It started rather slowly, in an under-the-radar sort of way. Then all of a sudden, we noticed a burgeoning urban migration west. Neighbors began to take to the road in droves, motoring out of the city most weekends, bound for the countryside and a little change of scene. One of the most stylish of the westward bound resides in a dramatic pied-à-terre in a River Oaks high-rise weekdays, then escapes on weekends to an idyllic cottage that crawls and terraces down cliffs overlooking Austin’s Shoal Creek.
Owner Andrew Echols searched for months before finding this charming 1932 cliff house. Like a lot of older properties, this one has passed through many owners, some of whom left their mark on the property, which makes it a challenge to figure out who made what alteration when. No matter. Andrew, with the help of designer Cathy Echols and his long-time friend, architect Michael Landrum, has made this sweet but sophisticated cottage all his own. The confident globe-trotter knows what he likes and has the means to find it here, there and everywhere. He then relies on Cathy’s eye to place everything, from art to antiques, in the reimagined space, as well as to make the color selections.
Andrew, Cathy and Landrum worked together to make the most of this house — reconfiguring awkward spaces, enlarging tiny closets and bathrooms, and generally bringing the eight-decades-old structure into the modern era. The walls throughout are a Benjamin Moore hue custom-mixed for Cathy to capture the color of milk. (“Whole, not skim,” she notes.) The trio dressed up the kitchen with soapstone counters but left the charm of the white-painted cabinetry intact. The baths underwent a cosmetic upgrade with gleaming Carrara marble tile and polished-nickel fixtures. A guest wing was added downstairs, in a garage area formerly connected to the house; above it, teenage son Stuart’s bedroom awaits his weekend arrival.
The two-story living room now feels gloriously spacious. Grounding the room are thoughtful architectural details such as V-groove-covered walls with a slight 1/8-inch reveal and cove moldings that cleverly conceal lights above. One of Andrew’s fortuitous finds was a pair of marble urns from the former Chiles estate in Fort Worth, decorated by William Haines, which anchor the grand style of this expansive room. Custom sofas are covered in an inexpensive, easy-to-clean muslin — double layered, with the idea that as layers wear and soil, a new one can be upholstered atop it.
With the living room, dining room and master suite all facing toward the back gardens, the team made the most of the property’s cliff-hugging location by installing multiple step-down terraces. A flagstone walk leads to a dining area surrounded by lush greenery growing with abandon. A few yards further and several steps downward, is a placid pool, where one can take a dip or take in the view. “Since the property slopes downward,” says Andrew, who worked with John Arns of Madrone Landscape Design of Austin, “we had to determine how the house terraces would cascade down and follow the slope.”
Although the house glows by both day and night, Andrew — who favors spending idle moments in the living room — remarks, “When the back is moonlit and you’re inside, there’s a beautiful treehouse effect.” No matter one’s vantage point, inside or out, this stylish retreat truly fulfills its owner’s original vision: It offers a magical change of scene from a hectic Houston life.