shaping the look of austin

Artful possibility: Don’t call Michael Parkes one of those people who "flips" houses

Artful possibility: Don’t call Michael Parkes one of those people who "flips" houses

Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1319 westmoor drive
Michael Parkes has "taken over" one street in the Windsor Park neighborhood, revamping several houses with his signature style that looks to the future and pays homage to the past. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1319 westmoor drive exterior
Michael plays with a lot of shapes and volumes when he redoes a house, making it both look brand new but still stay true to the neighborhood's style, too. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1319 westmoor drive way
Michael doesn't skimp on qualityor materials, as seen in all the great choices for this house at 1319 Westmoor Drive. 
 
Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_before westmoor
Michael says he's not a business; he remakes houses that really need it, as seen clearly in the before photo of 1319 Westmoor Drive. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_before westmoor2
When you see what these homes used to look like, as seen in another before of 1319 Westmoor Drive, you really understand the influence Michael's having on not just individual homes, but on entire streets, neighborhoods and the city as a whole. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1317 yorshire lights
With a background in art and production design, Michael really considers the whole look of the home, including the yard and how it's viewed from the street. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1317 yorshire rocks
You can see that Michael really cares about these properties and the people who will one day live in them by how much attention to detail he shows absolutely every corner of each house. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_exterior
Even when his touch is subtle, he's still able to effect a great change, like in this modern spin on a Tarrytown bungalow. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1317 yorshire exterior other side
His work is certainly bold and modern, but it's also warm, livable and accessible. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1317 yorshire exterior night
More proof that he considers the entire compositionyard, lighting, art and all, when he remakes these homes. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_Kitchen
You won't find boring interior treatments in his homes; he really includes unique and personal furnishings, materials and built-ins to give each home a one-of-a-kind look. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_bath
He also has a reputation for creating homes that are ripe for relaxation and rejuvenation. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1414 exterior
This Corona Drive home shows how even his more simple remakes still create a big impact and work well within the neighborhood. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_starting point
The point at which Michael feels each project starts: when he strips a home back and then begins to re-imagine it. Courtesy of Spek
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1319 westmoor drive
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1319 westmoor drive exterior
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1319 westmoor drive way
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_before westmoor
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_before westmoor2
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1317 yorshire lights
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1317 yorshire rocks
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_exterior
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1317 yorshire exterior other side
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1317 yorshire exterior night
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_Kitchen
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_bath
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_1414 exterior
Austin Photo Set: News_Adrienne Breaux_Spek_October 2011_starting point
Calling Michael Parkes' business SPEK a design/build company only begins to define its purpose; with SPEK, Michael recycles and shapes existing structures to create meaningful, genuine spaces instead of starting from square one—and he doesn’t compromise quality for profit. One thing you can say is that he’s creating beautiful homes, and while his work is sprinkled throughout Austin (with SPEK's projects dating back to the company's birth in 2004), he’s recently been designing a whole lot of stunning structures in one Austin neighborhood in particular.
 
Michael doesn't just change the paint color and add a couple of details to the homes his business refurbishes; he examines each property, stripping it back almost to its bones to completely reimagine its existence. Along with making homes look good with design, materials, installation and even sculpture, Michael also makes sure the quality of the homes is improved by fixing infrastructure issues, doing things beyond the book (like using third-party inspections even though they’re often costlier than other options) and truly caring about the projects and the people who will eventually live in them.

Michael’s been adding his signature style to the Austin neighborhood of Windsor Park, where he also lives, by refurbishing his own house and a few of the houses on his street. He lives in the last one completed. Another has been sold, and the first on that street to receive the SPEK treatment is currently rented. Michael treasures the “genuine, community-minded and friendly” folks he found in the neighborhood and loves the 1950s aesthetic, the affordability of everything and that the area has its own hangout spots like Nomad Bar and Corona Café.

 Although I think I am quite practical, art isn't about the practical. Art is about the possible. And I like to think what I do is explore possibilities within re-usable structures.

“Over time I started acquiring and doing projects on my own street because I love where I live. There's something great about walking five houses over and getting to work. The houses have been sold off as I finish them so I'm not really hoarding, but I guess I am somewhat aware of the personal mark I am making. I also realize how fortunate I am that my neighbors are supportive and like what I do,” says Michael.

Michael studied Studio Art at Dartmouth and Transmedia/Performance at the University of Texas, but with no formal architectural or real estate experience, says he’s able to maintain a genuine (we’d add refreshing) artistic relationship to his work. And his style definitely blends a love of the past with a careful eye towards contemporary and futuristic ideas.

“Although I think I am quite practical, art isn't about the practical. Art is about the possible. And I like to think what I do is explore possibilities within re-usable structures. I'm not a business. I really do the projects I do because they need refurbishment or because I have some idea that I can't get out of my head. I just don't approach things in a typical real estate or architecture fashion. I guess that could be good or bad, but it definitely makes me different,” says Michael.

I asked Michael to tell me more about why he does what he does, why he does it where he does and who he thinks is doing a great job of shaping Austin:

On why he has focused a lot on the Windsor Park neighborhood:
Originally I was bitten by the Mid-Century Modern bug. It was trendy and very Austin to be all about the Jetsons, and we have some key features in my neighborhood that were easy to accentuate if you wanted to work that angle. But as I worked and responded to what was here, I stopped thinking that trying to restore the 50s was artistically and ethically sound. The 50s weren't that great from a societal standpoint, even if the design from that era is catchy in its own way. I started thinking maybe there was something more that could be done if I thought forward rather than backward. It seemed that was the "right" thing to do. That's really when the work took off.

How he stands out from the design/build crowd:
Each project is unique and I strive to make sure there is a wide range of shapes and relationships to the landscape and the houses around them. I respond to each structure as independently as possible, but I have some things I repeat. There's a color called "Squirrel" which is a signature of mine. You will find it on every house. The latest project is actually quite different, because I wanted to create a house all about the backyard. There are not many windows to the street, and in some ways it's quite unfriendly. The program for the house is to pare back the original single gable house to a more simplified form and then attach "parasitic" boxes that need the original structure in contrast to maintain interest.

Who Michael thinks is rocking Austin design (and why you might rethink ever sharing a stage with him):
My process begins more once I'm tearing into a structure than by responding to new projects in Austin that I see around me. That said, Michael Hsu is just busting it out recently, and I admit to be eagerly awaiting the new Dick Clark hotel. What Aaron Vollmer and Jean Pierre Trou did for Cafe Medici is just awesome in the Austonian. The landscape design for Mueller is pretty sweet. And of course there's the inimitable Joel Mozersky for all things fabulous. If I was up against him in a beauty pageant right now I'd arrange for a stage light to fall on him. I'm so jealous of how talented he is—I can't stand him!

On whether he considers himself someone shaping Austin:
I'm just an artist working on one house at a time, and working in the medium of materials for residential building. I'm very much one-project-at-a-time in my focus. Austin as a city made me—not the other way around. I just want to hear people at Nomad Bar saying "Oh yeah, Westmoor Drive... that's a really cool street." And I want cool neighbors to move in.

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Read more about Michael, the SPEK difference and see more photos on his website