2023 RDAA | Project of the Year | The Perch | Nicole Blair, AIA

The Perch rose to the top of this year’s entries for its sophisticated response to a site condition that seemed almost impossible but in reality is fairly common. The owners—he is a landscape architect, she is a hairstylist—wished for a small building they could use as a guest house, apartment, or hair studio. Although they owned side-by-side bungalows—a blue one and a pink one—there was no room to expand. They had spent years establishing a combined backyard garden and deemed it off-limits for building. “They realized the impossibility of the project—‘We’d love to have this extra space but don’t know where we’d put it, because we love our landscape and privacy,’” says Nicole Blair, AIA. 

What evolved was a classic case of high-level design that addresses the inherent difficulties head-on. Hovering above the blue bungalow on four piers—three of which tie into the house foundation—the two-level accessory sits precisely within the building setback tent. “The addition rises at a 45-degree angle and follows the roofline up to a certain height,” Nicole says. “We couldn’t have built that lower level higher, or the upper level lower. I decided that staying about 2 feet off the roofline would allow them to service the mechanical system from below. It would also provide enough room to stand inside and create a really interesting set of spaces.” 

Roof and walls are wrapped in corrugated COR-TEN steel, referencing an existing gated front fence and a backyard viewing platform. From a grated steel landing in the front courtyard, a stairway rises alongside the house to the addition, where the extruded roofline shelters a small porch. Its tongue-in-groove pine ceiling continues into a vaulted room housing the eat-in kitchen and a sitting area. A short flight of steps leads up to a hallway connecting two bedrooms on either side of a central bath. Bumping out the west side of the hallway made room for a compact storage bank that hides a stacked washer and dryer. Throughout, the ceilings track the roof’s angles. “The bedroom ceilings are 9 feet, and the living area is just shy of that,” Nicole explains. “We needed the height proportionally to make the spaces feel grand and special.”

Interior materials are warmly inviting: a stock Boos butcher block kitchen countertop, IKEA cabinets with custom fronts, copper hardware from Etsy, remnant white oak floors, and whitewashed pine walls and ceilings. “The building moves a bit, so I felt wood would hold up well over time,” Nicole says. “The coppery pinks pull all those materials together to echo what’s happening on the exterior.”

Craned into place, the steel structure was partly exposed inside and painted white. A shelf was ingeniously welded onto the beam behind the kitchen sink, and recessed lighting and electrical outlets were tucked behind it. Near the front door, a metal coat rack soldered to a protruding beam keeps it from becoming a tripping hazard. The coat rack and the cantilevered front bedroom sway slightly when someone walks up the stair, Nicole says, a subtle reminder of the forces of wind and gravity. So does the bent interior stair rail. “I thought that kind of connection back to its construction was noteworthy and wanted to incorporate elements that echo that movement,” Nicole says. Upstairs, the stucco-clad bath reads as one volume, making it seem larger and offering relief from all the wood. “Because it was in the very center of the space, where the building isn’t moving as much, I felt safe using it,” she says.

In the best accessory tradition, the Perch will offer flexibility as the couple’s needs change over time. “It’s such a clever way to do an accessory, on top of the house as opposed to the backyard,” said a judge, adding, “It’s so fun, and the interiors are beautiful.”

[Editor’s Note: To see our previous coverage of this project, click here.]

2023 RDAA Project of the Year

Nicole Blair, AIA
The Perch
Austin, Texas

Project Credits

Architect/builder: Nicole Blair, AIA, Austin, Texas

Interior designer: Nicole Blair, with owners Dylan Robertson and Annie Cobb

Landscape designer: Dylan Robertson, D-CRAIN Design and Construction, Austin

Engineer: Ryan Stoltz and Amanda Dees, Structures PE, Austin

Project size: 660 square feet

Site size: 0.16 acre

Construction cost: $550 per square foot

Photography: Casey Dunn

Key Products

Cabinetry: IKEA/custom fronts

Cladding: Western States Metal Roofing, Woodtone (porch)

Cooktop/Range: Fisher & Paykel

Countertop: Boos Block

Entry doors/Windows: Windsor Windows & Doors

Faucets: Switch Range

Flooring: rift-sawn and flat-sawn white oak

HVAC: Mitsubishi, Trane 

Lighting control: Leviton

Millwork: Pat’s Sheetmetal Supplier

Paints: Sherwin-Williams, Behr, Benjamin Moore

Refrigerator: SMEG

Roof window/Skylights: VELUX

Roofing: Western States Metal Roofing

Sinks/Toilet: Duravit

Stucco: LaHabra

Thermal/moisture barriers: Carlisle

Tile: Artistic Tile

Underlayment: ZIP System

Washer/dryer: Bosch

Window wall system: Arrow Glass