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An Alchemy of Design & Science

Tucked in a corner of Tarrytown, Kim & Tim Dowling’s elegant new home seamlessly integrates the principles of Modernism and the science of solar energy into a one-of-a-kind architectural wonder.

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After living in lower Manhattan for sixteen years, Kim and Tim Dowling, a couple in their forties with two young sons, decided that it was time for a change. It’s a familiar pattern of migration that many young families follow. Instead of moving to Westchester or Monteclair, the Dowlings extended their sights to the state of Texas. Raised in Houston, Kim graduated from Southwest State (now Texas State) with a BA in communications while her husband had grown up on the Upper East Side and attended the University of Virginia. A southwestern move to Austin was a natural transition for the family.

Seven years ago, the Dowlings purchased almost an acre lot located at the end of a secluded cul-de-sac in Tarrytown, just off of Exposition. “I went to Austin for the first time Christmas of 2006,” remembers the couple’s architect, Ali Tayar, who is the principal of Parallel Design, a firm based in New York City. The Turkish-born architect, who studied architecture at the University of Stuggart and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had redesigned a partial interior for the Dowlings’s loft on Franklin Street. (Other residential projects designed by Tayar include houses in Bern, Switzerland, and Beirut, Lebanon, and his furniture and objects can be found in collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum.) “Tim dropped me off at the property for a few hours, picked me up, and then took me back to the airport. That’s how the project got started. The whole thing is based on the very first sketch that I made when I was there.”

Two of the defining elements of the house were the Dowlings’s desire to integrate the use of solar energy while bringing a casual, but elegant Modernist aesthetic—in the spirit of Mies van de Rohe and Le Corbusier—to their new home. From the outside, the 4,500-foot-square house almost resembles a simple, shed-like building, which measures exactly 25 feet wide by 90 long. “It’s almost exactly the shape of a New York City brownstone,” says Tim, “except our windows are on the long side rather than the short side.” The sloping roof accommodates solar panels, which now generate three quarters of the home’s electricity in addition to the charging of Kim’s electric car, a Nissan Leaf, which runs for 100 miles when fully charged (“Every night, we plug it in, like a cell phone,” says Kim). As a part of the city’s interconnected solar plan, the Dowlings sell electricity to Austin Energy during the day and then buy it back at night. “It’s not this easy for every community,” Tim says.

Other energy-efficient elements are also included in the design of the home. For example, along the expansive bank of windows that face the courtyard, a series of vinyl-mesh shades are operated via a solar timer to further reduce the use of electricity in the house. “They come down a bit before noon,” explains Tim, “and they go up every day about a half hour before sunset.” Also, above the courtyard, another scrim unfurls with a click of a switch, and extends between the living room and the nearby guesthouse, providing a cooling shade similar to the natural canopy of a tree. “The outdoor space becomes an extension of both the living room and the guesthouse,” adds Tayar. “Everything connects through the courtyard.”

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Inside, the structural approach is also seamlessly integrated, with the various components of the house being arranged within 15-foot sections. For example, the dining room and living room make up a 30-foot section. The adjacent space of the foyer, powder room, and pantry make up seven and half feet. “Everything is related to this grid,” says Tim, “but you don’t know when you’re sitting in the living room that there is a grid going on. It’s just the organizing principal for all of it to make sense.”

Designer furniture, including pieces by Edward Wormley, Hans Wegner, and Francesco Binfaré, and a selective collection of abstract photography provide perfect complements to the minimalist space. Take, for example, Pae White’s cotton-blend tapestry of ethereal smoke, which combines the innovative use of photography and printing. (The couple first viewed White’s work at the Whitney Biennale in 2010.) In the hallway, a film still elegantly hangs in a customized prosthetic frame by the artist Matthew Barney from his world-famous Cremaster 2 series.

In the kitchen/family area, the 30-foot space takes on a slightly more casual tone for entertaining, cooking, and watching television. The walls and ceilings are outfitted with acoustic treatments for optimal viewing and sound. “You get all of the benefits of having a home theater,” says Tim, “while not having the extra space that you don’t use all of the time. We like that spaces that can be used in multiple ways.”

Upstairs, one can look from end to end, all 90 feet, with its smooth rift-sawn, white-oak floors extending from the master bedroom to the far guestroom. In the master bedroom, a touch screen automatically prepares the room for sleep with blackout shades and curtains. In all of the rooms, Tayar designed customized oak cabinetry. On the ground floor, a dumb waiter travels between the garage and two floors of the house. “It’s like a jewel box,” Tayar says. “When you look around, every piece relates to another aspect of the house. I hope that comes across as a quiet, calming interior.”

An international banker, Tim still travels between New York City and Austin for work. That said, the couple is settling into their new roots here in Austin. Six months ago, Kim opened her new fitness studio, RIDE (see side bar). Tim now serves on the board of directors of the KIPP School on Martin Luther King, east of 183. “Austin is such a new place,” Tim adds, “that they’re used to new people showing up and saying, ‘Let’s us be a part of this.’”

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RIDE Arrives in Austin

A hybrid of spinning, core workout, and upper-body training, a 45-minute RIDE session delivers an electrifying burst of exercise unlike any other. During a recent ride, Nirvana to Led Zeppelin pulsed from the sound system as a cool blue neon light infused the far wall and mirror of the studio. With each set of exercises, the instructor encouraged the already-sweaty riders to dig deeper and push harder until the very end of the ride when participants clip out of their pedals and stretched against the handle bars.

This variety of intense, cross-training spinning class is already popular on both coasts. “I attended these classes five times a week for seven years in New York,” explains Kim Dowling, a former dancer who opened the studio six months ago with her husband, Tim, and fitness guru David Garza, “and I wanted to bring it to the Austin community.”

Located at 117 Lavaca, between Cesar Chavez and Second Street, the downtown studio’s interior was also designed by Ali Tayar, the architect of the Dowlings’s Austin residence. In the welcoming foyer, the studio’s vivid orange spiral logo is surrounded by a series of glowing orange circles while thin stripes of orange neon accent the ceiling. “Dan Flavin is one of my favorites,” says Tim, “so we asked Ali to use his work as inspiration for this space.” Horizontal neon lights of bluish purple travel the length of the hallway, like suspended steps, to the studio. “People always stop in and ask if we’re a nightclub,” Kim says with a smile. But Austinites are catching on, with many of the three classes a day selling out on a regular basis. For more information, visit ride-indoorcycling.com.

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