Meredith Ellis of Mere dith Ellis Design, David Wilkes of David Wilkes Builders and Chris Sanders of Sanders Architecture took a typical production builder home from the 1980s and gave it an updated look that tens of thousands of people will want to see in the coming months.
The house in Northwest Hills will be on tour through Nov. 15 as the Southern Living Idea House. Each year the magazine chooses a city and house to showcase design ideas for magazine readers as well as people who will tour it.
ZoĂ« Gowen, senior editor at Southern Living, says the magazine knew it wanted the house to be urban and close to the center of town. The editors narrowed down a few cities, and Austin was the top pick. Ellis was their first choice for designers to work with in Austin because of their previous work with her.
âMeredith has a really good take on traditional along with the unexpected,â Gowen says. âOur readers really like traditional and a layered look.â
Readers are looking for ideas for furniture as well as how to work with texture, something Ellis specializes in. Like many of the rooms in her previous work, this homeâs rooms highlight a particular fabric. Sometimes itâs on the walls to look like wallpaper but with a softer feel. Sometimes itâs in an upholstered piece of furniture or a pillow.
The challenge in Austin was finding the right house. âWe were at the mercy of the market,â Sanders says about the search, which began last summer.
Hunter Ellis, who runs the operations of design showroom James, which wife Meredith started, says there were definitely criteria for the house: located in the urban center of Austin, 3,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet, zoned to good schools for resale value, structurally sound, able to be remodeled without having to do significant changes to the footprint because of the tight deadline and permitting requirements, and they also wanted it to have a âHill Country vibe.â
They found it in this 1988 3,200-square-foot four-bedroom, 4 1/2-bathroom home with limestone front. âIt had a real Southern look to it,â Meredith Ellis says.
Gowen says Southern Living liked the idea of doing a 1980s remodel because, after 30 years, many families are trying to figure out what to do with theirs or the one they might buy.
The team remodeled quickly, getting permits Jan. 2 and beginning construction Jan. 4. They finished with everything including furnishings in mid-May. None of it was particularly challenging, Wilkes says, except the timeline. They basically had four months to take a home down to the studs, replace all the wiring and plumbing, reconfigure the layout and do all the finishes and furnishings. Typically, it would be an eight-month to one-year project.
The team extenuated the Hill Country feel by playing up and changing the look of the front porch and back porch. In the front porch, they covered the concrete with bricks that are meant to be laid on top of existing concrete. They changed the rounded columns to square columns and added fans in the wood-slat ceiling.
They thought they could salvage the existing back porch, but rotting wood said otherwise. They completely rebuilt the porch, which provides ample views of the creek below. It now has plenty of area for sitting and dining. Steps take you to multiple levels of the backyard.
Part of what makes it so Austin is the indoor-outdoor flow of the space. âThatâs, like, the best part of Austin,â Meredith Ellis says.
Inside, the home was very dark and had some spaces that didnât make sense. Rooms had weird angles built into them that Sanders corrected as much as possible in the remodel.
âIt had some qualities that made you say, âWhy is this built this way?ââ Sanders says.
One of the biggest challenges was the staircase. It was built to code at the time but was steep and narrow. Sanders designed an extended curve to lessen the steepness. The solution created an archway from the foyer to the open family room and kitchen.
The staircase and arch become a focal point of the foyer. Stained patterns in the wood foyer floors give the houseâs entrance a presence.
The formal dining room was once a formal living room. They added many built-in bookcases to create the feel of a library. It could be a cold room, but Meredith Ellis warms it up with her use of fabric. Simple white chair covers soften the dining-room chairs. Green-and-white patterned fabric covers the walls, and blue drapes with red, cream and golden flowers make a statement in the windows. A seagrass rug also brings in a natural element and ties together with the seagrass on the stairs.
The guest bedroom suite off the foyer is the most unchanged of all the areas of the house, but they updated the tile and fixtures in the bathroom, and finished it out with furniture and window treatments. Many of the homeâs finishes are from lines the Ellises carry at James. Owning the showroom made this project easier because they could grab things from the showroom to add a touch to a room, and they had a familiarity with the lines.
From the foyer, the entertaining area of the house opens up through the archway. The kitchen was in a different part of the house, and the sunroom was more closed off to this area. Sandersâ design opened up the spaces. The kitchen and family room become one large space separated from the sunroom by glass doors. Skylights in the sunroom, glass doors to the sunroom and to the back porch and the kitchen window bring light into all the spaces.
The family room offers bookcases, a wood-burning fireplace and plenty of space for gathering. From there, you can hang out around the large island in the kitchen or head into the sunroom with more seating and a bar.
âWe wanted to make it a usable space,â Sanders says.
While the flow allows guests to easily go from one space to the next and back again, you could cordon off one of the rooms for children and the other for adults.
In the sunroom, a powder room is hidden behind the wood details of the bar wall. Through the door, walls layered with fabric panels give this room a richness.
The team built in tons of storage downstairs, from the bookshelves in the living room, family room and sunroom to the multiple kitchen cabinets, full pantry and full mudroom. The mudroom offers a great space for messy crafts, built-in dog bowls and space for hanging coats, book bags and a bin for shoes.
The master suite is a beautiful retreat with doors that lead to the back porch, a nook with a desk for working, a sitting area and a cozy bedroom. The bathroom has been made elegant with tiles that go halfway up the wall, into the walk-in shower and in an intricate pattern on the floor. The claw-foot tub feels regal in the space. The large walk-in closet and many built-in cabinets round out the master suite.
The two bedrooms upstairs were built under the roofline, which also created a design challenge because of the angles and the ceiling heights. Sanders did away with the Jack-and-Jill bathroom concept and instead gave both bedrooms a full bathroom. In the nautical-themed boysâ room, light enters through a portal hole. In the soft, feminine girlsâ room, which is enveloped in pink and white fabric on the wall, the doorâs window matches the feel of an English cottage. Each room has interesting sitting spaces, from a desk tucked under the roofline in the boysâ room to a window seat in the girlsâ room.
âIâm so happy with the way it came out,â Meredith Ellis says of the house.
Southern Living Idea House
Where: 6401 Rusty Ridge Drive
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 15
Tickets: $20 entrance fee, with a portion going to Dell Childrenâs Medical Center of Central Texas