The challenge of creating an “oasis” in the center of a supercool but ultimately sweltering city, especially during the dramatic vicissitudes of recent years, may require holding a few comforting touchstones dear, whether truths or trees. For tech executives Aly Cabral and Jason Carey, a magnificent post oak’s steadfast presence was just the metaphorical motivation the couple needed to put down roots on a particular Austin, Texas, property.
Throughout a global pandemic, and the birth of their son, Gregory, the determined couple, who relocated from New York in March 2020, built a house with considered views of that grand old tree (that it sits on a neighbor’s property and not their own was hardly relevant). Local architect Elizabeth Baird took inspiration from various sources—such as the gardens of Japan and the neighborhood’s brick buildings, including the 1960s teardown that previously sat on the quarter-acre site—to design a home whose front-facing modesty belies a courtyard sanctuary in the back. The property is complete with a sparkling swimming pool and verdancy from the cirriform fronds of potted xanadu, plush grass lawns, and, of course, that gnarled oak canopy.
In its faintly ruddy tone, the modern architecture whispers of the Territorial style that prevails in the not-so-distant Southwest, imparting heritage warmth to the new build. Baird’s chosen materials, mostly handmade brick and stained wood, further soften the building’s crisp edges and sharp corners. “Texture and irregularities add so much character,” says Baird. “That organic richness breaks down the formalities of the architecture, making it feel more human.”
Taking that cue, Austin-based AD PRO Directory interior designer Liz MacPhail opted to “let the house be the hero,” which became one of the aforementioned axioms. It made for a doubly good strategy, given the tenuous supply chain of recent memory. “I told Aly and Jason, ‘We don’t need to fill this house with a lot of stuff. Let’s get you a sofa. Let’s get you a chair. Let’s get you a coffee table. And then let’s just leave space for sunlight,’” says MacPhail.
But minimal furnishings don’t necessarily portend minimalist design. The pieces may be fiercely edited, but they nevertheless convey maximum style, thanks in part to a sensual color palette of rust, emerald, and their variations. Circumventing the logistics of made-to-order furniture, MacPhail sourced a high-low combination of vintage from 1stDibs, including the living room’s full-figured serpentine sectional, covered in sienna corduroy, and off-the-shelf pieces like the dark-green Amaia swivel chairs from Urban Outfitters in the casita. The freestanding backyard structure, originally intended for Cabral’s grandmother, was later reimagined as a ground-floor guest suite with Carey’s home office on the second story, which includes a veranda for plein air productivity.
The earthy tableau sublimely culminates in two notable works of art. “We wanted these pieces to be the core of the house, not fade into the background,” says Cabral. The updated Art Deco motifs of a custom stained-glass panel, which serves as a privacy shield for a unique atrium shower in the primary bath, include references to the steel trellises that cast striped shadows over the courtyard and entrance. And an oversized oil-on-canvas artwork, Tropic of Cancer by Austin artist Patrick Puckett, seemed destined to hang in the house, given its saturated scheme of—you guessed it—rust, emerald, and their variations. Chanced upon at a local gallery, the painting was surprisingly acquired at the end of the design process—an auspicious omen of life clicking into place. “This house has already seen us through a lot of changes,” says Cabral. “But such formative memories have made it a home.”