House with History

Stunning Austin 'treehouse' garners national attention and new $1.8 million list price

Stunning Austin 'treehouse' garners national attention and new price

1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
"We see all kinds of birds — hawks teaching their babies to fly right outside the window, owls, song birds — even migrating flocks," says co-designer and owner, Sam Shah. Photo by Casey Dunn
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
The limestone wall exterior.  Photo by Casey Dunn
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
Private street views give way to an artful glass box.  Photo by Casey Dunn
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
The kitchen. Photo by Casey Dunn
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
Shah says one of the nicest things about the home is the abundance of natural light. Photo by Casey Dunn
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
Alterstudio designed with a mix of materials such as concrete, mill-finished steel, and raw stucco. Photo by Casey Dunn
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
Floor-to-ceiling windows abound. Photo by Casey Dunn
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
One of the property's three bathrooms. Photo by Casey Dunn
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio
1106 south fifth street AIA Alterstudio

For architecture lovers, part of the joy of flipping through Dwell or waltzing through the annual AIA Homes Tour is imagining what it would be like to live in these life-size jewel boxes. (That and judging the owners' tastes in art and books.)

Now, design fans can turn this fantasy into a reality with the purchase of a Bouldin Creek home by Austin-based firm Alterstudio. Located at 1106 S. Fifth St., the three-story, single-family home is the fourth collaboration between Alterstudio and Austinites Sam Shah and Anne Suttles. 

When Shah and Suttles were searching for a spot to build their latest house, they knew it would be in the sought-after 78704 ZIP code. While perusing a lot in Bouldin Creek, it was two very large Durand Oak trees that caught their collective eye — and proved to be the design inspiration for the unique and eventually award-winning design. 

"Mature trees make for a complicated build, but that’s how we ended up with such an interesting design," Shah tell CultureMap. "All of the constraints force some serious creativity." 

With partner Tim Whitehill at the helm, Alterstudio designed around the rare 25-foot Durand Oaks and a steep slope to create the more than 3,000-square-foot home. Because constraints (and a .142-acre lot) forced the architects to think skyward, the property boasts an impressive view, a feature hard to come by in a neighborhood best known for bungalows shaded by leafy trees.

Whitehill says he and his colleagues were drawn to "visceral" materials such as concrete, mill-finished steel, and raw stucco used in conjunction with "finely detailed millwork and custom site-glazed window walls." From the street and courtyard entrance, an expansive limestone wall creates a layer of privacy that fades to reveal a glass box filled with glittering natural light and, of course, those talked about vistas.

"We didn’t want the interior to compete with the expansive views, so we set about finding textures and colors that complemented the natural landscape," explains Shah. "The inside is refined ... but it also fades to the background and allows oneself to focus on the setting and the views."

But just because a house is beautiful doesn't mean it's conducive to living, and Alterstudio, Shah, and Suttles set out to create a space that is as comfortable as it is impressive. With three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and three distinct living spaces, the South Fifth home seamlessly blends inside with out, man-made with nature, and beauty with function.

"We worked hard at creating unique spaces around every turn. We didn’t want to waste any space so that became an opportunity to create something truly special," Shah explains.

The property has racked up more than just the admiration of local design nerds like yours truly. Earlier this year, the American Institute of Architects awarded Alterstudio with a 2018 Housing Award, one of the highest honors awarded to architects. Not to be outdone, the South Fifth house also won a 2018 Austin AIA Award, a 2017 Residential Architect Design Awards from the prestigious Architecture Magazine, and appeared in that aforementioned architecture lover's bible — Dwell.   

Though it was originally put on the market last summer by Moreland Properties with a $2.1 million price tag, it was taken off in November. In January, it returned to the MLS priced at $1.895 million.