Dome Sweet Dome
A quirky West Lake Hills rental attracts out-of-towners who want to experience Austin living in a place like no other
By Vanessa Blankenship
Photographs by Cydney Cosette
Christine “Chris” McCall has spent 25 years living in West Lake Hills. Her home, nestled among towering oak trees on the brink of a lush canopy, overlooks the entire downtown skyline. The view, much like her home, is something that most people don’t get to see every day. That’s because McCall lives inside a geodesic dome.
The spherical-shape residences were extremely popular in the ’60s and ’70s because they were ideal for families who wanted to build spacious living spaces on a budget. The domes are also known to be able to withstand extreme environmental conditions, from earthquakes to blizzards.
McCall’s three-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot house is made up of 99 wooden triangles. The big backyard, remodeled kitchen and hot tub on the outdoor deck give visitors a charming, secluded escape from the city. The ceiling is 23 feet high and features white triangles in the shape of a star with LED lights.
Most of the triangles are a vibrant, golden-brown color, and sunlight pours through the vast windows and bounces off the walls. It’s like walking around a buzzing beehive. “That’s kind of the way the house has always felt,” McCall says. “It just melts with good vibrations.”
Since 2014, McCall has rented out the house as an Airbnb. She welcomes visitors from all over the world, ranging from young adults in their early 20s and 30s to families with children. The dome has also been rented out by producers, filmmakers and actors who travel to Austin to attend the South by Southwest Film Festival. Back in 1978, the geodesic dome was featured in “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” an American independent film about two Austin entrepreneurs looking to become fabulously wealthy.
While the property is worth more than $1 million, McCall has no interest in selling because she considers the place sacred. “If I put the house on the market, whoever buys it would tear that house down, I’m sure,” she says. “Because they don’t know the history.”
It’s more than just a house; for McCall, it’s the place where she raised her son; the spot where she married the love of her life, Randy McCall; and her husband’s final resting place. McCall scattered Randy’s ashes in a gated section of the backyard under an area she calls the memorial garden.
Before Randy died of a rare type of blood cancer, in 2011, he served as president of the Austin Federation of Musicians and made many contributions to the music community. McCall describes her husband as a man “full of kindness and goodness and sweetness.” Randy himself was an amateur electric bass player for 30 years and advocated for the rights of musicians. Besides his creative side, he worked as a CPA after graduating from SMU.
He was also one of West Lake Hills’ first residents to build a geodesic dome. The musician was fascinated by the efficient yet environmentally friendly type of structure. Beginning in the late ’60s, he used a geodesic dome kit made up of 99 triangles to build his dream home. (The famed R. Buckminster Fuller crafted the particular dome model Randy used.) According to the Buckminster Fuller Institute, the dome structure is energy-efficient because it creates a natural airflow, reflects and concentrates interior heat, and consists of materials that are lightweight and cheaper than traditional building materials.
McCall describes the house as a “round house that looks weird from the outside.” Despite its odd exterior, the residence has always made her feel warm and comfortable. The dome home is like a preserved time capsule filled with mementos of the McCalls’ marriage. The walls contain artwork, Randy’s family tree and a sketch of him playing with his contemporary jazz band, Cool Breeze.
McCall recently started renting an apartment in Riverside and plans to move out of the dome to make it a full-time, short-term rental. “It’s time for me to let go a little bit,” she says. McCall believes the dome is a special place filled with only positive energy. Eventually she wants the house to be passed down to her son, Austin, and Randy’s son, Dean.
“The minute you walk up to the front door, you can just feel it,” she says. “I can’t think of anything bad that has ever happened here.”