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March 2009
Fairfield House

Austin, Texas
Webber + Studio, Inc.

By Ingrid Spencer

David Webber, AIA, of the Austin-based firm Webber + Studio, jokes that the house in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood that he designed for himself and Ransom Baldasare, his business and life partner, is really just like everyone else’s. “It has everything anyone asks for when they’re looking for a new house: five bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, a kitchen open to living and dining areas, a place for guests—programmatically it’s pretty unremarkable.” What Webber says may be true, but the reason he can say it with a smile is because he knows that apart from the program, the house is anything but commonplace.

Fairfield House
Photo © Jett Butler
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Hyde Park is one of Austin’s older, centrally located neighborhoods, and its proximity to the University of Texas makes it popular with UT staff. Since part of Webber’s intention with the house was to have a permanent suite for his 68-year-old father when he was in town, it seemed like the right area.

Webber bought a 1947 craftsman-style home with an average-sized lot (120 by 60 feet), and set about creating the house. “We never start a project knowing exactly what shape it’s going to take,” he says. “We knew a few things that we wanted, but mostly, as with everything I do, when you understand the history and geography, the things just design themselves.

For both Webber, who was born and raised in Austin, and Baldasare, who is from California, having a home that was linked to its context and climate was key. To create a 3,200-square-foot home that would not take over the entire lot, Webber designed the home as a series of interlocking volumes and voids that embrace the outdoors, indirectly defining outdoor spaces such as a small terrace, larger backyard, rear patio, and a dog-trot-inspired breezway.

“I was inspired by those dog-trot houses in the south,” says Webber. “In Austin you need to capture breezes where you can.” Clad in a rainscreen made of cypress on the front of the house, the interior courtyard, under the windows on the east and west sides, and double-locked, standing-seam metal roofing on remainder of the west side, the house is nothing if not fortified against the elements.

Walking through and around the house brings a new experience in every space. Webber started with a box facing the street, with a cathedral-like entry 25 feet high. That area quickly drops down to under 8 feet into a sitting area, then back up slightly for the kitchen and dining area. The box then ends in glass, as Webber carved out the center to create a patio.

Back inside, you climb the stairs to the second floor, take a moment to rest in a loft-like sitting area before seeing where Webber’s vision of pulling out one side of the box comes to life in a bridge with a translucent hallway with an eastern-facing polycarbonate wall connecting a study, two kids’ bedrooms (the couple plans to expand their family), and his dad’s guest suite, with bedroom upstairs and steps down to a kitchenette, dining, and sitting area. “It’s my favorite place in the house,” says Baldasare about Webber’s dad’s realm, “because both the upstairs and downstairs living spaces are directly connected to the outside.” Directly connected to the outside, yet still part of the main house.

The surprises continue on the home’s west side, where you notice that the three main upstairs bedrooms actually project out in bays, blocking harsh western sun and bringing in northern and southern exposure from strategically placed windows. Also on that side, a 12-foot cantilevered projectile, clad in metal roofing, creates covered parking.

With local materials such as cypress cladding on the outside, pecan cladding and floors on the inside and Texas limestone in the bathrooms, another connection to the area is realized. And although the house doesn’t look a thing like any of the smaller craftsman homes surrounding it, it makes you wonder why those other homes weren’t designed like this one. “I’m totally against the idea that a house should be one big mass in the center of the lot,” says Webber. “Defining spaces, whether inside or outside, small or big, can make every room feel surprisingly different and unique.”

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