Family Friendly Austin ModHouse

House Tour

Name: Paul and Katharina Schuster
Location: West Lake Hills, Austin, Texas
Size: 2,750 sq. ft.
Years lived in: 3 years

It's a family thing around Paul and Katharina's house, as evidenced by the wooden blocks and sippy cups left strewn about by their three kids. It's about a fun, relaxed lifestyle where friends can come over to watch movies in the sunken media room or strike up the band on the built-in stage. Their home is comfortable and easy to be in, but it's also composed of concrete and steel and is all about modern efficiency. The house employs a variety of green building methods and was built at an angle to preserve the existing trees on the property. In fact, Austin Modhouse was featured as part of the 2008 Austin Cool Tour to exemplify and promote green building practices.

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The Schuster's property was selected by Katharina based on school ratings and Google maps and was purchased site unseen. The couple was living in California and decided to move to Austin to build their dream house rather than deal with the local building costs (and long commutes). Paul, whose background includes everything from metal artistry to running a catering company, is a self-taught home renovator. He was involved in the project from design to construction. Paul documents his building projects and modern family lifestyle in his blog Austin Modhouse. He is currently refurbishing his Airstream trailer (again) and working on an "off-grid" house in Wimberly. Hopefully, AT will get a glimpse of that project down the road.

AT Survey:

My/Our style: Family Modernism, a blend of practicality and mid-century Modernism.

Inspiration: We were greatly inspired by the Ralph Rapson Greenbelt house. We really studied the Dwell contest ideas and used the best ideas for efficiency, new materials and building techniques. We even contacted some of the architects.

Favorite Element: The stairs with their cantilevering treads against the Polygal wall, especially when illuminated by the setting sun. Also, the screen room, the home theater, the master bath (also listed as my biggest embarrassment)... do I have to pick just one?

Biggest Challenge: Noise abatement. We recently installed the Flor tiles and Mio molded panels to help with that. The media room is actually built into the side of a small hill with the green deck over it to insulate the room and contain sound.

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What Friends Say:That it is larger than it appears in pictures and a great place for a cocktail or three.

Biggest Embarrassment: White grout in the master bath.

Proudest DIY: The suspended box bookshelf and railings that my friend CMoore and I did ourselves.

Biggest Indulgence: The Duravit Starck tub (years ago I used to hang out at the Starck club, now I lounge in a Starck tub).... or the high definition projector for the home theater... if electronics count for furnishings in a home theater and I think they do.

Best Advice: Contractors don't always know what is best and it's OK to ask for opinions from others.

Other Inspiration: Deaton house (Denver area), Bill Massey, Eichler, Cliff May, The Incredibles (movie).

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Green Construction: The translucent wall panels (along the stairs) are made of Polygal. The exterior panel has three skins and there is an interior panel with two skins, so we have a total of 4 air gaps. The wall sections are SIP panels (structural insulated panel) and ours were made in Georgetown by Transcon. Our house was the first off their assembly line.

Appliances: Delonghi stove, Whirlpool fridge, Porsche designed vent hood

Furniture: We have a blend of mid-century period pieces and garage sale finds, sprinkled with budget buys from Ikea. The stools in the kitchen were salvaged from the trash (of a school) and we stripped off the institutional green paint.

Lighting: Sam's Club, but we are hoping to swap those out.

Flooring: We have "poor man's terrazzo" (recycled bottle glass mixed into the top layer or "cream" of the slab and then ground down with a diamond polisher to expose the glass and stone aggregate) on the first floor. I actually picked up the recycled glass bottles at the local center, then sorted and cleaned all the pieces for the project (very messy job). We just stood on the side of the wet concrete and showered the glass pieces over it. The second floor has bamboo flooring that I installed myself and glass tile in the bathrooms. All the tile was sourced through Austin Modhouse (Paul imports and sells tile from China).

Rugs and Carpets: Flor tiles cut to fit on the stairs and the rest are from Ikea and Target, I think.

Window Treatments: Windex! -- some tinting and blinds from Austin Blind Faith

Beds: The master bed is one that had to be modified from a platform bed we already owned. Our bedroom is not square, so it required a headboard that would square the bed to the wall of glass. I used Neopolitan Plyboo and incorporated floating end tables. The home theater room regularly accommodates four guests using the sectional and some roll up mattress we found at Urban Outfitters.

Artwork: Sharon Kyle-Kuhn, Caroline Wright and photography by Paul Schuster (me).

Other: Kitchen cabinets are Neopolitan Plyboo and the counters are Caesarstone in Apple Martini. The recycled cardboard 3D wall pieces in the dining room and media room are from Mio Culture.

Water Efficiency/ Other Green Features: We have rainwater collection barrels and gather water on our pool cover to use in the vegetable garden. The koi pond, another DIY project, has recirculating water and is fed by condensate.

(Thanks, Paul!)

Photos by Misty Adair

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