Modern Barn

The great outdoors meets in throughout the walls of this light-filled family home by architect Paul Lamb in Westlake.


The home of Wilson and Janet Allen and family was a labor of love. Built by Don Crowell and designed by Austin architect Paul Lamb, it’s what he calls a modern barn, spacious and perched on a hill with a view that overlooks the city. It’s modern, yet comfortable—the perfect combination of old and new sensibilities. “The Allen house has the feel of a modern barn: simple vernacular volumes whittled down to their essence with interiors of well-lit, clean-lined tactile materials,” Lamb says. “In fitting the house to the land there are a variety of experiences created with different levels: spaces that soar at the edges and others that are hunkered down.”

Lamb worked with the Allens to bring their vision to life, as he does with his other clients and projects; usually he designs six to eight a year. With each one comes a careful precision and willingness to translate sometimes complicated dreams into beautiful, complex realities.

“A design emerges when it has an overall concept that conveys their dreams, a plan arrangement that brings out the best qualities of the site, and a strategy for finding the right quality of light for each space,” he says. “A house needs to be well crafted to feel timeless and substantial.”


Inside the Allens’ home, reclaimed wood beams support the roof and create a striking ceiling. The house is built to fit the contours of the land; multiple levels fit elegantly into each nook and cranny of the hillside, and balconies in the rear hover watchfully over the cityscape below. When Atlanta-based interior designer Susan Ferrier was asked to design a corresponding interior, she knew this indoor-outdoor harmony would be her focus. “I love to walk into a house and see straight through it to the outside,” she says. “This house really takes into account views and landscape, so we had a lot of opportunities to take the outside into the house and traverse through it. It suits their lifestyle, and that’s what this house is about: a lifestyle. It was never meant to be a house that couldn’t be lived in.”

At home, Janet looks chic in denim and sports a warm smile. A native Austinite, Janet left her hometown after graduating from UT for a short stint and had an ah-hah moment upon her return. “Then I got why everyone thought Austin was the greatest place to live. It took getting away for me to see it.” That earnest affection led her to become involved with a number of organizations around town, the Blanton Museum of Art among them, and most recently the Waller Creek Conservancy. Wilson is also an ardent arts supporter, and serves on the board of The Contemporary Austin.

She says: “I get more than I give out of volunteering—I thrive being around creative and dynamic people. And Wilson and I both feel strongly that we contribute in a positive way to the city that we live in and love.”

Their love and support of Austin is apparent throughout their home as well. They like to support local artists, so works by Kate Breakey, Phil Durst, and Lisa Beaman are natural fits. And their favorite piece, a sculpture, is by Texas-native James Surls, and hangs above the fireplace in the heart of their home. Alongside the artwork? Paintings done by their youngest daughter, 11-year-old Channing, and stacked books that further reflect their involvement in the art world, like the one entitled Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol Lewitt from a recent exhibition of the same name that graced the Blanton this spring.


“While the Blanton is a university museum, it is also for every Austinite,” she says. “The Blanton’s permanent collection is of such substantial range and depth. It is an incredible resource for an art scholar as well as the occasional museum-goer.” She speaks of Waller Creek with equal zeal. With the planned transformations, it’s been christened a green artery in the heart of downtown, and one that Janet thinks is of vital importance. The upcoming fundraising will create momentum around what’s to come: a crisp, flowing creek, multiple walking bridges, a trail and a performance venue among other features in Waterloo Park. “It’s about taking a neglected creek and reviving it,” she says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform downtown Austin. It’s going to be playful, fun and interesting; as well as important to the economy and ecology of Austin.”

The Allens also cites natural elements as a driving force behind their home’s interior design, carefully cultivated with the help of designer Ferrier. Succulents sit front and center of the living room, and materials like stone, wood and hides drape the space in warm, refreshing tones. “The home has a casual elegance that is traditional in its warmth but contemporary in its aesthetic,” Ferrier says. “We were generous in our application of fabrics, drapery and texture to warm the open spaces. Plus, the view is stunning, and we wanted to make sure the house and entertainment in the house was conducive to sharing that view with family and friends.”

For Lamb, it’s all about the connection between foundation and family: two things irrefutably intertwined. He says: “What makes my heart sing is when a house fits a family and becomes the right vessel into which they can pour their lives. If the house becomes a supportive ally then I feel I have done my job well.”

It seems that Lamb’s wishes for the Allens’ abode have come true and, even better, it has so far withstood the true test of practicality: day-to-day family life. With both architect and interior designer echoing the need for ease and comfort, it makes perfect sense that, now finished, this home is perfectly suited for their most pressing needs. “We needed a house that could handle three kids, a dog and a cat,” Wilson says. “And really livable. A place where you can put your feet up.”



Photography by Casey Dunn & Annie Ray

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