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