Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson
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THE LIFE AQUATIC

When an art-collecting couple purchased a cluster of houses on the lake near downtown Austin, they asked the original architect, Ted Flato of San Antonio’s Lake/Flato Architects, to renovate the buildings. It was the first time the firm had been asked to renovate a building they’d designed, and a chance to make something that was wonderful even more wonderful. Flato worked with project architect Bill Aylor to re-imagine the residence as a modern fishing camp, a compound of structures that punctuates the property and creates the impression of a little village rather than a single house. Materials—limestone, cypress, and copper sheeting—unify the components, but their relationship to the surrounding water is what unites.

To reach the main house, you enter the property through a long stone wall that connects two of the three guesthouses; immediately visible is a 30-foot-wide canal that runs from near the entrance past the guesthouses and the main house and on to the lake. The ipe boardwalk cantilevers out over the canal, encouraging the idea that a leisurely pace is the best option for going from one end to the other–it’s a strategy that allows time to enjoy each element of the design. Practically every window on the property has a view of the lake, the canal, or the lagoon, but water isn’t just something to look at: It is an integral part of the architectural plan. The calming effect hasn’t escaped the homeowners who offer their guest houses to artists in need of creative respite.

Ted Flato designed a 6,000-square-foot modern village—three guesthouses and a main house—on a scenic bend in the Colorado River in Austin. His plan was to evoke the casual feeling of a fishing camp in a cluster of buildings that seem to float above the water. Flato used cypress siding, ipe decking, and copper rooftops to create a rustic but modern look.

A screened-in boathouse functions as an outdoor living space for the couple who collect modern and minimalist art. A stainless-steel-and-spun-aluminum ceiling fixture, by David Weeks, is activated by the wind off the lake.

A slate sculpture by Richard Long is a focal point on the grassy peninsula between the living area porch and the lake.

In a library niche of the living area, mid-century furnishings include a Finn Juhl Chieftain chair (right), an Isamu Noguchi rocking stool, and a pair of George Nakashima slab coffee tables. At the desk, a rare Warren McArthur side chair, upholstered in horsehair from Old World Weavers. The sofa is upholstered in fabric from Bergamo. The rug is by Odegard.

The lacquered parchment Karl Springer table in the dining room is surrounded by leather Cab chairs. Overlooking the room, an untitled painting by Richard Serra.

The master bedroom shares a limestone wall with the adjacent lap pool, which promotes the feeling of being outdoors.

The lap pool extends from the master suite to the lakeside cabana. Oddly shaped silicone planters are a sculptural accompaniment to the landscaping along the limestone walkway.

The buildings are linked by a boardwalk that runs from the lake to the main house and continues toward the guesthouses and entrance at the end of the site–the arrangement gives the property the feeling that it’s a little village.

Photography by Robert Reck for Architectural Digest

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