Tucked into a steep site in West Austin, the Vista Residence is organized around a three-story, sculptural steel staircase that acts as the hinge point for the residence, with rooms and hallways unfolding from it on every floor.
Assembled from 5/8” thick plate steel with white oak treads, the staircase took eight months to fabricate, assemble, and paint. During construction, a large opening was left in the roof structure so that the shop-fabricated sections could be lowered into place. The pieces were then bolted and welded together on site, and integrated into the main steel structure of the house. The stair is made up of over 200 individual pieces of steel joined by over 160 concealed bolts in addition to welds. The largest single piece of steel is 17 feet long and 10 feet tall.
From the spaces around it, the central staircase provides a dramatic focal point, revealing itself in curious and contradictory ways. Depending on the viewpoint, it can appear massive and structural, or light enough to float. A light well on one side counters the sensation that the lowest level is buried into the hillside by providing ample natural light deep into the floor plate.
The staircase is part of a procession that starts with a low-slung facade facing the street. A series of massive concrete walls extends out into the landscape, creating a series of outdoor spaces and drawing visitors in. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a glimpse of the central staircase and the views beyond, while the metal roof sweeps upward in a low, graceful arc. The exterior motifs of this front elevation are indicative of the home’s overall design. Exposed concrete, metal, and concrete panel cladding—chosen for their ease of maintenance—are the predominant materials. The distinct sloped roof profiles provide directionality, essentially “pointing” to the views beyond. The innovative cladding system of concrete panels doubles as a rainscreen, protecting the structure from the elements and providing increased thermal efficiency.
The foyer blurs the line between interior and exterior, as the landscape seems to flow into the house through thin steel windows. White walls and white oak floors introduce the home’s warm material palette, while a nine-foot-tall pivot door made of white oak and painted aluminum greets visitors. From the foyer, a bridge-like corridor lined with bookshelves and art leads to the master suite. The hall opens up to a two-story, open-air courtyard, which separates the private master suite from the main living areas while bringing natural light and views into the core of the house.
The master bedroom is enclosed on three sides, emphasizing the view outward, while the low-slung roof and deep eaves create a sense of horizontality. The bed, nightstands, and light shelf are made from white oak to match the floors; all were designed by the architects. The theme of bringing the outdoors in continues in the master bathroom, which opens up to a private garden encircled by concrete walls beneath a canopy of oak trees; even the shower has direct access to the exterior. The palette of cool grays and white marble echoes the exterior finishes.
At the sunken living room, the ceiling height increases from 9’ to 11’. The open kitchen, dining, and living spaces were designed for large family gatherings as well as fundraisers and public events. Details like the drink rail, bookshelves, and built-in benches bring down the scale of the space. The bright, airy kitchen combines warm white oak millwork with crisp white solid surface accents. The sink is highlighted by a glass backsplash with an operable window, while a bar-height counter at the peninsula encourages guests to congregate in the heart of the home.
The warmth of the kitchen spills over into the living area, where a cozy, daylit reading corner enjoys views into the adjacent oak canopies. A deep bench below the windows extends the length of the space, providing additional seating. In addition to large parties, the living room also plays host to music recitals. Acoustic wood ceiling panels enhance the sound quality and provide visual warmth. Built-in benches and steps allow guests to find a comfortable corner.
Partially buried in the hillside, the lower floor hosts two bedrooms, a shared bath, and a media/game room—all illuminated by large windows—in addition to mechanical and storage spaces. Finishes such as exposed concrete and playful tile accents denote the more laid-back, intimate atmosphere.
Upstairs, a private office and sitting room enjoy panoramic views of the hill country and downtown Austin. Perched among the uppermost branches, this secluded space feels more like a tree house. A spacious balcony is partially carved into the roof of the main level. Here above the treetops, the home’s spectacular location is experienced most vividly as the journey culminates with a sweeping vista.
A 15.4-kiloWatt rooftop photovoltaic system covers an estimated 90% of the home’s annual energy needs, offsetting 18.5 tons of CO2 emissions each year (equal to the annual energy use of 1.8 average homes). With an anticipated payback period of just eight years, the owners are expected to save more than $94,000 over the next 30 years. Deep overhangs on the south facades reduce heat gain, while large windows and the central light well reduce the demand for artificial light. A variable refrigerant flow (VRF) mechanical system optimizes power consumption, allowing for precise thermal control throughout the house and eliminating heating and cooling waste. The rainscreen cladding system utilizes high-performance mineral wool insulation. The landscaping was designed for low water consumption.