Southern Living couldn’t be more excited to be working in Austin. The Texas capital is well known for its music, food, booming real-estate market, and, now, a burgeoning classic design scene. We tapped the decorator (and showroom owner) at the epicenter of the city’s traditional style movement, Meredith Ellis of Meredith Ellis Design and James Showroom. Ellis along with Chris Sanders of Sanders Architecture, and husband and wife building team, Catherine and David of David Wilkes Builders, are reimagining a circa 1980s house in Northwest Austin to be a gracious home for family and entertaining. Ellis and Sanders weigh in on what’s in store for this out-of-date, but not quite out-to-pasture house:
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Southern Living: Why this house?
Chris Sanders: Lots of available space to improve. Like most houses built several decades ago, this one had been added on to increase the size of the common areas, but it was clear that there were ample areas for improvement. I saw that we could create better functionality, make the space more comfortable, bring in more light, and reestablish connections to the exterior
Meredith Ellis: Its intangible Southern sensibility. I loved that this house had a very Southern feel to it with a Low Country charm and large front porch. It’s also on a corner lot that rests above the backyard giving you the feeling that you’re perched in the trees. The interior was dark and the layout was bad, but I saw the potential that by opening it all up, this could be an amazing entertaining house.
SL: What’s the biggest challenge in this renovation?
CS: Reacting to the unexpected. In this home’s case, that’s been the main staircase (visible from the front door). We had only planned to make minor cosmetic changes, but discovered that the stairs were out of compliance with current codes. This revelation required a rapid redesign. It’s only one example of how we’ve been challenged to remain adaptable with our design ideas and direction.
ME: Knowing when to stop. You have to balance what will make a positive difference to the home’s overall aesthetic and the resale value. I knew that adding skylights in the den and opening up the kitchen and family room to the large Southern facing windows would improve the light downstairs and flow of the home without making it a full open floor plan. We also wanted to add an additional bathroom both upstairs and downstairs. We really had to get creative!
David Wilkes: The schedule. It's nice to have deadlines, but this one has been super tight. We are squeezing an 8 to 10 month project into 4 months. We gutted the entire house and were met with some structural surprises that always affect the schedule. Our crews are working long days and weekends. As a team we've gotten extremely creative with scheduling around trades and leads times for projects.
SL: Where are you both seeking design inspiration?
CS: The house itself. In the case of the Idea House, I’ve got to “Dance with the one that brung you.” We are trying to identify the strengths of what’s there and then improve upon them while retaining character.
ME: Surprisingly, I’ve turned a lot towards English Country Houses. They are really relatable to the way we live in Texas. This house is more formal in layout, but I’m pulling grass rugs, layering patterns, fabric lampshades, art, and some antique textile pillows to make it more casual and inviting. Fabrics themselves are also a huge inspiration (obviously since Ellis also owns James Showroom). Artisanal hand blocked or screen-printed fabrics, give the house more character and a little bohemian spirit.
SL: Which room are you most looking forward to once the project is complete?
CS:The Sitting Room. It’s located in a part of the house that was added in the 90s and subsequently cut off all the light to the living room. We reconfigured it to have more comfortable proportions partly by adding in a bar, secret powder room, opening it to the back porch and living room, while also adding in skylights for more light.
ME: The family room and kitchen. It’s going to be pretty great – it’s comfortable and offers a lot in one space. This is where my family would spend all their time if I lived here.
Catherine Wilkes: The front entry. Chris and Meredith had to completely redo the staircase because of code issues which became an opportunity to upgrade. Chris and Meredith have reimagined the area with a totally unique staircase, handrail, and floor design.
SL: What’s your take on Austin style?
CS: A celebration of its sense of place. If you can pinpoint an actual Austin-style, you’ll find one that’s influenced by local materials, an embrace of the outdoors, and an independent spirit.
ME: Nothing fussy. Austin homes are casual, but always inviting.
Look out for more details about touring the home to come in mid-June and the full reveal to come in mid-July!