LaRue Architects Renovate Clarksville Home to Maintain Character
When Dan and Sylvia Sharplin purchased the 1915 house, they made a promise to keep its historic integrity intact
By Liz Harroun
Photos by Casey Dunn
When their kids moved out, Sylvia Sharplin and Dan Sharplin, an Austin realtor and entrepreneur, sold their family home in suburban Westlake Hills in favor of a more urban lifestyle. They wanted to be close enough to downtown to be able to walk to restaurants and shopping along with the additional draw of city views.
The couple purchased their new home in the historic and highly desirable Clarksville neighborhood, which flanks the west side of Austin’s downtown.
Built in 1915, the house was among the few remaining in the area that had not been demolished thanks to its previous owner — who had lived in the house for over half a century and didn’t want to see it torn down.
Sylvia spent a great deal of time ‘courting’ the homeowner to sell, with a promise they would keep its historic integrity intact. They had to also purchase the lot adjacent, which is on a super steep grade, in order to make the renovation and rebuild work. This was a long, arduous process that took years due to city approvals and ordinances on the home’s historic preservation. But the Sharplins were determined and stayed on the path until the property was theirs.
While new builds and modern architecture are attractive for many reasons, there’s something special about preserving an historic home, giving it a second (or even third, fourth or fifth) life. When LaRue Architects were brought in to restore the 107-year-old house, they started by spending time researching the home’s history and consulting with a historic restoration expert to help inform their work.
The home is perched on a hill with incredible views of the Texas State Capitol and the expanding Austin skyline — uniquely located at the intersection of the sparkling new downtown high-rises and the historic fabric of one of Austin’s oldest and most storied neighborhoods.
“We were inspired by the classic neighborhood feel of Clarksville as well as the striking downtown views that reflect the modern spirit,” says James LaRue, architect and founder of LaRue Architects.
LaRue, along with Foursquare Builders, took great time and care to maintain the home’s historic character. The team set out to assiduously restore and rebuild, melding the old with the new in the 3,900-square-foot home.
“We really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the constraints of the project as the home is in an historical overlay,” says Emily Haydon, the architect who worked alongside James on this project. “We were not given a clean slate as we are usually accustomed to, so we welcomed the challenge to design something timeless, but it still has the LaRue Architects aesthetic.”
They landed on using a simple material palette of boreal sliding that mimics the original exterior in the front, while expansive glass, stucco and metal panels were used for a more modern exterior. Teak decking was used on the porches and the terrace as a unifying element. The painted blue soffit above the porch pays homage to the neighborhood’s history as one of the oldest post-Civil War settlements west of the Mississippi.
“My favorite part of this project was having my ‘ah ha’ moment during the design process of how best to layer a new, more modern piece of the home to the rear of the lot while keeping the classic and historic Clarksville portion that faces 10th Street,” says James.
The steep lot added structural difficulties for renovation and addition. “The soil and the drastic slope of the lot was a major challenge,” says Emily. “From 10th street the residence looks very simple and unambiguous. But, in reality, this narrow lot sloped greatly, which we took advantage of with the placement of the pool to help lengthen the home and provide a beautiful outdoor living space to enjoy the ever-changing views of downtown Austin.”
With its hip roof and wrap-around porch, the reconstructed front exterior remains in alignment with the style of the historic neighborhood.
“We reconstructed the traditional 10th Street facade to its original 1920’s roots by repairing some poor renovations that had been done over the decades,” says James. “The foyer kept its historic heritage for the first twelve feet or so until you transition into the ‘wow’ modern moment of the living and kitchen spaces.”
Other historic details include art rails in the shiplap entry hall, reconstructed traditional windows and original side lights that frame the new entry door. The deep blue of the entry opens to a modern, off-white space.
“The homeowner had multiple pieces of antique furniture and art, which are sprinkled throughout the home to further blend the traditional and the modern,” says Emily Haydon.
The renovation essentially turned the house sideways, opening the living spaces to the eastern city views that were previously only visible from the side porch. A hint of this orientation is apparent from the front, where the steel frame of the screened box that extends from the living room can be seen extending onto the side porch.
The bedrooms and common living areas are on the home’s main level, with two sets of stairs that connect to two new spaces tucked under the house: the garage at one end, and the new exercise room at the other. The living, dining and kitchen come together in an open space with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that open to the beautiful infinity pool and terrace. A custom wine display shields the stairs that lead from the kitchen to the garage. The stairwell walls are lined with laminated “Life” magazine covers retrieved from the original basement, celebrating the home’s endurance and longstanding history.
James and Emily used three-dimensional architectural modeling to create a virtual walk-through that allowed the Sharplins to experience the precise views from each room by specific time of day. In the more public spaces, 10-foot tall and six-foot wide sliding doors and four-foot transoms are accommodated by a structural system that removes the need for large headers with the soffit lifted to further expand the view, and a clerestory window wraps around the corner at the kitchen, allowing southern light into the space.
After years in the making, the Sharplins are now overjoyed with their new home. They are thrilled to start this new chapter as empty nesters in the heart of the city, with easy access to and incredible views of the city they love.