Details Are Not the Details
Building interconnectedness into The Woodlawn Residence
Jenny Bachler is the type of person who walks into a visually complex place like South Congress Hotel and notices its scent. After some emails, phone calls, and internet digging, she tracked down the company that makes South Congress Hotel smell like South Congress Hotel. Now it’s one of the first things you notice when you walk into her home in Old Enfield—“mint leaf, smoky vetiver, silver moss,” as the company’s website describes it—but it certainly isn’t the only thing you notice.
Jenny and Craig Bachler moved to Austin in August 2014. As Jenny and Craig tell the story, the idea to relocate was born on a walk. Five years earlier the couple had moved their kids from the crowded San Francisco Bay Area to the open air of Tucson, Arizona. Moving had been a big project, and they were just getting ready to renovate the kitchen of the second home they had purchased in Arizona. For some reason on that night, on that walk, in the open air that they had sought from Tucson, the couple confided in each other: they didn’t like living in Tucson. They decided to visit Austin when the kids—12 and 10 at the time—were out of school for summer vacation. They found an AirBnb just west of downtown and knew within a couple of days that they wanted to stay.
By the end of that summer the Bachlers were renting a house in Pemberton Heights and had begun looking for a place to call home. On a walk one night (they take a lot of walks), Jenny and Craig saw a “For Sale” sign on a thin, empty rectangle of land in the Old Enfield neighborhood. It’s a historic neighborhood, with hundred-year-old trees, over a hundred year old mansions, and some city building codes that date back to its conception in the early 1900s. To find an empty lot in this neighborhood was almost unthinkable, but there it was.
This is where Carina Coel, of Restructure Studio, enters the scene. The Bachlers were familiar with Coel’s work because of the remodel-that-never-was in their Tucson house. In preparation for that project they had book-marked as inspiration one of Coel’s properties in Austin—the Bouldin Creek Residence, owned by Kelly and Carlos Gonzalez.
They called Coel and asked her to be their architect. Coel agreed and called interior designer Kelly Gonzalez (and the owner of the Bouldin Creek residence) and a contractor, Koch Construction.
The first step was to put a shape on the 8,778 square-foot lot. Because of the historic district’s restrictions, the house had to be set back 40 feet from the street. Rather than feel boxed in by the constraints, Coel got creative and rotated the 3,237 square-foot floor plan so that it cuts diagonally across the lot. The home faces true west, providing the homeowners an optimized summer breeze flow and creating some interesting quadrilateral pockets into which Coel cleverly tucked a bamboo-rimmed pool and outdoor seating area.
To view this home is not just to view this home. It is to see through perforated stairs that “float” out from the side of the carport (“I really had to push the engineers to get these,” Coel confides. “They’re one of my favorite aspects of the house now.”) To walk through this home is to tread on tiles designed by Coel, Jenny Bachler, and Gonzalez and handcrafted in Morocco. To be invited into the kitchen is to lean on their custom 39-inch kitchen counter, designed to accommodate Craig’s height. It is to look through windows that were five months in the making and travelled 4,942 miles to be installed. Charles Eames’s philosophy resonates throughout the house: “The details are not the details,” he once said, “They make the design.”
Despite their acute attention to the details, when you join the Bachlers in the story of how they built their home, it feels nothing like a story of tedium and endurance that many homeowners and first-time builders will tell. They tell it with the ease of an evening stroll, on which you are encouraged to stop and smell the roses.
Read more from the Architecture Issue | October 2017