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Life by Design

For an emerging architect (with a soft spot for beets and burrata), both work and play are an endless quest for inspiring sensory details.

Kevin Stewart arrives at Dai Due, the butcher shop and supper club that the architect completed in August, and apologizes for being three minutes late. Dressed in jeans with upturned cuffs and a Western-style plaid button-up shirt, Stewart is the epitome of Austin workweek casual. His hair, more white than gray, is an unexpected counterbalance to a youthful optimism, Pharrell-like, though without the cloying effect.

Eighteen months ago, the 40-year-old Houston native left the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture (Olivia, Uchi, La Condesa) and started his own firm. He embraced the challenge of securing new clients, reasoning, "If you lose a job because you weren't the right fit, then it's probably for the best."

Stewart's credentials and design philosophy have already landed him a number of high-end residential and highly anticipated commercial projects, including a multi-family project down the street from Contigo (where 38 1/2 St. turns into Anchor Lane); a restaurant in the Skyhouse apartments on Rainey Street; and the mobile-food-truck-turned-brick-and-mortar-restaurant Peached Tortilla. Whether he prefers commercial or residential "depends on the day."

Stewart refers to his work as modern, which, for him, means simple. "My wife hates when I say this, because it connotes easy," says Stewart, whose wife, Liz Rau, is an architect with Tom Hurt Architecture. "There's the saying 'Less is more,' but it should really be said that less is more work." Architecture is inherently addictive, he explains. The challenge is to create a space that doesn't feel crammed or overcomplicated.

Like all architects, Stewart has a highly discerning aesthetic, gravitating toward stylish spaces that resonate on a number of levels, so we asked him for a short list of his favorite spots to eat, drink, shop, and hang out.

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Dining

  • DAI DUE (2406 Manor Rd)
  • A favorite "for so many reasons." There are the personalities behind the space, the food, the ethos, and it was one of Stewart's earliest solo undertakings. "Also, their tisanes, which change nightly, are the best way to end a perfectly cooked meal--along with a quarter pound of chicken liver mousse to take home on the way out of the butcher shop."
  • EDEN EAST (755 Springdale Rd)
  • "Slow dining at its best!" Along with the ever-changing menu, "the service is amazing and the outdoor atmosphere--the trees, the hanging lights and farolitios--couldn't be better."
  • VAUDEVILLE (230 E Main St, Fredericksburg). "The basement of a design/home furnishings store turned into wine bar/brasserie with a Hill Country twist. The tin ceiling and antique light fixtures make you feel like you're in Europe. They have an amazing bicycle chain chandelier, the burrata is insanely good, and you can grab a bottle of wine to enjoy while you walk around town."
  • SALT AND TIME (1912 E 7th St)
  • Jake Maddux, behind the bar, offers exemplary hospitality even in the most hectic times, and the changing lunch specials--I really love the vegetarian options--are unexpected for a butcher shop and awesome.
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Shopping

  • TRAVELLER DENIM (1403 Chesnut Ave)
  • "The hand-crafted quality of the space is inspiring, but my favorite detail is the way the thread that feeds the machines runs up the back wall and down to the machines. It's like you're inside a sewing machine." Stewart's attachment to the store is also sentimental. "Cotton is the second wedding anniversary, so I got Liz a pair of their custom jeans for ours."
  • OH, LASZLO
  • An online shop featuring hand-cast concrete home goods, such as planters with accent colors for succulents, by Joanna Wojtkowiak. Stewart commissioned Wojtkowiak (who's also his longtime tenant) to make the light-green tiles featuring the state of Texas that are thoughtfully placed in Dai Due.
  • EAST AUSTIN STUDIO TOUR
  • There's no better place to in touch with the creative spirit of Austin. My wife and I try to find a painting each year we go. Last time it was work by Court Lurie that hangs at the end of the entry into our bedroom.
  • F-STOP FARM
  • Though not technically a store, this CSA at HOPE Farmers Market "has the sweetest beets you'll ever eat." Ryan Farnau runs it along with his wife, Hillary Welde. "They have about a dozen chickens and my wife and I each named one. I picked Karl Feathers and she selected Lucille 2. Lucille's great, but I'm sure Karl lays way better eggs."
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Drinking

  • 1888 BAR AT GREEN PASTURE'S (811 W Live Oak St)
  • "The peacock blue color of the space is over the top and it's small and intimate," says Stewart, who got married at Green Pasture's and sips Sapphire and tonics while he's there. "Most architects don't get to design places of this scale or intensity. It's an interesting study to take the concept behind this and try to use color in a larger space without it dominating, or to utilize it in more intimate rooms that lend themselves to a more 'dramatic' experience: powder rooms, bathrooms, studies."
  • WHISLER'S (1816 E 6th St)
  • Whisler's has become a go-to not only for Stewart but also architects throughout town, even if the relationship is sometimes love-hate. "The building is my nemesis," jokes Stewart. "So many of my clients want to have a space like that but their buildings don't have those bones." Stewart is partial to the Negroni with Waterloo Gin and barstools made from re-purposed mail sacks.

HANGING OUT

In addition to Shoal Creek Park, Barton Springs and Lady Bird Lake, one of Stewart's favorite hang-out spots is two hours outside Austin, at The River Inn Resort in Hunt, Texas (2960 Hwy 39, Hunt). "Many of the units haven't been updated since I went there as a 10-year-old kid. I love that nostalgia," he says. "There's needle pointing and quilting on the walls, and every unit has a view of the Guadalupe River."

Credits

Photography by Jessica Pages

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