A gated complex of five architecturally noteworthy homes is rising on a five-and-a-half acre site just west of Austin, Texas. Located in upscale West Lake Hills, the five-bedroom homes are priced from $12.5 to $18 million with living spaces from about 6,700 to nearly 10,000 square feet.
Described as a “private collective,” the five glass-rich contemporary residences, each set on an approximate one-acre lot, are arranged so that the homes feel “like they belong together,” say project designers. Each home’s orientation, sightlines, landscaping and partitions are positioned so that the structures look as if they interact—or even riff off each other—without sacrificing privacy.
The complex presents a rare and thoughtful synergy for what could be just another homogeneous gated community.
“There’s really nothing like this in Austin,” says Francisco Uzcategui, founder of Houston-based Unicus, a residential design-build firm spearheading the project. “It’s rare to be able to design a group of homes in five subdivided lots.”
Five, as Uzcategui modestly calls the project, broke ground in late 2021. The first home will be complete in November and the second in December. Another will be finished in April 2024 and the final two finished by early 2025. Eric Moreland of Moreland Properties holds the listing.
A 6-foot-tall travertine wall bisected by a gate borders the front of the development. Just beyond, the homes are positioned in a U around a broad tree-lined avenue. Entries, courtyards, gardens and views from rooms are oriented, some in juxtaposition to each other, to provide balance and symmetry. From overhead, the development resembles five giant puzzle pieces that form a cohesive whole.
“We’re not building these houses to just maximize the beauty and value of each individual home, but to augment the collective five as a whole,” Uzcategui says. All of the dwellings have pools, gyms and either three- or four-car garages. Two of the homes have walk-in wine rooms, and the others include wine storage.
The homes were designed by architect David Curiel, founder of Curiel Arquitectos, launched in 2011. The firm, with offices in Mexico City and Texas, is staffed with 40-plus architects, engineers and interior and furniture designers, among others.
Curiel points to houses No. 1 and 2, which face each other to the left of the gate. “We’ve placed a garden and patios in between, so we’re creating green spaces to control the views,” he says. “We use stone walls, and greenery covering stucco walls throughout the project, which help blend the lines between the houses.”
House No. 2 presents a modernist assemblage of shapes clad in limestone from Mexico. The creamy white to slightly gray facade is accented by overhangs, their undersides faced with stucco applied with a brown adobe finish, a process that integrates the color into the material. The robust brown can read as nearly black in low light. Reddish tones emerge in brighter light.
That interplay of materials and colors, intersected by clerestories and walls of windows, yields a look that is studied but calming. The structure is banked by a terraced landscape leading to the entry.
“Some of the home’s inspiration came from viewing Los Angeles’ older houses,” says Curiel of the 9,010-square-foot residence. “So the home has more of a midcentury kind of vibe.”
Curiel says many homeowners are never able to truly appreciate their homes from the inside because of the outward-facing architecture. Instead, Curiel turns his houses in upon themselves.
“We accomplish this through layering and the layout, the orientation of the rooms,” he says. “So if you’re standing in the dining room, you see your covered patio, the landscape, your pool, your side of the house. You get to appreciate the stone that you picked, the color.”
Skillful placement of glass walls, often used in hallways, also allows owners to view their property’s expanse. “You get the light coming through both sides, and you feel the hugeness of the lot.” Curiel says. “I think many designers envision the walls first and then put windows into them. My strategy is to create glass walls from the start.”
At 8,275 square feet, House No. 3 has facing wings that embrace an expansive courtyard. The space is anchored by an oak tree that’s about 130 years old, its canopy reaching 40 feet. A pool is just beyond.
The U-shaped courtyard “allows you to enjoy your own house from different points within the house,” Uzcategui says. The courtyard was designed around the existing heritage tree, which was moved 10 feet for better placement.
“Moving the tree took us about six months and cost $189,000,” Uzcategui says. “We’ve also planted more than 35 mature oaks brought from offsite to create these beautiful reference points throughout the property.” The oaks are 14 to 20 years old and are 25 to 30 feet tall, helping to increase privacy.
Marble imported from Mexico covers the facade of No. 3 with both honed and acid-wash finishes. The two textures add additional appeal and interest to the home, which will be complete in December. “And we invite that same material inside on some of the walls, so it feels like the outdoors is flowing into the interior,” Uzcategui adds. “That provides a lot of warmth.”
No. 3 has a stately look with its extensive use of marble, but its interiors feel relaxed and even homey, partly accomplished with a warm cream and tan palette. Floors and kitchen cabinetry are Bardolino gray oak, a saw-cut wood with a vintage look.
House No. 4, slated for completion in November, is clad with limestone sourced from the Austin area. “When we started digging, we discovered the soil was a very heavy, strong limestone,” Uzcategui says. “So we’ve used that as inspiration for the home’s facade.”
An extensive overhang that stretches across the front of the 7,961-square-foot house helps to deflect the Texas heat. That structure also accentuates an eye-catching 24-by-10-foot brass entry door topped by a smaller overhang.
Along one side of the home is a dramatic two-story structure clad in stucco with a deep brown adobe finish. The ultra-modern wing is lined with expansive windows and looks incongruous in contrast to the rest of the house. Uzcategui describes the volume as “museographic,” an architectural intervention that happily intrudes, veering off the main building’s stone facade.
House No.1, which has been sold and will be complete in April 2024, is the smallest of the five at 6,682 square feet. House No. 5, an L-shaped structure clad in dark Italian brick, is the largest at 9,870 square feet. “It was the most fun to design, partly because it has the most glass walls,” Curiel says. The home includes a cabana and a green “eco” roof, which has sweeping views of the Texas Hill Country.
Five is six miles west of downtown Austin and is a 12-minute drive from the 4,000-acre Barton Creek Habitat Preserve, which has numerous hiking trails. The complex is within the Eanes Independent School District, which was recently ranked the 10th best school district in the nation.
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