An Almost-Lake House in Texas, Renovated for Work and Art

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In 2015, when Dacia and Lanham Napier were touring Austin, Texas, with a real estate agent, they weren’t looking for a home — they were searching for office space in the tech-centric city for Mr. Napier, the chief executive of the investment firm BuildGroup and the former chief executive of Rackspace Technology.

The couple lived in San Antonio, about 80 miles south, but “I happened to mention to the real estate agent that Lanham’s dream has always been to have someplace on a lake,” said Ms. Napier, 49, a radiologist. “Well, she called me the next day.”

The agent wanted to show them a house in the Tarrytown neighborhood, about three miles from downtown Austin. It wasn’t exactly on a lake, but it was close, with a backyard that descended to Taylor Slough, an inlet of Lake Austin, which is part of the Colorado River.

ImageDacia and Lanham Napier bought a traditional-looking brick house in Austin and transformed it into a modernist home with room for lots of contemporary art.
Credit…Stacy Sodolak for The New York Times

Ms. Napier was skeptical, but they went to see it anyway. And it struck a chord. They liked that the low-slung brick house appeared to be a bungalow from the street, but descended to a second level buried in the hill. They also loved that it had water access and was a short drive from the airport and offices where Mr. Napier planned to work.

“For all the stuff that we do, it’s pretty darn convenient,” said Mr. Napier, 50. “And I’ll tell you what, it’s an awesome neighborhood to take a walk in.”

It didn’t bother them that the 3,600-square-foot, 1960s house had been renovated in a style that was more traditional than the modern design they preferred. They had done a major renovation of their house in San Antonio and knew they could recruit the same team — Tobin Smith Architect, Mark Ashby Design and Ten Eyck Landscape Architects — to transform their second home.

The Napiers bought the property for $3.3 million in June 2015. But rather than immediately tear out the leaded- and stained-glass windows, crown molding and fluted-column fireplace mantel, they decided to move in and get a feel for the space while working on renovation plans.

“It was probably a pretty good midcentury house when it was built,” said Tobin Smith, their architect. “But someone had Frenchified it, probably in the ’90s. We had our work cut out for us.”

Credit…Douglas Friedman

By the time the Napiers moved out to make way for the demolition crew two years later, they had decided to paint the brick exterior, add a pool and overhaul the interior, changing the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house into one with four reconfigured bedrooms, five and a half bathrooms and a study for Mr. Napier. The idea was to create plenty of space for visiting friends and family, including the couple’s 20-year-old son, Cade, who attends Yale University, and 17-year-old daughter, Avery, who goes to Phillips Exeter Academy.

Mr. Napier also planned to use the house for brainstorming with colleagues, so he wanted it to be multifunctional. “I think every entrepreneur deserves to have a conference room in their living room,” he said.

His one requirement was an enormous whiteboard in the dining room, which would double as his meeting space. His design team delivered one by creating a sliding panel on oversized stainless-steel wheels that is hidden in the wall and can be rolled out for work. “It’s invisible, until you yank on the handle,” Mr. Smith said. “And then out comes this mammoth Lanham-world dream.”

Ms. Napier took the lead on the rest. “I told them we need a funky, fabulous midcentury bungalow with a contemporary art feel,” she said.

Credit…Douglas Friedman

Christina Simon, the lead interior designer on the project at Mark Ashby Design, aimed to create that feeling with vintage furniture, dramatic materials like pyrite wall tile in the home bar and a custom silk rug in the primary bedroom, and by making smart use of Ms. Napier’s many collections, which include insect specimens, pepper mills and serious art.

“Dacia is very much a collector,” Ms. Simon said. “We knew that vintage would be part of the deal and had fun finding these unusual elements.”

A pair of deeply cushy, worn brown leather Roche Bobois chairs were an early purchase that helped set the relaxed tone, she said. They installed the chairs in the downstairs den, where they also built a Charlotte Perriand-inspired wall unit to hold many of Ms. Napier’s treasures.

“We call that shelving the natural history wall,” Ms. Simon said, “because she loves to collect elements like these tiny silver articulating bugs on stands.”

Credit…Douglas Friedman

With the help of Alexis Armstrong of Armstrong Art Consulting, Ms. Napier filled the house with works by artists like Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha, Ellsworth Kelly, Shirazeh Houshiary and Sol LeWitt. A monumental sculpture by Tony Cragg in the living room is so heavy that Mr. Smith had to reinforce the floor.

After vacating the home for nearly two years’ of construction, and spending roughly $2 million, the Napiers moved back in July 2019. This year, Mr. Napier is even more thankful to have a home that doubles as a legitimate office.

“It turns out that it’s even better in a pandemic,” he said, because he has multiple inspiring spaces for work, room to pace while on the phone and a whiteboard like no other. “I think for all of us, as humans, physical surroundings matter.”

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