personal touch and a way to document the process of creating the Five Yard House, the husband requested that everyone who worked on the house sign an exposed beam in the attic, inspired by a tradition from his days at Apple.
The project’s namesake yards each have a distinct personality, but all five remain in dialogue with one another. The front lawn maintains the home’s traditional appearance, while a side yard provides space for grilling, outdoor dining, and an herb garden. The central courtyard is integrated with the main living spaces as if it were another room: The ground and interior floor are flush, enabling the floor-to-ceiling glazing to erase the visual barrier between landscaping and interior space. Outside the painting studio, a rock garden is filled with succulents whose shape and color are meant to inspire the husband in his art. The master suite’s yard is a structured space meant for contemplation; it contains fig trees surrounded by gabion walls and dense foliage. The function of each yard has a place in the daily routines of the owners, and the ability to access a variety of outdoor spaces without leaving their home proved a valuable benefit during the pandemic.
The clients had the opportunity to meet with the grandsons of the original owners and discuss the history of the house. Prior to its purchase by the current owners, the deed had remained in the same family for more than a century, creating a legacy that the clients wanted to respect in their renovation. The reclaimed wood floors in the painting studio, for instance, mimic the restored longleaf pine planks of the original bungalow. Modern ceilings and aluminum uplighting in the historic rooms hint at the contemporary space beyond, and the use of myrtlewood in the dining room table and built-in hall cabinet similarly ties together newly built spaces and existing ones visually.
The Five Yard House explores how new construction can be integrated with the history of a neighborhood. “This project gave us the opportunity to explore the tension that occurs between those who want to preserve existing neighborhoods exactly as they are, and those who want to increase their density,” Rivera explains. As a contemporary project, the house respects existing architectural culture without sacrificing its own unique character, demonstrating the importance of recognizing where we came from and where we are going.
Abigail Thomas is an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.