Thirty-five years ago, Bart Knaggs came to this Hill Country land to fly-fish. When he decided to build here in 2013, there was only one architect to call: Michael Hsu.
The Austin-based architect, who also fly-fishes, helped Bart build a camp on this riverfront property in 2009, after which they collaborated on the design of Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop and the South Congress Hotel, two properties owned by Bart’s company. When it came time for Bart and his wife Barbara to build a house here to enjoy with their children, they knew it had to be done by Michael Hsu.
“I wanted someone who understood why we were here,” says Bart. “I invited him out to spot the site from the river, and I paddled him around in the canoe while he was fishing. It was getting dark when he finally said, ‘I got it.’ I’m like, ‘You got it?’ And he repeated, ‘I got it.’ And that was it. Then he went off to draw.”
The couple wanted a lot of texture and natural materials in the home. “One of my favorite things is the limestone wall that extends from inside out to the patio,” says Barbara. “We didn’t want super smooth surfaces.”
Scale was also high on their list. “A lot of people make the mistake of building a house and imagining Easter or Christmas, and the size gets away from you,” says Bart. “We told Michael that we wanted the house to fit the two of us, or the five of us when we’re here with the kids. He did that. It feels like it fits us just right.”
Having an indoor-outdoor sensibility to the space was crucial, and the couple talked to Michael about what they want to do when they’re out here. “We want to sit outside with our kids, enjoy the breeze off the river, watch the birds and animals,” says Bart.
In addition to maximizing time outdoors, the house has a way of bringing people together inside. “Back home in Austin, our kids will go up to their rooms and shut the doors,” says Barbara. “Here, everyone comes and sits while I’m making dinner. At night we’ll do a jigsaw puzzle on the table or play games. Everyone gathers here. This room brings you to the center of the house.”
“Michael made this a calming place,” says Bart. “I could not have imagined how calming it would be. We’re experiencing times with our kids that I don’t think we would’ve gotten anywhere but here.”
Even back in Austin, Bart and Barbara see the influence of this house on their kids, who are spending more time hiking and exploring the city’s famous trails, known as the Barton Creek Greenbelt. One of their daughters even specifically plans her drives back from college in order to maximize opportunities for camping along the way.
“The effects that this house has on us, the behavioral effects and why we like it out here, I think that transfers to our children,” says Bart. “We see our kids doing things that we know started here, and we’re like, ‘It worked.’ It was expensive, but it worked.”
Learn more about Michael Hsu’s work at dwr.com/interiors.