When Don and Lou Ann McLean bought a hexagonal home on the edge of Lake Austin in 2013, they loved the 1.3-acre waterfront lot. But they were hesitant about the house, which was built in the 1960s and had the feel of a rustic lodge.
The structure, propped up on columns above a site that plummeted to the water, had few redeeming qualities after being sliced up into a series of awkward spaces over the years and extended with a clumsy 1980s addition.
“It was a little hard to get our heads around it,” said Ms. McLean, 63, a former attorney.
“But of all the different places we looked at, this one was on a pretty spot on the lake,” said Mr. McLean, 71, a retired insurance broker. It had about 185 feet of water frontage, more than any of the other homes they saw. “So the lot won us over.”
The McLeans were looking for a change after raising their four children in Orange County, Calif. “We had always wanted to live on a lake,” Ms. McLean said. “We were water-skiers and raised our kids boating, and thought that a lake would be a great place for our permanent home.”
The couple, who own a six-acre vineyard called Caprichosa, part of the Vines of Mendoza resort in Argentina, also wanted to live in a city, which is how they settled on Austin, Texas, after a cousin of Ms. McLean’s suggested it.
Despite their reservations, they bought the property for $1.95 million, then recruited a local architect, Jim LaRue of LaRue Architects, to transform it. At first, he thought demolition was the solution. “It was sort of a frumpy, dumpy little building that was originally a fishing cabin,” Mr. LaRue said. “When we saw it, the concept was that we were just going to scrape it.”
But as he studied the site, he realized that the structure was irreplaceable, literally: It was so close to the lake that it seemed to hover over the water — an impossible feat today, as new homes there are required to be set back at least 75 feet from the shore.
To retain that position near the water’s edge, Mr. LaRue opted to keep the hexagonal footprint but to reconfigure the walls and roof, repurposing the existing structure as a new primary suite. Then he demolished the 1980s addition to make way for a connected, low-slung building, threaded between pecan trees, that would contain most of the home’s 4,200 square feet.
The new house is built with rugged materials including Texas limestone, exposed steel and standing-seam metal roofing that is also used as siding. Tall glass doors slide open at one end of the living-and-dining room to connect to a broad covered patio equipped with retractable screens and integrated heaters for year-round use.
Rather than adding a fireplace and TV to the living room, Mr. LaRue put them outside. When the glass sliders are open to connect the indoor and outdoor living areas, “the fireplace anchors the far end of that common space,” he said. “It just happens to be outside.”
And should anyone want a quick dip during commercial breaks, a pool hugs the edge of the patio.
For the interiors, the couple worked with Laura Britt, of the Austin-based Britt Design Group, to develop “a very warm, organic, modern palette,” Ms. Britt said. Finishes include European white-oak floors, hand-troweled and -burnished plaster, walnut kitchen cabinets elevated on beefy legs and textiles that add bursts of color in an otherwise neutral envelope. For the dining area, the couple’s builder, Classic Constructors, made a custom table from wood beams salvaged from the old hexagonal roof.
In March 2019, nearly three years after construction began, the McLeans moved in. At that point, their team began work on the dock, which has an ipe storage locker for kayaks and a paddleboard, with a deck on top. By the time everything was finished in the fall of 2020, they had spent roughly $4 million.
Now hunkered down to wait out the pandemic, they are especially appreciative of their easy access to water and the changing views through the floor-to-ceiling windows — of the surrounding landscape, designed with Environmental Survey Consulting; the reflecting pool with aquatic plants that wraps around their bedroom (in place of the balcony that was originally there); and the abundant wildlife.
“You get almost a treehouse feeling,” Ms. McLean said. “We’ve had foxes come through the yard, and we’ve had robins and nuthatches, so it’s been lovely.”
Some neighbors have also reported owl sightings. “Everyone around here is noticing a lot more wildlife than they’ve seen before,” she said. Maybe there are more birds and animals moving in, she speculated, or “maybe we’re just here to notice it.”