Cass & Carla's Elegant, Playful Home

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Name: Architect Cass Cheesar, Carla Umlauf-Cheesar, Sophie 13, Ella, 11, and Maggie (our lab)
Location: Brentwood; Austin, Texas
Size: 2,200 square feet
Years lived in: 8 years; Owned

Architect and builder Cass Cheesar and his wife, Carla Umlauf-Cheesar, a native Austinite and realtor, renovated a 1952 home in the Brentwood neighborhood a few years back. While modern elements were brought in, they also maintained the spirit of the original home, all combined with their impeccable style. The end result is an elegant, playful home with Mid-Century lines, bursting with the personality of a vibrant family. 

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Cass and Carla share a love of design and enjoy engaging in conversations on art, architecture and décor. But their home isn't a stuffy, inaccessible space. Their aim when re-desiging this house was combining new and old to create a warm and welcoming home. They accomplished their goal and more, with their warm and welcoming personalities and a pleasant mix of meaningful art pieces (Carla's grandfather was the sculptor Charles Umlauf), comfortable furniture and family-friendly designs. 

Observing Cass and Carla hanging out with their kids and their dog, you realize you're experiencing a beautiful example of a family fully using their entire home: Sophie and Ella play in and out of the outdoor areas and interior spaces, and Cass and Carla interact with added home features effortlessly. The original floor plan was peeled away, with walls and doors removed, to create a noticeably calm flow throughout the house that melds seamlessly with the additional space. 

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: We tend to lean towards minimalism, but we didn’t really go into this project with a particular style in mind. We renovated this 1952 home according to how we wanted to live. Comfort was at the top of our list. We wanted to have a welcoming, well-crafted, simple house that suited our family and friends.

Inspiration: Cass - Inspiration for this house came from our kids, the large oak trees, our neighbors, our art collection and our desire to work with our hands. Over the years, architects, designers, and professors have influenced my work. People like Gary Cunningham out of Dallas, Sinclair Black out of Austin, Greene and Greene out of California, Hertzberger out of Amsterdam. I appreciate how he designs spaces that encourage people to congregate, and wanted to create a space with this quality for my family.

Favorite Element: Cass – It would have to be the back wall of the kitchen addition, because it is so much of what we are as a family. It is a collection of views to an oak tree in the back, an asymmetrical shelf for our dishes, a fridge shroud, pantry, bookshelf of our favorite books, and a sculpture of Carla as a baby being held by her Mom.

Carla – My favorite element is the natural light we were able to bring into the space. When we bought this house, it actually had more windows, but they were all placed in compromising spots so the drapes had to be drawn all the time. We worked together on the new window placements so that living life on a corner lot in Brentwood would not be so exposing. We also played with using higher windows and lean windows in the living room to frame the trees, so now what we experience are canopy views. Only one room in our home required a window treatment. The other windows have a frost film applied at the same height all the way around the house so from the exterior, you see a nice stripe of glass. I also love the cross breeze we can get during certain times of the year because of the window placement.

Biggest Challenge: Cass - The biggest challenge and asset to this project was designing and building for my own family. For an entire year, we were focused on the renovation and we lived on site so I could start working at 6am and work late into the night. I actually did a lot of the construction myself.

Carla – Cass was very patient with me, but it was difficult when our ideas did not align. We are both pretty stubborn. We learned a lot about one another during this project. In the end though, I think the biggest challenge was our budget. We essentially rebuilt the house and had to spend money on insulation, framing, plumbing, electrical re-wiring, etc. These were not fun things to spend money on, but they were necessary, and looking back, I’m glad we invested in the structure before the finishes. It forced us to get creative in the final phase of the project. I’ll never forget scavenging at a remnant sale for our Caesarstone.

What Friends Say: Cass – This is a pedestrian friendly neighborhood so many times, neighbors will stop during their walks and ask about our home. They seem to appreciate that we respected the original context of the neighborhood while expanding out into the backyard. Friends like the material choices, the layout and the flow, and really admire the views to the outside. This has been an ongoing project for us, so we’ve been asked many times if we are finished yet, especially by our own kids. I’ve also gained several jobs after finishing this project. I’ve completed 8 renovations in our neighborhood, and all of these clients toured our home.

Proudest DIY: Cass - It would be installing and cutting the cypress boards at the front entrance and back entrance. It is so rewarding to install such beautiful material, and it’s been curious to see it age over the years.

Carla – I have not done very many crafty things at this house — I’ve been more involved with finish selections, looking for good furniture finds, arranging the rooms and designing the built-in with Cass. I’ve also done my fair share of painting, caulking, and cabinet assembly.

