Feature Article: Austin Architecture

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Seventies, Baby

By Leigh Patterson
Photographs by Casey Dunn

I remember going to a lecture once,” architect Hugh Jefferson Randolph shared. “A discussion on fashion and architecture. One panelist said, ‘There’s so much whimsy in fashion, it’s too bad there’s not that in architecture.’ I heard that and thought, ‘Well … there could be.’”

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At Margy and Fred Kennedy’s Tarrytown house, he found the evidence: it’s one of those places you enter and immediately begin imagining the stories that have unfolded inside. “We felt like the Rat Pack needed to be hanging out in here,” said Margy. Think: pops of turquoise paired with apricot, clean Palm Springs whites, cozy walnut, intricately carved wood details, etched frosted glass, lots of brass, sunlight streaming in. Think: “70s, baby!” exclaimed Margy, springing from room to room to point out favorite details. “Look at this!” she shouted from around the corner, opening what appeared to be a hallway closet to reveal a tiny office, complete with fold-out desk and an old school, wall-mounted pencil sharpener.

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Architect Hugh Jefferson Randolph strove to create a remodel that achieved “inevitable” design.

The Kennedys’ house, built in 1972, was originally designed by Odessa architect J. Ellsworth Powell. Growing up in nearby Midland, Fred Kennedy’s childhood home, also built in 1972, was designed by renowned Texas architect Frank Welch. Welch and Powell, as it turns out, shared similar sensibilities about design. Both worked to bring the outdoors in by creating lots of opportunities for light: big light-enticing windows, unexpected cutouts and skylights. These details found another home in the Austin house: one of its best is a skylight hidden by a beautiful stone archway — when you look at it straight on, you just see a beam of cascading light.

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Margy and Fred found (and fell in love with) the four-bedroom house in 2013. Within Tarrytown, it’s a little off the beaten path. At the time, it wasn’t on the market, but they drove by on several occasions to admire their “dream house.” During one of these drive- bys, they serendipitously found a moving truck parked outside. Knocking on the door, they met the owner, who took them on a walkthrough that day. At the time, the house had gone through a few remodels and had a Santa Fe aesthetic — lots of terra cotta, rusty pinks and a big chiminea fireplace in the main room. But when Margy and Fred walked in, all they saw (and felt) were history and waves of nostalgia … plus the potential to restore it to its 1970s glory.

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The Kennedys enlisted Randolph and Melde Construction Company to translate their vision. They began work together with these guiding principles: respecting the space and letting the home’s personality speak for itself by removing unnecessary additions. “The best thing about this house is the quirk, the character,” Randolph noted. “Our job was not to try to mimic that or add more whimsy. It was to make the design seem inevitable … like it couldn’t have existed any other way.”

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The renovation started in the main living room, where Randolph stripped back the space to showcase its A-frame structure, original textured Palomino stone columns and wooden ceiling beams. Work centered around the room’s focal point: a clean marble fireplace, with small stacks of Travertine above a sturdy but sleek cantilevered hearth. The couple found the Travertine slab on one of many trips to a stone yard, and sketched out the idea to stack it in small pieces — a modern interpretation of a midcentury motif and a counterpart to the dining room’s stone archway.

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Owners Margy and Fred Kennedy were bent on keeping the quirk and character of their 70s abode in the house’s remodel.

The kitchen was completely re-envisioned and expanded. Design-wise, it cues another era in palette — shades of turquoise and powder blues, complete with painted wood cabinets — but is modern in material, with Caesarstone countertops.

Adjacent to the main room, the team transformed a white sitting room into a cozy library, a true midcentury modern nod with walnut walls, ceiling and custom cabinets built by Honea Woodworks (also envisioned in a sketch by Margy). An enclosed TV room and study were something Fred loved in his mother’s Midland home, and was insistent on recreating in this new setting.

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Yet in a house all about story and memory, perhaps what’s striking — and very important to its design — are the details. “Most of my favorite parts of this house are the unique moments,” explains Randolph. “There’s the spot under the arched skylight when the sunlight comes in, there’s the carving on the front door … it’s fun and it’s bold. It’s character that roots you where you are, inspires you to create your own story.” It’s also a reminder: sometimes what you’re looking for is already there, quietly waiting to be rediscovered.


Read more from the Architecture Issue | October 2016