The architecture may be old at This Old House's new project in Austin, Texas, but the thinking is thoroughly modern. For the first time, the show is going totally "green"—using as many environmentally friendly building products and methods as possible—and creating a functional home for a contemporary blended family.
The subject of the renovation is a 1926 Craftsman bungalow that owners Michael Klug, 38, co-founder of a hologram company, and Michele Grieshaber, 41, a marketing executive, are turning from a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house into one with four bedrooms and two baths. Michele has owned the house for the past decade, but the couple married this past April and need more room to accommodate their new family, which includes Michael's two sons, Sam, 13, and David, 11. Add in the possibility of another child in the future, and it becomes clear that a house built for the lifestyle of a 1920s family won't cut it for this 21st-century clan.
That said, there are many things about the house's original design that the couple plans to preserve and honor. Built before the days of hulking McMansions with 24/7 air-conditioning, the compact house was built to use natural air flow, high rooflines, and deep overhanging eaves to keep the heat at bay. It was efficient and green, and Michael and Michele have no intention of turning it into a oversized, over-cooled monstrosity devoid of its original Arts and Crafts details. In fact, their second-floor addition will only bump up the roofline by 6 feet. "We don't want a big house; we're not going to gold-plate everything," says Michele. "We don't need fancy—we need functional."
Along with the added bedrooms, the couple's other wish-list item is an updated kitchen that opens up onto an entertaining area. Walls will move or come down entirely to allow the couple to interact with friends and family while preparing food. "I love to cook, and I'm at the stove while I'm socializing," says Michael. They also plan to spend as much time outside in the mild weather, so they'll create a screened-in porch and make sure that the entertaining areas connect easily to the outdoors. "We like to live outside more than the average Texan," explains Michael. "We're fine not having the AC on."
That energy-saving mentality is one reason for their desire for a green renovation, but it may be the local way of life that truly influenced them. Austin, a young, tech-company town and one of the fastest growing cities in America, is at the forefront of the green movement. The Austin Green Building Program, one of the oldest in the country, will rate the project for its use of eco-friendly materials. Photovoltaic cells on the roof, rainwater collection for irrigation, spray-foam insulation, recycled-glass tile and countertops, and formaldehyde-free wood composites are just some of the resource-saving strategies and eco-friendly materials planned for the project.
Overseeing it all will be architect David Webber and veteran green builder Bill Moore. With a budget of $250,000, they'll be working hard to incorporate the right materials and still accomplish the changes the couple need. The project will take less than five months overall, but when it's finished, Michael and Michele will have an updated version of their classic house, which they loved so much they couldn't part with it. "We did look at other, renovated houses in the neighborhood," says Michele. "But I feel responsible for this house. Houses have souls, and I need to take care of this one."