Shaping the look of austin
Hatchworks: Beautifying the east side, from Victorian to ultra-modern
I support a lot of what’s going on in terms of businesses, buildings and people moving in on the east side. But every now and then, I’ll take a drive and spot some newly built residential monstrosity and cringe a little.
I think it’s important that while everyone remain free to do what they’d like, we try to encourage those who want to shape the look of the east side in a way that will fit its amazing personality.
Adam Talianchich and his wife Ashley Menger own Hatchworks, a “design and build company specializing in unique homes and structures.”
From the moment this company catches your attention, you know there’s something special about it.
Speaking to Adam in person, you hear his absolute joy for what he does and the passion he has for beautifying a part of town that has been his home for years and that he loves dearly.
There’s a freshness about his approach to design that’s hard to pin down exactly in words. I think it has something to do with the fact that this doesn’t so much seem like a money-making exercise for Adam and Ashley as it is just something they enjoyed doing and then decided to do more of (the “more of” part, as in became an actual company, began in September of 2009, though they had been doing a lot of design on the side for years).
They each come from extraordinarily varied career paths (zoology, chemical engineering, environmental consultant, documentary filmmaker, product designers and more) and this all seems to be evidence that they’re just curious, interested, talented folks who go where their talents and passions lie.
Isn’t that such a perfect metaphor for Austin? And then of course there are the beautiful photos you can find on their site, showing that they’re not only skilled, but they’re talented at bringing their love and curiosity and fascination with all of life’s wonderful things into the fun and personal details you see in the homes they build and renovate on the east side. Not just with the look of their projects, but what they’re made of: they love the challenge of building with recycled and salvaged materials.
They haven’t done a ton of projects yet, but that’s part of their charm: they’re slowly bringing their casual (but professional), clever, caring, mindful and fun style to homes dotting the east side. Worthy enough of a little Q&A, don’t you think? We asked Adam for some more detail about himself, his wife and their company:
So there are a lot of people renovating homes on the East Side, especially these last few years. What do you think are the good and or exciting things people and companies are doing?
I love to see unique perspectives and people putting forth the effort to achieve their vision. While I may not always personally agree with a certain aesthetic on a given project, I still love to see and feel the passion. I would much rather live and work in a neighborhood with a full palette of styles rather than monochrome rigid designs.
What are some of your complaints or criticisms about what’s going on in the design/build world on the East Side?
My main complaint is that most of the new residential projects and many of the rehabs are all construction and little to no design. I hate seeing big bland subdivisional boxes with no landscaping, no soul, and head-to-toe Home Depot finish out pop up. It’s one thing to be small and ugly, but big and ugly and in your face just offends me. I also am amused that it seems like most of the interior fixtures and trim outs on these types of houses seem to be randomly selected like no one ever considered whether the backsplash tile should complement the countertops, etc. Unfortunately, the ratio of quality projects to vanilla projects in the East Side is greatly in favor of the vanillas. With so many dilapidated homes and empty lots, East Austin is in a unique position to reskin itself- to redefine its aesthetic. So every bland house I see go up in our neighborhood feels like a lost opportunity to make something more meaningful or beautiful. It’s part of why I jumped in the business.
What do you think it is about your business that sets it apart from the rest?
In a word, thoughtfulness. We don’t just want a space to look cool, we want it to fit the lifestyle and the needs of our clients. We once remodeled a tiny 710 square foot house, where every square inch of space was precious. That experience taught us a lot about conservation of space and the absolute necessity to have lots of storage. During the design phase I would show Ashley the concepts I’d worked up and she’d say, “needs more closets.” After my revisions, she’d take one look, pass the drawings back across the table and say, “needs more closets.”
So how do you approach a project? What are some of the first steps? I know you’ve both worked for yourself and worked with clients… what are you doing the most of now and what do you like to do the most of?
The first step is always to evaluate the lot and its surroundings. The next step is to get to know your client and to think about how they’re actually going to live in it. When you come home from the grocery store, where are you going to toss your wallet and phone? Where do you put the groceries as you unload them? Where do you keep the vacuum cleaner? What’s the first thing guests will see when they walk in the front door? I try to think through all of those scenarios as I mentally walk through my own floor plans and edit them based on these real scenarios.
Right now due to a tight credit market, we are only doing custom projects (although we hope to break ground on a spec home before the year is out). I have to say that from a design perspective, I really like working with clients because they challenge you to go into different design directions than you would otherwise go. In the end, I get to grow as a designer and expand my design palette.
