This Austin home looks like a traditional craftsman. The back of it is anything but.


High on a hill above the trees, but within walking distance of downtown, is a home that epitomizes the radical transformation of the city of Austin.

On the one hand, it’s a simple, white traditional craftsman with columns and a skylight, facing a historic yet funky neighborhood. On the other side, it’s a glass-walled contemporary with a low-pitched roof, an infinity pool, and views of the ever-changing Austin skyline.

“You wake up and you know where you are,” says Sylvia Sharplin, 58, a real estate agent who renovated and built the 3,600 square foot four bedroom home with her husband, Dan Sharplin, 58, an entrepreneur.

Dan and Sylvia Sharplin in the outdoor living space of their home overlooking the Texas State Capitol.


Casey Woods for The Wall Street Journal

It took the Sharplins over four years, over $ 7 million, and a lot of tea to create their new home.

It started in 2015 when their youngest daughter was in high school. They wanted to replace their large home in suburban Austin with something smaller within walking distance of shops and restaurants. They wanted to buy in Clarksville, a neighborhood west of downtown, where they lived when they moved in 1986 from Monroe, Louisiana, to the University of Texas at Austin for their graduate studies.

They were checking out a small, dilapidated duplex when Mr Sharplin glanced up the steep weed-covered hill and saw a woman standing outside another small, dilapidated house.

“What is this house?” Mr. Sharplin asked the broker. He went upstairs and approached the woman, Joan Huntley, who is 81 years old. It turned out that she was the owner of the two houses, which had been in her family for over 50 years. “He kissed me on the cheek,” Ms. Huntley said. “It was very endearing. A series of conversations ensued, with multiple gatherings over tea on the porch of the upper house.

At first Ms Huntley, who grew up on the property, said she was not interested in the sale. Then she proposed that the Sharplins buy the two houses to create a large cohabitation retirement community. When the Sharplins said no, she suggested renovating the upper room and allowing him to live with them. After five months, with each of Ms Huntley’s concepts sold out, the Sharplins convinced Ms Huntley and her sister to sell them both properties for $ 2.3 million, which they did in March 2016.

Mrs Huntley lived in the house for another eight months. Since the Sharplins were to put a dollar amount on her lease, they charged her $ 1, which Ms. Huntley paid with a dollar in cash (“for smiles,” Ms. Sharplin says.) Meanwhile, they have brought together their architect and contractor and started the design process. When Ms Huntley didn’t clean up all the “collections”, mostly magazines and books that had accumulated around the house, the Sharplins took care of them. They threw some away, gave away and kept some, including some covers from Life magazine, which they framed and hung near the stairs. “By then we had become friends,” says Sharplin. Mrs Huntley agrees. “We bonded,” she says.

Then the real work began. They knew they would only demolish the lower two story house, as it was in such poor condition and not old enough to be considered historic. But it turned out that the upper chamber, built in 1915, was also in poor condition – worse than initially thought, with broken pipes and a hole in the roof.

“It was collapsing, a crumbling bungalow on a crumbling hill,” says James LaRue of LaRue Architects. “I thought you just couldn’t save this thing. But then the city said you were going to have to save this thing.

Since the house is located in a historic district, the Sharplins had to assure the Austin Commission on Historic Monuments that their renovation and addition would retain the historic style and retain the signature exterior features, such as windows, doors and details of the entrance, the shape of the roof, porch, fireplace and woodwork. The addition could not visually overpower the existing building,

The point of no return came when the couple received offers for structural and foundation work. It would cost around $ 1 million, even before work began on the structure of the house itself. “It took our breath away,” says Sharplin. The couple huddled up and decided not to compromise. “We basically decided to build the house that we really wanted to build,” says Sharplin. The final construction cost of the project was approximately $ 5 million, including approximately $ 310,000 for the pool and $ 183,000 for architectural fees, which involved weekly on-site meetings for most of the construction. .

The finished house has two distinct characters. From the front it is white, clean, simple and traditional, with a visor metal roof, a teak porch with a paneled ceiling, a skylight, wood siding, restored columns and original windows. rebuilt. Looking up the hill from the city center, it is a new contemporary stucco with a low pitched roof and sliding glass walls, elements that were allowed because the addition is lower than the facade of origin and cannot be seen from the street at the main entrance.

“When I look at the house, I smile,” says Ms. Huntley, who now lives in a one-bedroom condominium in a community just north of Austin that she says she loves. The facade reminds her of her home, and she says the addition is a “graceful interpretation” of the modern transformation happening in the city. “The house has a soul,” she says.

The entrance is designed to look traditional, with hidden doors that open to reveal an office on one side and a guest bedroom on the other.


Casey Woods for The Wall Street Journal

The transition also occurs indoors. The entrance looks like an old house, with a narrow hall and wooden floors. But the walls disguise doors that lead to an office on one side and a guest bedroom on the other. At the end of the entrance hall, the space opens onto a large room with 14 foot ceilings. The space includes a living and dining room and a kitchen. The entire wall of the living space is glass, with sliding doors that open onto a limestone patio. At the edge is the long blue infinity pool.

Past the kitchen in one corner, a long hallway leads to the master bedroom, which has access to the swimming pool. The house also has an exercise room and a one-bedroom apartment for children, friends or future caregivers.

The Sharplins completed the house in February 2020, just before the pandemic struck, and just in time for two of their three children to move in there temporarily. It was not the plan.

“It was deliberately designed so that our children would not come home and live with us,” says Ms. Sharplin. Their children have since evolved. “Now,” said Mrs. Sharplin, “we’re finally alone.”

Except for everyone who comes knocking: every few weeks they get an offer to buy their house. When a bidder told them to name their price, the couple had a series of conversations.

Mr Sharplin says he concluded there was no price because the contract of sale would be accompanied by a divorce contract. “I should cut the house in half,” he said.

Write to Nancy Keates at [email protected]

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