The Upside

Architect Max Levy’s solution to a narrow lot on the Katy Trail was to go vertical—and put the main living spaces at treetop.

With the Katy Trail to one side and an allée of newly planted trees to the other, the house’s wraparound view includes green spaces in every direction.

When it comes to connecting people with nature via architecture, few do it better than Dallas architect Max Levy. Considered one of the premier modernists in the Southwest, Levy was the perfect pick to design a 3,500-square-foot contemporary home in a hip urban neighborhood with leafy character that rubs elbows with Dallas’ tony Highland Park. For nature-lovers, there’s a bonus: The multilevel house overlooks the Katy Trail, a 3-plus mile greenway running through the most densely developed section of the city.

The client, a design-savvy community leader who serves on the Women’s Foundation board of directors, was looking for a change from her current home, a large midcentury modern sandwiched between two McMansions. While ideal when raising her children, she now wanted something more urban on a smaller lot with less upkeep. The homeowner says she was drawn to the area because “there are lots of new homes, but they’re in proportion to the others around them. And, of course, there’s the Katy Trail. It’s within easy walking distance to so many places. I felt like I’d be making a real change without leaving Dallas.”

The homeowner rang up Levy, whose work she was familiar with (he’d designed the interior of her sister’s home) and whose design aesthetic was in sync with hers. “Max has done many projects where nature plays a big role, so I knew he’d be able to capture all of the surrounding foliage and make the home indigenous to the Katy Trail,” she says.

Levy, whose design firm, Max Levy Architect, has won numerous awards (among them the 2013 Dallas AIA Firm of the Year and a 2011 Texas AIA Design Award), is also known as a guy who thinks outside the box. This trait would prove key in creating the home’s uplifting design and airy feel.

In the study, a rug from Belgium, Florence Knoll sofa and vintage Eames chair and ottoman

The client wanted lots of windows to fill the two-story house with natural light and capture the view. Yet, she didn’t want to sacrifice privacy, despite having picked a lot that backed up to the Katy Trail and was flanked by neighboring homes within a stone’s distance. “Early on, I realized the solution was to turn the house upside down and put the living spaces and master bedroom on top,” says Levy. “Catching glimpses of the trail through the trees connects with the energy of being on the front row of the Katy Trail, yet, feels more secure than being down on ground level with it.”

Levy also needed to satisfy the client’s affinity for open windows and screened porches within a contemporary context. “Much of architectural modernism is hermetically sealed up with lots of glass looking out but no air coming in, which makes homes seemingly hold their breath,” says Levy. So he designed this house with lots of cross-ventilation. There are windows with custom operable panels and floor-to-ceiling custom aluminum doors (one opens onto a Juliet balcony), all culminating in a second-story screened porch. “The porch is almost freestanding with screens on all four sides and a little screened-in bridge that connects it to the back of the house,” says Levy. “In a way, the porch is the punch line of the whole house, an elemental little pavilion of refined detail enjoying its overlook of the trail.”

Once these design-defining elements were determined, other homeowner must-haves found their way into the game plan. A loft-inspired open floor plan adds spaciousness. Details are refined down to a certain minimalist style (no baseboard, no trim) with close attention paid to the proportions of things and how they receive natural light. Strategically placed translucent panels diffuse light and add a hint of privacy. Walls and ceilings are painted in the same white hue, and all floors are oak, stained dark gray, forming a subtle, serene backdrop for decor, in particular, the homeowner’s art collection of predominantly New York and California artists that she’s amassed over the years.

The homeowner collaborated with designer Robin Beckerman on furnishings, reworking existing pieces and designing new ones while juxtaposing the modern architectural elements with classic and traditional furnishings and fabrics. Occasional pops of color liven up the neutral palette, while silk and velvet fabrics, natural woven shades and sisal rugs add texture.

This is a warm, inviting home with topsy-turvy design that’s truly uplifting. “I do feel as if I’m living in an amazing tree house, especially during the day when all the curtains are open and the sun’s pouring in,” says the homeowner. “I love taking guests up the stairs, then watching their reaction. They’re always amazed at the sight of the windows with the light pouring in and the view of the Katy Trail. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

DESIGN DETAILS

Residence
Single-Family

Location
Dallas

Architect
Max Levy, FAIA
Max Levy Architect

Contractor
Elite Homes

Designer
Robin Beckerman, Robin Beckerman Interiors

Landscaping
Hocker Design Group 

Vendors
Ann Sacks
Tile throughout home

Cele Johnson Custom Lamps

Clifton Carpets
Sisal rugs in living and dining rooms; flat-weave wool rug in master bedroom 

Culp Associates
Manuel Canovas fabric on dining room chairs, Pierre Frey fabric on sofa in study, and Glant fabric on banquette in breakfast area 

George Cameron Nash
Great Plains drapery fabric in master bedroom, Rogers and Goffigon fabric on living room sofas and Rose Tarlow table in dining room