Do you try to respect the existing shape of these structures and how they originally related to the surrounding houses (when you remodel) and try to make a home look like it was supposed to be there when you build new? Or do you just build according to what you think each individual project needs? Your homes definitely fit the character of many neighborhood streets, but they also almost all have some element that definitely sets them apart from the rest.
That’s a tough question. I like to think that I build according to what each project needs. People love to say that the devil is in the details and they’re absolutely right when it comes to design. It’s not one particular feature, but the summation of a whole host of little ones that adds up to give a house its overall look and feel. If I’m going to do a reproduction style house (i.e. Craftsman, Victorian, etc.) then I will spend a lot of time driving around looking at original structures to find out what are the little elements that make define that particular style of house. When we built our house (a Craftsman style reproduction) we actually bought two old house catalogues that were reprints from like 1919 and 1922 to see what the true features were back when they were originally building Craftsman homes en masse.
Talk to me about materials. It sounds like salvaged materials play a huge part in your work; how did you first think to do that? Where do most of your materials come from? You probably have to use some new materials when you build new houses, right?
I do love to recycle materials. In fact, just the other day I realized that every single project I’ve ever done has integrated repurposed materials. I just find that the addition of something old really warms up a space. If everything is sleek and new, it can feel a little sterile. I especially love to integrate materials from the original structure. In one of our current projects we tore down a 1951 garage that had long leaf pine sheathing. We tried to save as much as we could. The new structure has a studio space above the new garage and so we had the long leaf pine milled down into 6” wide tongue and groove planks that we used for flooring. It’s nice to carry on some of the history of the original structure into the new.
You don’t seem to be afraid of color — do you like to have fun with your projects?
I do indeed love me some color. When I was younger I naively always just thought if you have a room you want to paint, you pick your color, and then paint all of the walls in the room this color. This doesn’t really work very well if you want some bright red in your life. I now understand about small hits and accents of bold colors.
First, it really expands the color palette you get to choose from. Second, it can really add interest to a space without overpowering it. And third, I also have learned that the beauty of paint is that it is completely and utterly arbitrary where it goes. Many people tend to fixate on corners or other predefined edges, but there is no reason why you couldn’t paint a house with a 22 ½” wide orange stripe around it (which we did!) (and we were only ¼” off when we got back to the back to beginning of the stripe). And lastly, my wife showed me that color can be communicated through the furnishings as well — it could be a rug or a fantastic red chair.
Do you think your firm is playing a part in shaping the look of East Austin? Do you want to have that role?
That is absolutely our goal. I’ve lived east of IH-35 since 1995 (with one small break in the middle) and I love the character (and most of the characters). I don’t know what it is about being east of IH-35, but you really get to know your neighbors here. Our goal is to build homes that attract the kind of residents that will keep that spirit alive.
Who do you think is someone playing a huge part in shaping the look — the physical look — of Austin?
If we’re talking Austin as a whole, the downtown condo/apartment/hotel developers are definitely at the top of list for the shaping of Austin right now. In the east side, it’s all of the new, fun restaurant and bar owners. Narrowing further to builders on the east side, I really respect the work that Williams Austin Homes has done and continues to do. But my absolute favorite east side developer is Al Hustus. His only weakness is that he does nearly all of the work himself, which means that there is not enough of his work out there because each project takes so much longer to complete. I can spot the work of Red Start paint design a mile away. What’s fascinating is that they can create a building not by constructing it, but by just painting it. Look for their work on Bayseas restaurant & the Rude Mechs theater.
What do you have planned for the future — both for your firm, and also for Austin?
Oddly enough, I really don’t do too much future planning for the business. In my previous life as an environmental consultant, new work and clients always managed to mysteriously appear. I’ve taken this approach with our business. Do good work and treat your clients right and the work will come. I do expect to build a spec home in the near future. And I also couldn’t imagine the business developing into a large firm. There are too many other things to do in life. Ashley is about to go live with a business of selling refurbished vintage furniture online as well, so be on the look out for a new site called El George! We have lots of other semi-related overlapping dreams, but some of our favorites include opening a small community grocery store, building a restaurant, and rehabbing a junky old building and turning it into a boutique hotel. And on a more personal note, I want to record an album. In like a real studio.
Check out more of their great work on their website (or drive around the east side and see some in person!)