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By Allison Hatfield | Photo: Dror Baldinger | April 22, 2015
Natural and man-made beauty combine in the Hill Country home of architect Jim Gewinner and his wife.
Architect Jim Gewinner and his wife, Kym, looked at 82 properties before deciding on the site for their Hill Country home. They had something very specific in mind and finding the right site was paramount.
Their exhaustive search for a piece of land that would not only provide a spectacular view but also allow for a north-south orientation of a house to take advantage of that view—yet shield its inhabitants from Texas’ brutal afternoon sun—eventually yielded the exact right thing: 10 acres of rolling terrain at the end of a cul-de-sac and at the top of a ridge overlooking a valley. “When we found this property... it was an immediate solution,” Jim says.
After selling his Houston architectural firm, Energy Architecture, Gewinner retired to Fredericksburg and decided to build one last house. But the house, Jim says, isn’t the point, which probably isn’t something you’d expect to hear from a man who spent his career designing buildings. “It’s the valley, and it’s seeing the valley through the house that matters,” he says.
The centerline of the house sits exactly at the centerline of the valley. It is slightly off the ground, and its north and south elevations are virtually all glass so that as you approach the house, you see the spectacular natural setting beyond it. “That’s what we wanted,” Jim says. “The house takes on a transparent quality. It’s very light on its feet. That makes clear that the valley is the important aspect.”
The house comprises just three main elements: glass, limestone and mahogany. The limestone core (where bathrooms, closets, laundry and mechanics are located) anchors the house to the ground. The mahogany walls on the east and west sides of the house provide a different weight and texture from the other materials, adding interest to the structure.
As you move toward the house, a walkway leads to the front doors. That walkway appears to extend through the house, emerging on the other side and providing a direct link from the front door to the back door, further emphasizing the sightlines to the valley, Jim says. “So the interior experience is of being drawn out of the house. Those two walkways—the front entrance and the patio—are in perfect alignment to the valley. It was very purposefully done.”
The floor plan of the 2,100-square-foot home is simple, and the decor is minimalist. Flash and frills are unnecessary when nature is the focal point.
On the first level is a single, large room divided into a kitchen, dining area and living area. Behind a limestone wall lies the guest bedroom. In a loft-like space above the living area are the master bedroom and an office, separated only by a beautiful millwork piece by Ron Belcik Woodworking. “My wife and I love the openness but thought guests might not share that same thought,” Jim says. “We wanted them to be able to close a door and close a space off. That’s why the guest bedroom was put on the other side of the limestone enclosure.” And though guests have that degree of privacy from the rest of the house, they still enjoy the same magnificent view.
With or without guests, the Gewinners like to enjoy the view from the back deck most of all. It’s a small, elevated area with four lounge chairs, and it’s perfect for relaxing when the weather is good. There is also an area near the kitchen where they have placed an Eames chair that both husband and wife find to be a comfortable spot for taking in the view. “There’s no area that we don’t really like,” Jim says. “Because of the openness, you constantly have the ability to see the property and see the adjoining spaces.”
Building a house such as this in a rural area came with a unique set of challenges. “A house like this is not normal,” the architect says, “and a lot of the trades out here were not in sync with it and had not done anything like this before. It required a lot of attention and was a bit of a struggle.” Jim acted as his own general contractor—and in some cases the subcontractor, executing various aspects of the construction himself. “It takes a lot out of you,” he says. “I am exhausted.”
When it’s suggested that he picked a good place to rest, he smiles and his voice fills with satisfaction. “Yes, it’s a drop-dead beautiful piece of property.”
Jim Gewinner and Amanda Smith
Valli & Valli
Living room sofa and table
Guest bedroom chairs
Living room chairs, guest bedroom table
Dining room table