A modern masterpiece in San Antonio fosters a subtle yet constant dialogue between inside and out.
Creating a home that seamlessly blends art, architecture, design and nature requires a strong creative vision, but also needs highly skilled individuals and teams to bring it to life. Located in the historic neighborhood of Alamo Heights in San Antonio, Texas, this modern house achieves that coveted blend.
Designed for a couple, their two children and a coterie of animals, the project is the result of many players: builders Jeff Truax and Jim Truax of Truax Construction, Tobin Smith of Tobin Smith Architect, Mark Ashby Design, Christine Ten Eyck of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, lighting expert Christina Brown of Studio Lumina, and art curator Alexis Armstrong of Armstrong Art Consulting. The owners—she a radiologist, art investor and nature lover; he a venture capitalist and former CEO of a publicly traded company—wanted their home centered around family and the surrounding landscape.
To start was finding a solution for the architecturally challenging 3-acre site. “Conceived as a house of duality that addresses the differing conditions of public and private with a heavy, grounded stone wall facing the street and light, hovering volumes overlooking the ravine, Alamo Heights Treehouse is a home designed to be a peaceful escape focused on the natural realm within the conditions of an established neighborhood,” says architect Smith. Comprising the living areas and bedrooms, the home’s second floor is visible at street level, while the lower level, hidden in the hillside, is home to a game room, guest room, office and gym.
“Three-dimensionally keyed into the site, the house is carefully situated around three mature oak trees, over a small valley and against two setback lines,” Smith adds. “The living and dining great room is a bridge that straddles a ravine with a 36-foot-wide floor-to-ceiling operable glass façade. It’s an extraordinary space to be in on a glorious day and during an intense thunderstorm. The bridge evolved from an early idea to put the most important room in the most dynamic place where the site conditions could be experienced and appreciated with the most intensity. A copper-clad mass perpendicular to the living room containing the bedrooms hovers over the glass-walled game room and pool deck below.”
Durable, natural materials sensitive to the regional context were used both inside and out. Selected to beautify over time, copper, stone, wood, plaster and glass play with light and the natural environment, and also “help define the materiality and textural intention of the home that gives an unusual and tactile backdrop for a collector’s extraordinary art and furnishing collections,” says Christina Simon, senior designer at Mark Ashby Design.
In all the spaces, the owners’ impressive artworks take center stage. The light-filled hallway encourages the contemplation of the sculpture “Flux” by Shirazeh Houshiary and the abstract “Attic Series I-V” by Robert Mangold, which stand out against the white walls. “This house is meant to enhance the way one can live with art,” Simon explains. “The eye of a contemporary art collector and using space to live with otherwise museum-quality art inspired the design team to create a home around the pieces, so that it is the art that brings the design to life.”
Take the living room: a Vienna Way sofa by Marmol Radziner from Cory Pope & Associates, Archibald chairs by Poltrona Frau from Scott + Cooner, and Carpo Club chairs by Holly Hunt from George Cameron Nash sit on a Fort Street Studio Diamond White rug, while over the fireplace, a blue work by Anish Kapoor brings more depth to the space. “The art collection and furnishings add another layer of color and texture to the experience of site and structure,” says Smith. In the dining room, the mesmerizing “Untitled,” a piece by Graham Caldwell, is above the Emmemobili console from Scott + Cooner while a Michael Anastassiades pendant from Nilufar Gallery hangs over a table with a Hudson base from David Sutherland and a top designed by Mark Ashby in collaboration with Phillip Sell of Sell Design Group, surrounded by Minotti chairs from DDC in New York City.
In the master bedroom, the tones of “Golden (30 Dissolves)” by Teresita Fernández combine with an Attie Jonker wood headboard with integrated nightstands from Green Wood Milling Company. Given the wealth of artistic richness, “One of our biggest challenges was restraint,” Simon confesses. “Collectors collect not only art but furnishings, rugs, figurines, accessories and books. This house thrives on collections, but a strong editorial eye was needed to keep everything in perspective” whiles also, she notes, allowing the “true heavy hitters . . . the proper scene and attention.”
Complemented by wood elements, the color palette refers to tones found in nature, a constant reminder that the house is nestled among the trees. “This project was an opportunity to create a legacy piece of architecture that celebrates the site and enhances lives,” says Smith. “We believe architecture is the ultimate act of commitment to a place, both as a response to and embodiment of a unique set of conditions.”
Photographs: Courtesy Of Casey Dunn And Clay Grier (This Page)