Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today, we look at the Austin, Texas home of Adam and Julie Butler. The couple loves their neighborhood, but they were less excited about their first house, a place Adam says started getting too small on day one.
The Butlers say that when they purchased the 840-square-foot home in Central Austin 11 years ago, they hit the jackpot. "This neighborhood is positioned near many of the things that make Austin great," Adam says. "It’s close to Barton Springs Pool [a public swimming area fed by natural springs] and hiking and biking trails. Basically, it’s like a basecamp for all the things we love to do."
When they closed the deal, the prospect became both sweeter and more challenging. "We discovered it was the raddest street of all time, the kind that sucks you right into the community," says Adam. "And that was also when we found out Julie would be having our first baby—so you could say we started outgrowing the house on the day we bought it."
Over the next several years, the family continued to expand (they have three sons under age 10), but the two-bedroom, one-bathroom house didn’t. They decided to bring things into balance.
At first, they started down the tiny-house path with architects who specialize in the concept of living small. At most, they planned to add an addition. "We were really into the idea, but then architect Cindy Black asked us ‘what would you miss about this house and/or what would you like to save?’" says Adam. "When we looked around, the honest answer was ‘nothing.’ It was a crumbling midcentury spec house with no architectural or historical significance."
The couple says the question sparked a seven-year discussion about what they really did want, and the answers led them to hire architect Don Harris who, after the original house was demolished, designed a 2,300-square-foot home that he describes as an urban farmhouse with a Dutch-modern style.
The couple calls the new home "comfortable, indestructible, and warm." For them, utilitarianism was one of the guiding principles. "It had to be," Adam says. "‘Utility isn’t a sexy word, but we have three little boys, for god’s sake. We needed something that would stand up to that."
The idea of a life that’s both practical and beautiful was a concept they had been toying with for a while. Adam had even tried a lifestyle experiment where he wore just six things for one month. "The idea is that you choose six items of clothing, not including underwear or socks, as your wardrobe for 30 days," he says. "It makes you focus on how little we really need, how quality is more important than quantity, and how simple things can be."
The simplicity practice resonated with Julie as well. "We were used to living in a small, minimal space, and we didn’t want to fill a house with stuff," she says. "The new house is larger, but we use every bit of it. We don’t have rooms we never use or go into, and that feels good."
The home is built around the kitchen. The space is centrally located, and open to the living room and dining area. "It’s a good, workable kitchen that’s a pleasure to be in," says Adam. "We felt that, like good food and meals, was essential." He compares the room to the comfortable pair of chinos he wore during his clothing experiment.
Julie appreciates the light, bright, and open nature of the interior. "The old house had lower ceilings and smaller windows," she says. "I love the space in this new house." She also appreciates how the open nature allows her to see the outdoors (and the boys playing in the yard).
The space also illustrates another concept the couple invented and named during the design phase: workman-like warmth. Adam is more of a minimalist, Julie appreciates a warm aesthetic. The wood that lines one wall of the room and one side of the kitchen islands adds texture and a visual coziness to a room that would otherwise be white cabinets and concrete walls. "It’s a look we could both agree on," says Adam.
In all the rooms, the furniture follows desire for practical function while providing doses of color and pattern. "We used durable fabrics such as wool and leather that can hold up to heavy use and get better with time," says interior designer Ann Edgerton. "They needed a space that could handle heavy traffic so we kept the furnishings pretty simple. Since there were fewer items we had to make each piece count."
Even the screened porch off the living-dining room is grounded in practicality. "There’s no romantic Southern antebellum notion about the porch," says Adam. "This is Central Austin."
With an emphasis on functionality and efficiency, it makes sense that the mudroom is a workhorse, albeit with a cool feature: A narrow garage door designed specifically for bikes. To understand, you have to look at the family lifestyle and commitment to a low-car life. They’ve made the decision to keep just one car, but every family member has a bike. "The bikes are important to us," says Adam. "And your bike is only happy outside when you are on it, riding it."
Thus, the mudroom works something like a bike garage, with room for everyone’s ride. The narrow, roll-up garage door can be activated by remote control, allowing riders to cruise smoothly in from the carport. "It definitely cuts down on fumbling with the bike while going in and out," says Adam.
Julie notes that this is also where camping gear is staged, where the kids drop and store their backpacks, and where scooters are parked. "In fact, because we have concrete floors, they can just cruise on in the house," she says.
Upstairs, the architect designed a larger master suite and a row of three bedrooms with loft spaces. "We used what could have been attic space to give the smaller bedrooms height, and that allows each boy to have a loft space," says Harris. "This family made the conscious decision to make the bedrooms smaller to make room for a den on the second level. This way, you get compact bedrooms that are like train compartments, but with some private space, and a room where they can all be together as a family."
Julie says that living in the smaller space made the common space gathering concept important to her. "One thing I liked about the small house is that even if the boys fought all day long, they had to be together at night because they all shared a room. There was no place to hide, so it forced them to deal with each other," she said. "A funny thing happened on the first night we slept in the new house: They all piled in one room, as they always had. It took less than a week for them to occupy their own rooms, but they spent the first night together."
When asked about his favorite element of the new house, Adam pauses and laughs before replying: "My favorite thing is that we did this without getting a divorce." On a more serious note, he adds: "Honestly, the builder [Matt Davenport, HSC Remodeling], the interior designer, and the architect were totally into the project. There are stressful moments during the process, of course. There were a lot of decisions to be made that we weren’t used to making, and it was a huge investment—the biggest we’d ever made or may ever make. The team’s commitment and enthusiasm made those parts easier."
And, of course, the neighborhood remains a source of family joy. "I love how I can sit in a rocking chair upstairs and see downtown, but be completely separate from it," Adam says. "As Austin grows and becomes more crowded, having a personal space like that is important."