Imagine a world where new housing developments prohibit the use of solar panels because they're considered to be unsightly. Well, guess what? We all live in that world, which became painfully clear to Austin, Texas-based architect Heather McKinney, FAIA, of McKinney York Architects, when she began designing a house for her client in a new development area in Shavano Park, Texas, just outside San Antonio. The development’s design restrictions went from prohibiting photovoltaics to forbidding flat roofs and even dictating certain materials.
McKinney and project architect Will Wood were determined to design the house of their client’s dreams, despite the restrictions and the pressure to build a Mediterranean mansion or Tuscan villa like the majority of other residences in the area. The result is a 4,000-square-foot, one-story building spread out on its lot in a series of rectangular pavilions connected by glass linkages and wrapped around a pool, with a transparent center section that allows views through to other parts of the house and beyond. Connections to the outside were achieved with strategic glazing, the pool, a screened porch, and patios on either side of the house.
The client has two grown children, is a collector of Venetian glass, and has an appreciation of Art Deco and Art Nouveau. McKinney and Wood began their design with these interests in mind—then brought an updated sensibility to them. Clean lines, defined geometries, and dramatic moments define the house—such as a dropped, ipe-wood ceiling in the dining room and a fireplace that appears to float in an unexpected corner of the living space. “The house is very disciplined,” says McKinney, citing the v-shaped gutters along the standing seam roof as an example. “We didn’t stray far from the set of rules we created for it. Precision and detailing were crucial.” McKinney says they could set firm rules for the design because this was a house that didn’t need flexibility. The client agrees, and says she had waited a long time to have a house created specifically for her needs, which included entertaining and places for her mother, her kids, and guests to stay when they could. “I wanted a Modern house on one floor with no moldings or arches,” she says. “I wanted views, openness, sun, something original and minimal, and low maintenance.”
The house is mostly low-maintenance, but because the program called for space to display the vast collection of blown glass, there has to be a few bottles of glass cleaner around. The client’s love of glass was paramount to the house’s design, so the house was created to achieve a connection between her collection, lighting, and the changing patterns of incoming sunlight. Display cases with reconstituted wenge wood cabinets beneath add to the geometry rather than detract or clutter it and bring warmth and contrast to the polished, concrete floors.
“It’s the house I wanted,” says McKinney’s client, “and the house I asked for.” Furthermore, it is designed to be retrofitted for a few more things she wants, like solar panels, when the development realizes how beautiful they really are.