Willow & Cork embraces the challenges of fostering intimacy on an urban lot by organizing simple forms around an outdoor living room. Clad in cork and accentuated by warm textures, the project highlights the aesthetics and functionality of natural building materials, nodding to sustainable practices while creating a serene sanctuary amid the rhythms of Austin’s East Side.
Enveloped in a rich cork exterior, Willow & Cork exemplifies the power and beauty of biobased building materials. Cork is a tree bark, a rapidly renewable plant material that captures carbon during its growth cycle. As exterior siding it’s durable, and function doesn’t falter for sustainability—cork's innate hydrophobic properties safeguard the house from moisture, while its inherent insulatory properties reduce thermal bridging and increase the energy efficiency of the home.
By clinging to the western boundary, elongating its form, and unfurling to the east, Willow & Cork creates an intimate setting on its urban lot, clearing the way for a central courtyard organized around a pool. The surrounding structures are composed of a singular bar flanked by two squares, and the simplicity of these shapes opens opportunity for spatial innovation: though accessory units are traditionally ancillary structures tucked away in the backyard, Willow House shifts its guest room to the front of the lot. This arrangement emphasizes the organizing principle of the pool and delineates the axis that begins before the structure’s entry and continues straight through the center of the property.
In an homage to Latin American design, Willow & Cork’s courtyard becomes an outdoor living room where everything but the ceiling and roof continues to the outside. The resulting space clears an airy conduit for sunlight to filter onto the property, encouraging impromptu gatherings and shared moments.
The accessory structure, also clad in cork, is positioned ideally for guests, with a large opening that’s in direct dialogue with the courtyard. Its roof doubles as a deck that forms an extension from the main house’s second floor. A grid of large, uniform windows along the eastern facade of the main house dissolves the boundary between the indoors and outdoors, with sliding doors that invite the courtyard to permeate the home’s interior. A dual-tiered canopy creates intimacy for each floor and highlights the home’s architectural axis. The top tier shields against the elements, while the secondary layer beckons visitors onto the lot. On the lower tier, planters cascade between steel cages.
Nestled to the north of the property, the pool bar is the heart of the programming, the centerpiece around which all activity flows. Its open-air design and terracotta cladding weave built work with nature. Along the eastern boundary, an elongated planter reinforces the seclusion of the courtyard, ensuring privacy for relaxation and leisure.
Inside, large windows illuminate the open living, kitchen, and dining area, reinforcing the connection between indoor comfort, outdoor activity, and surrounding nature. The interior decor resonates with a southwest palette of textured plaster walls, light woods, and warm tile.
A jog in the western façade allows for the preservation of a tree outside, and inside, it also creates a recessed window seat at the juncture of the living room and kitchen. Next to the sole opening that offers westward views, this resting place becomes a singular space within the home, where residents can muse in the glow of warm, late-day sunlight. A streamlined kitchen faces the public areas while concealing a large butler's pantry to its rear, one that’s equipped with an additional sink and fridge. This design shows restraint, showcasing minimalism on the outside while offering additional functionality behind the scenes.
The primary bedroom boasts expansive sliding glass doors, merging the interior space with a balcony that overlooks the pool and gazes above the tree canopy on the horizon. The room thrives on natural luminance, allowing morning sun to filter onto the bed from the east. The attached bath also exudes warmth through its choice of tile. All of Willow House’s design choices, in both layout and interior detailing, resonate with a balance of aesthetics and tranquility.
Construction: The Colby Company