Words by Jessi Devenyns Photos by Leonid Furmansky
Obscured in the backyard of an unassuming east Austin home is a novel structure. Built on a limited footprint with a thoughtful combination of materials, this 850-square foot home was constructed to be something more of an eco backyard treehouse for adults. But as with all well-laid plans, things change.
For four years, architect Trinity White and carpenter Jesse Mischel lived in their property’s original dwelling as they collaborated to construct their experimental and ecologically sustainable dream home. With more time than money on their hands, the construction progressed in a piecemeal fashion with the design continuously evolving as their family grew.
“Can I say you didn’t design this for a first-time home builder?” Mischel asked his wife playfully. A nod of her head prompted him to continue, “She had a lot of confidence in my problem-solving abilities,” he said through a grin. That trust, he says, is what helped their marriage outlast the stress of the project.
Construction on this sustainable structure began just four months into the couple’s marriage. Although experienced in their fields, the newlyweds were nervous about committing to a project that would play such an integral part in their lives; every board, every nail, and every angle that buttressed their home would become part of the scaffolding of their memories. They wondered whether they could live in a structure that they had poured so many years’ unadulterated emotions into. White explained, “We said at the beginning of this project, we’ll try it out, we’ll work together on this, but in the end, we’ll pick the marriage over the project.”
Ultimately, an Austin Energy 5-star rated green building stands on what used to be the back lawn. With tri-fold doors that open onto wide, welcoming steps, the home is deceptively more compact than it appears. Mischel explained that incorporating cathedral ceilings and no corridors create a visual illusion of expansiveness. White elaborates on her design technique saying, “We tried to use the outdoor space as much as we could. The screened-in porch is a whole other living room space.”
Not only did White and Mischel design outdoor living on the ground floor, but upstairs, cloistered between the eaves of reclaimed wood, is a sleeping porch. Already plumbed for an outdoor shower and electricity, this third bedroom remains a bastion for creativity: its boards still a blank canvas on which the couple can construct their outdoor oasis.
Currently, however, the pair is content with enjoying living life within their bubble-wrap insulated walls. “The more we live in it, the more I love it,” White gushed.
Indeed, despite being a family of four in such a small abode, the couple says they don’t feel restricted. “Our house is a good example of sustainable living, through the design, size of it, the systems that we’ve used, and learning to live within your space,” says White. She explains that they are successfully able to do so because they ascribe to a lifestyle of mindful acquisitions. However, she insists, “I hesitate to say that because I don’t want it to sound unattainable. You don’t have to change your lifestyle to live in a house like this.”
Austin Energy Green Rating
Austin Energy rates homes on their sustainability with a 1-5 rating system; 5 being the highest you can attain at 100 points. To learn more about the specifics of the program, visit greenbuilding.austinenergy.com.