Full of Light
Words by Mary Bryce Interior Photos by Joan Book Exterior Photos Courtesy of the Moore’s
Commissioned by Della Phillips in 1964, this house has an enduring legacy as a bastion of east Austin architecture. From the spacious floor plan, to the distinctive roofline, the Phillips house is one of the most unique homes in east Austin.
Built by John S. Chase, the Phillips house is a rare example of mid-century architecture at its finest. Currently owned by Penny and James Moore, the bright, light-filled home quietly overlooks East
MLK Jr. Boulevard while still retaining a sense of privacy.
“I love the light. I don’t think I could live in another house, after the light here.” –Penny Moore
Remarkable not only for the history surrounding the house, the design alone makes the home unique. Chase was the first African American architect to graduate from the UT School of Architecture in 1952. The house was originally designed for Della Phillips, a prominent African American businesswoman who gave Chase full reign to design the house however he pleased. A seamless blend of both commercial and residential styles, everything from the folded-plate roofline to the cool gray travertine columns and exposed concrete foundation was born from Chase’s unique vision. The design of the house was influenced largely by Della Phillips’s request that the spaces be geared specifically towards entertaining, as well as Chase’s love of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s horizontal lines. The house occupies a unique space in the neighborhood, which is otherwise mostly filled with ranch-style homes and bungalows. “[Della] used it for entertaining. A lot of people who are in this area are familiar with the house and grew up with this house. It was a home for parties and community coming together,” says Penny.
The Moores fell in love with the home after they stumbled on it while driving through the neighborhood. “There’s no duplication, there’s a unique quality to it,” Penny explains. “Our heart was here. It took 6 months of negotiation to get the house.” Additionally, the Moores already had a deep appreciation for mid-century design. “Everyone who comes in this house feels like they’ve stepped back in time. It’s so crazy. We’ve had a few videos shot here, because it’s so ‘Mad Men’ in feeling. And we loved mid-century before we bought the house. All the furniture we already had before [we owned] the home. So it fit us,” James admits. They’ve been eager to maintain their home as is, even going so far as trying to find blueprints of the house so they can preserve it as best they can.
“I feel like I know Chase, even though I don’t at all. I feel so blessed I get to wake up and live in this space.” – Penny Moore
They adore where they live. “I love the light. I don’t think I could live in another house, after the light here. When we first moved in, I wanted to write a letter to Chase and just say, you don’t understand how amazing this house is that you did forever ago.” Penny indulges with a smile, “In the fall, when you wake up in the morning, the sun hits the windows and glass screens, and your whole morning is this beautiful golden color.” In particular the Moores love the privacy that the elevation of the house provides, despite the fact that it faces the road.
They have no intention of leaving anytime soon. Penny enthuses, “I feel like I know Chase, even though I don’t at all. I feel so blessed I get to wake up and live in this space.”
Did You Know? One of John S. Chase’s influences as an architect was combining both commercial and residential architecture, from the roofline (which is similar to a bank he designed in Houston) to the doors, which initially opened outward, as they typically do in commercial buildings.