Austin modern: Open air.

This family of four went to China and back before knowing what changes they wanted for their 1950s ranch-style home.

“We bought the house seven years ago, but then my husband, Joe, was transferred to Shanghai, where we lived for two years,” says Lauren Cunningham. Their apartment in China was in a new luxury building, but it made Lauren realize what she missed about the house in Austin, and what she wanted to change. “The apartment had very dark floors, wallpaper in every room and no outdoor space. I always felt closed in,” she says.

Back in Austin, they hired Alterstudio Architecture to open up the kitchen, relocate the front door and add storage wherever possible, including built-ins for displaying objects they collected while traveling throughout Asia. “We hired Alter because they do a really good job making modern homes have that warm, inviting feeling that we always wanted,” says Lauren.

Other changes included transforming a back room into a playroom, carving out a desk area for when Lauren works from home and adding a tub to the master bath by taking space from the adjacent closet. “The master closet was Texas size,” she says. “We felt like we had to go out and buy more clothes just to fill it.”

Perhaps the most crucial change Alterstudio made was to enlarge the windows and sliding glass doors to let in more light. “I feel like when I’m at home I’m still part of the outside,” says Lauren. “It’s really important to us to feel like we’re still in nature.”

To give Lauren the warm modern feeling she wanted, a variety of textures were used in the interior, including limestone, wood, textiles and, of course, lighter flooring – European-cut white oak floors now flow throughout the house. Interior designer Claire Zinnecker worked with Lauren to connect the inner spaces with a consistent and neutral color palette and to fill them with comfortable furniture. “It’s very calming to be at home,” says Lauren.

While she works as a graphic designer, Lauren is also an artist, and in the past year she’s started creating canvases using a mix of acrylic and tea-dyed linen on wood panels. She also painted the stenciled design on her 5-year-old son’s wall. “If I did it again, I’d do it completely differently, but I like how it came out.”

The fact that Austin is so art-centric is one of the things Lauren likes most about living here, but she admits that it can also be overwhelming. “I’m one of these people who like to know what’s going on, and who all the artists are, but there are too many people to know.” Another challenge is the lack of available studio space in town, which is why Lauren and her husband are transforming a commercial space in central Austin into an artists’ community. “It’s inspiring that there are so many mediums in town. It’s not just graphic design and fine arts. It’s film, and architecture. We really have it all covered.”