Biggest Indulgence: Cass - It would have to be the free standing bath tub in the master bathroom. Deciding to finish the wall behind the tub with penny rounds from floor to ceiling was also a bit spontaneous. I’m glad we took the time to put personal touches in this room. It has become one of our favorite escapes.

Carla – Definitely the built-in millwork throughout the home, but in my mind it solidified the project. It was also an opportunity to add color and not purchase as much furniture.  

Best Advice: Be patient with the process and thankful you are in a position to even do a project. I recall being so obsessed with finish selections that I allowed my world to become too small and I lost sight of the fact that it is a privilege to be in a position to renovate or rebuild. Making a mistake with design decisions is not the end of the world, so try to enjoy the process.

Hire an architect, because he/she knows how to design space and can build based on the client’s needs and desires. Try to have an open mind and be open to changing design concepts during the middle of a project if you see an opportunity. Hire an architect that has a similar design aesthetic and understands construction. An architect that has the ability to redesign on a job site to accommodate any unforeseen change is priceless. Check references on all trades you hire.

Other Inspiration: Cass - Our children, the trees, and music. Our kids can run in and out of this house with ease, in fact the back slider is usually open. We love the backyard and our views to the neighbor’s home — they also built an outdoor living area with Cass’ help. One of our favorite things about this lot are the trees, because they shade the house, lend privacy from the street, and offer framed views. We usually have music playing when we are home. Now that our kids can play Pandora, on the surround sound from their phones, all kinds of tunes can be heard at this house.  

Carla - I would have to say my grandmother’s home on a hill above Barton Springs has been a huge inspiration for this house and my life in general. My grandmother had a way with her placement of things around the house. She always had fresh cuttings from her garden on the table in a simple vase, books and art work scattered on every surface, and was always ready for guests. Her home also smelled like toast and jam, and there were great places to escape inside the house and in the yard as well. I am inspired by simplicity, quality, certain colors and patterns, and smells that bring me back.  

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Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

  • Most of the walls in the home are Kelly Moore - Blanco, eggshell
  • Master Bedroom is Kelly Moore - Colcanon
  • Aqua room is Kelly Moore – Spring Folly
  • Light Green room is Kelly Moore - Glory of Spring
  • Kitchen cabinetry - Sherwin Williams – Moonraker 6701

ARTWORK

  • Charles Umlauf sculptures and paintings throughout the home
  • Large abstract in dining room by Jonathan Faber
  • Abstracts in hallway and master bedroom by Ian Umlauf
  • Pop Art in kitchen by Jeana Baumgardner
  • Large abstract in living room by Matt Rodriguez
  • Wood sculpture by Chip Patterson
  • Prints in girls' bath an master bath by Leah Duncan
  • Ink drawing at entry by Matt Rebholtz
  • The Swan Inn is an old Brew Pub sign from England that has been framed

LIVING ROOM

  • Sofa is from Collectic Home
  • Yellow chairs are from West Elm
  • 60’s era ring chair was Carla’s grandmothers
  • Coffee Table is CB2
  • Rug is Collectic Home
  • Orange side table from Nannie Inez
  • Cantilevered Credenza was designed by us and built by a great carpenter friend
  • Pillows are a mix of West Elm and custom

DINING ROOM

  • Dining Table is from Ikea
  • Chairs are from CB2
  • Credenza was a Craiglist find that we refinished.
  • The Horse painting was done by Carla’s grandfather, Charles Umlauf. 
  • The colorful abstract on the opposing wall was done by our neighbor and friend, Jonathan Faber
  • Light was found online
  • Spruce covered the lamp shades in the dining room
  • FLOR rug tiles 

FLOORING

  • Flokati rugs in the girl’s bedrooms are from Home Goods 
  • FLOR rug tiles were used in kitchen, dining and the master
  • Living Room rug is from Collectic Home
  • 1950’s hardwoods stained ebony throughout the house  

TILE AND STONE

  • All tile was sources through the Tile Guy in Austin
  • Master bathroom: Through porcelain by Interceramic in Glow for the shower surround; Anne Sacks penny round tile at floor, backsplash, and tub area
  • Girl’s bathroom: white subway on the surround and 2” squares in Linen on the floors
  • Backsplash at kitchen is glass with painted back by Anchor Ventana

HARDWARE

  • Emtek door hardware
  • Boat hardware 
  • Ball catch doors 
  • Hafele hidden door hardware

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Thanks, Cass and Carla!

(Images: Adrienne Breaux)

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