• The Riverside Lake House achieves both privacy and openness on this 107-acre property. - photo by Joe Aker

An industrial site is transformed into a lakeside retreat.

Project Riverside Lake House
Location Riverside
Client Keyser|Stafford
Architect Collaborative Designworks
Design Team James M. Evans, AIA
Contractor Owner
Structural Engineer BEC|Dunaway
Interior Designer Andra White Design
Landscape Designer Amanda Anderson
Energy Consultant Toner Home Matters
Photographer Joe Aker

When the clients purchased this property in Riverside more than twenty years ago, it was a local eyesore—mining operations on the industrial site had left behind a barren land of jagged rock and limestone quarries. They bought the property in the hopes of creating a natural site for their future vacation/retirement home and letting the earth breathe for the first time in decades. Over the years, trees, plants, and wildlife were reintroduced into the site, which included three lakes, the largest of which was created when a natural spring was hit during mining operations and filled the quarry with water. The clients relocated and renovated a house overlooking the second-largest lake, but walking the fifty steps down to the water became increasingly difficult. They decided to build a second home on the property. A low, flat site next to the largest lake was appealing and accessible but would be a tight fit for a house and parking. The solution? Float part of the house over the lake. 

One-third of the Riverside Lake House cantilevers out from the edge of the foundation, hovering over the lake. Pushing the building off the land and toward the water opened up the area behind the house, creating ample space for parking and for the dogs to play. As opposed to the previous house—which remains on the property as a guest house—the new house provides the clients with easy access to the water. It has a fixed deck adjacent to the living room with a connecting floating section that slides up and down; this portion is anchored by structural posts and adjusts to the fluctuating water level to create an easier transition into the lake. A spillway at the opposite end of the lake prevents the house from flooding so the house can confidently connect with the landscape. 

“A lot of the design of the house was really just focused on being close to the water and giving them a view from basically every space to be close to nature,” says James M. Evans, AIA, owner of Collaborative Designworks. Taking inspiration from Philip Johnson’s Glass House, 70 percent of the facade is glass. All of the main living spaces touch the glass perimeter of the house, which takes advantage of the natural daylight and incorporates views of the lake throughout. A steel frame structure was selected to create the widest bays of glass possible. These glass expanses also serve as sliding doors for direct access to the lake, allowing the occupants to jump into the lake or fish right out of the house. Steel columns are spaced every sixteen feet, camouflaged within the black framing of the glass. While a glass house would be a concern for someone with neighbors, this property is 107 acres, so the closest neighbor is half a mile away. Even the bathroom has a view, reflecting the lake in the mirror and giving the illusion that the surrounding nature continues inside. If the owners have guests or need privacy, there are shades that can be brought down to cover the windows. The predominantly glass facade and lack of a traditional back to the house made it difficult to use a standard HVAC system, as there was no natural place for a condenser on the site. Instead, the architectural team took advantage of the scenic lake and implemented a water-source geothermal system. The heat sink is under the lake, forty-five feet deep, hidden away from sight. While the installation cost of the system is slightly higher, its operating cost is one-fifth that of a traditional HVAC system. Additionally, LED lighting and the use of reclaimed hot water contribute to the energy efficiency of the building. 

The living room, guest room, primary bedroom, and primary bath surround the core programs of the kitchen, storage, mechanical space, mud room (complete with dog shower and human shower), and connecting hallway. This hallway, located in the middle of the house, connects a secondary entrance to the rest of the home and can be closed off from the living spaces. It provides an entrance into the primary closet and bedroom, and another into the kitchen and dining areas. Elsewhere in the home, instead of traditional fixed hallways, the perimeter programs offer options for the occupant to choose between privacy and circulation. Sliding pocket doors between the primary bedroom and the guest room/reading nook provide privacy when wanted but can disappear to create a clear circulation path. This strategy takes advantage of the glass facade without sacrificing the expansive windows and plentiful daylight. The house boasts a modern country look, complete with rustic brick, wood finishes, and a brown color palette. The thermally modified deck and dock is composed of a white ash product that is resistant to rot, mold, and pests and was chosen due to frequent foot traffic coming directly from the lake. The functional core is materially differentiated from the perimeter with recycled brick on the walls and rounded edges, and this interior palette continues to the exterior to signify the core’s boundaries and unique ability to break through the glass box. All necessary programs fit comfortably within the 2,630-sf conditioned area. 

Many of the interior elements, such as the fireplace, kitchen island, and open shelving, were designed to give the illusion of floating. These pieces open up the space and let nature ground the house instead. The design of the roof also supports the effort to bring nature into the home. The architects started with a flat roof similar to that of the Glass House, but its simplicity limited the available views. The hybrid butterfly roof lifts up at the sides of the house (at the primary bedroom and living room), opening the space up to the landscape while also providing shade. A standard hip roof at the center prevents the edges from becoming too tall and aids in directing water away from the entry points and toward the lake. As I was driving to the site, I could see glimpses of the house between the trees. Through a larger gap, I witnessed how the house has settled into the landscape. The roof follows the shape of the hill the building inhabits “almost like a handkerchief, it just kind of floats over,” describes Evans.

One of the main priorities of both the clients and the architects was conserving the natural Texas landscape. They are coordinating with wildlife rehabilitation organizations to rehome different species onto the property. One challenge the team faced during this rural project was distinguishing between the conditioned space and the landscape while also fostering their connections. Choices like the extended plinth beneath the house helped to articulate the boundaries of the building versus the natural surroundings. Future plans for the property include a floating boat house located 30 feet east of the Riverside Lake House that will use the same mechanism as the floating dock of the main house. Much of the construction was completed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the property serving as a safe oasis for the owner and the architectural team. Their efforts revived this industrial wasteland, transforming it into a flourishing environment and producing a sustainable building that speaks the language of the surrounding nature.

Pooja Desai is a graduate of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design at the University of Houston and a designer at Protolab Architects.

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