Before & After

A 1970s home lets the light in thanks to Tenaya Hills, the bright, young designer for the curators of cool, the Bunkhouse Group.

“I thought the house pre-renovation was pretty cool, so I asked my friend and co-worker Jackie Lee Young to do a photo shoot to immortalize the place,” homeowner and design manager for the Bunkhouse Group, Tenaya Hills (pictured left), says. Young did a shoot for Prototype Vintage before demolition started. The pink room is the master bedroom before the remodel.


Tenaya Hills, the Design Manager for the Bunkhouse Group and Design Assistant to Liz Lambert, and her fiancé Matthew Robinson were perfectly happy in a charming Travis Heights bungalow when they randomly started searching MLS one Sunday morning. Their just for fun real estate trolling quickly turned into pulling in the driveway for a showing of the 1970s, light-filled stone home in need of a buyer with vision in West Austin that they had spotted earlier that day. “It seemed too good to be true—it’s on an acre, in a valley, on a creek, overlooking a park, and had not been remodeled since 1971,” she says. “It felt like home the minute we pulled up to the driveway. I am not usually so certain about things in my life, but I felt certain that house was ours.”

Hills and Robinson were immediately taken with the way the sun shined into the room and the sweeping views, so their first priority when starting the remodel was to create clear views to the outdoors from every window. The previous owner used heavy valances and drapes on every window and almost every room was carpeted. The house had been vacant for three years and on the market for 173 days with only one offer. “We couldn’t believe it, but figured the work it needed may have deterred people who had looked at it. We sent a very nice note to the previous owner of the house who had lived there for 40 years,” she says. “There was a little back and forth, but they finally accepted our offer after a couple of weeks.” Their first order of business as homeowners was painting the walls white and going natural with the floors (walnut downstairs and seagrass upstairs). This accomplished bringing the focus of the home back to the beautiful surroundings.

Hills was always interested in design. From a family of eight children, she would sketch floor plans of the dream room she would have when the much anticipated day one of her older sisters moved out and she had the room to herself. “I was ready, and it was going to be cool (glow-in-the-dark ceiling stickers included)!” she says. She chose to study photography and pursued it for years before enrolling to get her masters in historic preservation at UT’s School of Architecture. “I was always mildly obsessed with architectural salvage and fascinated by old buildings,” she says.


Every room downstairs but the kitchen was covered in red carpet pre-remodel.


Architect Thomas Bercy of Bercy Chen Studio helped the couple with their desire to open up the first floor to get a better sense of the exterior landscape.


It was in her last semester of the program in one of her classes with Stephen Ross and Jack Sanders when she met Liz Lambert who was the guest lecturer after the class watched the documentary, “Last Days of San Jose.” It was May of 2008, and Hills was just about to graduate, so she called Lambert the next day and asked for a job. Lambert happened to be looking for a design assistant since Bunkhouse was building the Hotel St. Cecilia at the time, and Hills started working for Bunkhouse a week later. From the beginning, Hills had this innate sense about what Lambert was going for and what she likes. “There was certainly some training on her [Lambert’s] part though, not in the traditional sense. It’s just been kind of organic from the beginning,” she says. “I’ve actually always thought of my job as more of executing design. She is the designer and an incredibly talented one at that. She has the Midas touch.”

With her personal home, Hills stayed true to the design philosophy she uses at work—“the way for design to feel authentic is to just think about things you like, what you like about a space when you walk into it and how you want to feel when you’re in the space you are designing.” What she immediately loved about this house was all the light. The views to the trees gave it a treehouse feel. She knew she wanted to keep the open layout of the foyer, kitchen, dining room and living room that were connected by arches as a focal point. Her vision for a natural and comfortable California/LA canyon-feeling home that would be full of plants, sunshine, art, books and pets came to life, and she couldn’t be happier with the end result. Now that they are settled in, it’s wedding planning time, (the couple got engaged on the roof of the house the night they closed on it), and she is hard at work on new Bunkhouse projects. “I am lucky to be able to work for someone like Liz who cares so passionately about such amazing places, and has the drive, talent and grit to actually do it,” she says. “I love being in design—creating experiences and spaces for people is fun and so fulfilling.”



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