Congress avenue in Austin, Texas, leads directly to the towering pink state capitol dome. Lining the shady thoroughfare are a series of mid-19th century storefronts, ripe for live/work renovation. Seizing the opportunity, one owner approached architect Hobson Crow to design a bright and airy townhouse with retail space on the first level. She has just one caveat: He must recreate the original 1850s facade. A self-proclaimed Modernist, Crow was intrigued by the prospect of a historical restoration. “It was our first historical analysis,” he says. “Very little original construction was left, so we worked from old photographs and with help from the city.”

Once inside, the design skips several centuries to Crow's comfort zone—a contemporary loft aesthetic of glass, steel, and sustainable materials combined with refurbished character from the old structure. Existing interiors were excavated to expose limestone rubble party walls and to uncover longleaf pine ceiling joists supporting ceiling heights of 12 to 16 feet. Although in fine condition, the joists were removed to meet fire codes, but Crow salvaged them for use as flooring, floating ceiling panels, and even reconstituted joists.

The deficit of daylight, however, was not such an easy fix. The 185-foot-long-by-25-foot-wide structure was open to illumination only at each end. In this case, historical restrictions presented the solution. To add a new third level to the structure, Crow had to set it back from street view. This opened the roof to a party deck with a view of the capitol and allowed room for clerestory boxes to funnel light into the center of the building. Inside, Crow removed all cross dividers so daylight now flows unimpeded between oversized windows at each end. A kitchen and bathroom pod runs lengthwise in plan, squeezing light through at each side. Cabinetry screens public areas from private sleeping quarters and the office. “Our goal was to make live/work spaces that could function with only natural light throughout the day—it's another way to practice sustainable design,” says Crow.

Metz-Fielding Building, Austin, Texas

Hobson Crow Architects, Austin

general contractor:
Pamela Fielding, Austin

project size:
2,200 square feet, retail; 2,600 square feet, apartment/office; 1,800 square feet, studio

construction cost:

Greg Hursley, except where noted