Beleaguered by a host of infrastructural issues, size constraints, and stylistic inconsistencies, this twice-renovated Freedman’s cottage in Austin’s historic Clarksville neighborhood presented a familiar, yet often abandoned, architectural challenge: how to introduce modern updates and maximize available living space in an environmentally sensitive way while simultaneously preserving a home’s rich history.
The issue of expansion was deftly addressed via a series of interconnected spaces. A compressed interior space occupied by the kitchen entices guests from the original cozy two-room cottage at the front of the house to its climax: the spacious, modern addition in the back. The upper level cascades gracefully into the large back yard space by way of a stairway leading to a mid-level barbecue and entertainment terrace. A second set of broad steps completes the descent into the understated landscaped yard, canopied by a majestic red oak tree. The intimate master suite is tucked below the main space and offers private views of the lush foliage outside. The addition’s modern, symmetrical design perfectly complements the original cottage’s modest layout. So much so, in fact, that visitors often marvel at the unexpected, modern elegance that awaits them behind the home’s otherwise unassuming restored original facade.
Linear skylights, frosted glass partitions, and ample windows bathe the home in swaths of light that, combined with a natural materials palette anchored by walls clad in rich oak wood, creates a serene, relaxed environment reminiscent of the home’s historical roots. Custom, locally-sourced steel fixtures throughout reinforce its modern metamorphosis into a 21st century landmark.
Modern architecture all too often eschews creative problem solving for aesthetics, particularly as far as centenarian houses are concerned. In this case, the existing structure’s significance as the home of a freed slave was far too precious to overlook; to simply rip out and start anew would be both historically and environmentally irresponsible. The Toyath residence demonstrates that it is possible to solve the problem of executing modern design in a way that enhances historical identity. That the design solves this problem quietly, yet boldly, is in and of itself a thing of beauty.