Shelby and Ana Oostwouder loved their Houston home—they called it the “Alice in Wonderland” house due to its whimsical design—but sadly, it was a “money pit.” “It was very architecturally imaginative, but everything was falling apart,” says Ana. “The owner who bought it after us ended up bulldozing it.”
The couple craved a simpler life, and they ultimately decided to move to the quaint college town of San Marcos, 30 minutes outside of Austin, Texas. Here, they discovered an oak-covered, multiacre lot on a steep limestone bluff just 100 feet from the edge of the Blanco River.
“We liked the small nature of San Marcos,” Ana says. “It’s convenient to go into the metropolitan area and not have to deal with traffic. We just aren’t urban people.”
After seeing the work of A.Gruppo Architects in a magazine, they decided to hire the firm’s principals Andrew Nance and Thad Reeves to build a light-filled home with a strong connection to the outdoors.
Nance, who works locally in San Marcos, and Reeves, who works in Dallas, visited the site on a number of occasions to fully grasp the land and share their vision with the couple.
“When you visit the site, one of the first things you notice is the rippling sound of the river,” Nance says. “There are a lot of rocks and limestone, mountain laurels that have purple blooms in the spring, and wonderful, majestic oak trees.”
The firm drew up a three-volume structure of limestone, steel, glass, and metal, taking care to preserve the root systems of the site’s live oaks. The plan also falls in line with the local architectural control committee’s ask for a Hill Country–style home.
“While the neighborhood does have the committee, it actually leaves a lot open,” Nance says. “We tried to take this idea of ‘what is Hill Country’ in terms of materiality and identify those things.”
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The first volume is a two-story structure that includes the kitchen, living room, and other public spaces. The master bedroom, which has a fantastic view of the bluff, is in the middle, leaving the garage and guest house to occupy the third volume.
From the master bedroom, the couple can listen to the tranquil sounds of the river and catch a glimpse of the hawks, cardinals, and other birds that visit their land. “Our friends think we live in a treehouse,” Ana Ooustwoder says.
The interior has a farmhouse-like feel with low-maintenance polished concrete flooring in the kitchen and engineered oak flooring in the dining room. A “glass knuckle” in the entryway connects the main living spaces.
While the design of the three-volume structure came naturally, Nance and Reeves pulled off several tricky architectural maneuvers to accommodate the slope of the site.
“There’s about a five-foot difference between the garage and the main living space, elevation-wise. The site slopes away pretty quickly, so we tied all of the structures together with ramps,” Nance says. “You could ride the garage ramp up to the master, while another ramp takes you to the dining area.”