Behind the Design: Landscaping Our New Austin Interior Design Studio
Our Austin Interior Design Team Shares the Process of Landscaping the Historic Bungalow That Houses Our New Studio Space
When I bought a historic 1901 bungalow to house the new Austin interior design studio for Amity Worrel & Co., I had no idea that the property would completely capture my imagination with its story. Through the property’s 120 year history, I am only the 4th owner. Nevertheless, I can’t help but imagine the lives that were lived here before we filled the space with swatches, paint chips, and mood boards. Here’s how we crafted and conveyed our design story through period landscaping.
Crafting a Design Story
Before we moved in, a couple had lived and worked in the space for 15 years, using the front room as a pilates studio and the back outbuilding as an art workshop. We call this back building the “Duck Building” because the hobbit-sized door had the word DUCK written on the casing as a warning to anyone over 5’2” to watch their head.
Prior to the pilates family, the home sat empty for a time. The original and second owners did very little to change the residence. So when I took over the property, I decided to stick with a theme and chose a design decade to lean into for the renovation project.
At Amity Worrel & Co., my interior design team and I root all of our designs in history. There is a rich tapestry of American interior design styles that you can see recirculate through the decades. A successful design plan relies on preserving the home’s integrity and honoring the period when it was built.
While this home was built in 1901, my team and I decided to focus on 1920s design styles for the renovation. When the house was originally constructed, it sat on the outskirts of Austin in the middle of a pecan orchard. By 1922, the home was incorporated into the growing city, and new neighbors resided where pecan trees once grew. More than likely, the original owners would have taken this period to modernize the home and add a flair of urban style. After renovating the interior with vintage 1920s details, I turned my attention to the landscaping.
Telling a Story Through Period Landscaping
As interior designers, we know how to tell a story through paint, textiles, and layout. However, we don’t regularly work with plants, dirt, and fencing! So to ensure we properly conveyed our design story, we enlisted the help of Landscape Architect Alexis Bearer of Landscapewitch in Manor, Texas. We’ve worked with Alexis on previous period renovation projects, so we knew that she had the intellect and artistic flair to turn the yard from neglected urban blight to a welcoming retreat for alfresco workdays.
Designing period gardens for older homes is an art and a science that requires a lot more research than people may initially realize! During this project, Alexis and I spent our days pouring over House & Garden magazines from the 1920s and researching famous gardens across the country. Plants go in and out of style just as colors, patterns, and furnishings do. And, it was important to get the flora just right.
My favorite moment during our research phase was when Alexis asked me if I wanted to go for “Great Gatsby 20s” or “Cholera Outbreak 20s.” I chose cholera! To me, it was clear that this house was not fancy, nor would it ever be. However, it could be exciting and beautiful. And, why not add another detail to this story I’m crafting in my mind!
The story of the original Austin family continues…We came up with the idea that they must have established the farm and then looked up to their surprise to find themselves a part of the bustling Austin metropolis 20 years later. They were humble folks and needed some city life guidance from their cousins in Los Angeles. So, they took a trip to Southern California and came back with fancy palm trees and succulents. Their California garden became the envy of the neighborhood.
Of course, we had to keep some Texan flair. We also took some cues from the nearby Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin. We included bungalow garden elements like low-tumbled stone columns, wire fences, and native Texan plantings.
Creating Beautifully Functional Outdoor Living Spaces
The story is not enough to constitute good design. Outdoor living spaces need to offer beauty and function. We required our outdoor office space to accommodate easy client parking, parties, and alfresco workdays. The yard also needed the nuts and bolts of well-lit passageways, a package reception area, and hiding away the trash and not-so-pretty things. All of these details came so naturally to Alexis, who seemed to hold both the fantasy of our story and the reality of our operation effortlessly in her mind.
In the end, what we have is a lovely, low-maintenance space that looks utterly authentic and as though it has been there all along. However, every last thing in our garden is new. So far, none of our office guests believe me when I tell them the space is not original to the home!
Choosing a Meaningful Design Motif
Choosing a meaningful design motif for our garden that we could carry through our interior spaces posed a challenge. What symbol was best to represent and protect our new Austin interior design studio? We selected the brave grackle. These staple birds in the Hyde Park area of Austin make very distinctive sounds and show no fear. Alexis and I developed a gate design around the motif. A local Austin metal worker crafted the plan along with three very dramatic (and slightly threatening-looking) grackles for each of our entry areas.
What is better to protect our lovely little studio than a brave little grackle? Our grackles may not be able to protect us from COVID (or even cholera, for that matter), but they can remind us to remain brave in the face of adversity. A reminder of bravery is exactly what we need during these times.
Lessons Learned From Landscaping Our Austin Interior Design Studio
While my Austin interior design team and I find our passion in interiors, we recognize that a proper landscape design sets the stage for what’s to come after you cross the threshold. When it comes to landscaping the exterior of your home, we advise you to reflect on the architectural design period, craft a narrative, and go bold with the storytelling. Our homes aren’t places to fall within the order of the day and blend in. Instead, they are spaces we need to honor, and in turn, they will showcase our bold (and brave) personalities.
Remember that everyone sees your landscaping, so do something authentic, something against the norm, or something everyone in the neighborhood will want to copy. Your neighbors and mail carrier will appreciate the effort and get a sense of joy passing by your authentically unapologetic garden. After all, during COVID (our own type of cholera outbreak), we have all built a much more connected relationship with our mail carriers…I bet you have them over in your garden the most.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.