When Liz and Ed Tirrell moved to Austin from New York City it was because they knew that the capital city was the perfect place to be if they weren’t going to be in New York. But also Liz wanted to be nearer her parents, who lived in Dallas. Oh, and she wanted one more thing: a new house designed by her favorite architect, Texas legend Frank Welch, who also happens to be her dad.
Dallas architect Frank Welch has been in practice for over 50 years and he has made his mark in residential, ecclesiastical, educational, and recreational designs that offer reassuring ways to live in a complicated world. Hipped metal roofs, courtyards, porches, arbors, and those wonderful slatted structural sunshades the French dubbed brise-soleil are Welch’s signature. He’s the master of understatement—but what else would you expect from an architect who is opposed to making big statements?
“We are admirers of Frank’s kind of modernism, his take on space and light, and of the precise simplicity of his designs that really aren’t simple at all,” says his son-in-law. The gray stucco-and-glass compound Welch designed for the Tirrells is a two-story, 3,000-square-foot main house with a guest house in back–simple, straightforward, and modern. “I wanted the house to be recognizable as a house and not as a sculpture,” says Welch.
Interiors by Blaine Johnson, JP Interiors, Chicago (312-642-4506)
Landscaping by Mark Word Design
Photos by Ryann Ford
Liz and Ed furnished their new house with pieces from their New York apartment such as a pair of handsome vintage leather museum benches, plus lots of art by Texas artists such as James Surls and Dan Rizzie.
Wood floors set on the diagonal are a dynamic Welch signature.
The Tirrells enlisted Chicago interior designer Blaine Johnson to assist them as they redecorated. She freshened things up with sisal area rugs and comfy sofas and suggested a calm palette of neutral colors. Addie, a Cairn terrier, is actually in charge of running the house and presides over all from her favorite chair.
The media room, down the hall from the entrance and across from the living room, is where the Tirrells relax and watch television.
The Tirrell house is divided by a central hall, like many early Texas houses were. Pioneers loved that arrangement because it allowed cooling breezes to sweep through and because the dogtrot divided the living areas from the sleeping quarters. The Tirrells’ hallway functions much the same way. “The central hall,” Welch explains, “is like a spine running through the center of the house.” Natural light was also a driving factor in the design. “I am fascinated by natural light,” says Welch. A skylight tops the double-height dogtrot and bestows gorgeous light throughout the house, front to back as well as on both upper and lower floors.
Welch even planned a way for the light to filter through to the living and dining rooms. “Dad designed a floating bookshelf,” says Liz, “that doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling but allows light to drift in over the top.”
The kitchen faces the front courtyard, and the picture window provides a view of approaching guests or son Franklin walking home from school nearby.
Grass cloth paper lines the powder room, dolled up with an ornate painted Venetian mirror.
Bookshelves built in to the headboard were a must for the Tirrells, who are avid readers. Linens are from Feather Your Nest, one of Liz’s favorite stores.
Shaded in front by an arbor supported by metal columns, this house is a subtle version of the classic Texas vernacular house, with porches (here, they are in the back on the upper and lower floors) and a dogtrot down the middle.