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The Fantastical Studio Compound of Charles Moore & Arthur Andersson

The Fantastical Studio Compound of Charles Moore & Arthur Andersson
Discover the Moore/Anderson compound in Austin.
[Editor's Note: Charles Moore was an architect, educator, and author; one of the designers of The Sea Ranch, on the Northern California coast, which influenced a generation of architects. He led architecture schools at the University of California at Berkeley; Yale, UCLA; and the University of Texas at Austin, and founded firms in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Texas, and Connecticut. His most famous book, written with design partner Donlyn Lyndon, is The Place of Houses, a primer for how to think about the home you want to build. The compound in Austin so evocatively sketched here by Carol Chen and beautifully photographed by Courtney Pittman was his last home. Arthur Andersson was Moore's design partner and now has his own firm.]

It's hard to describe the Moore/Andersson compound in Austin in any succinct, direct manner. Much like the space itself - with its whimsical details, multi-cultural influences, and stylistic motifs that both draw from and defy architectural trends - recounting my stay requires meandering from room to room, trailing a finger over the spines of a thousand books, the fabric of colorful baubles, the back of a cowhide chaise, or the cracked wood of a farmhouse door. It is a slow, deliberate space full of delight and mystery, now beautifully maintained by The Charles Moore Foundation and rented to artists, architects, and others for creative residencies and quiet study. I am honored to have had the opportunity to reside on the property for two nights and immerse myself in this creative retreat. While only a few minutes away from the heart of downtown Austin, entering Charles Moore and Arthur Andersson’s former studio home whisked me away to another world.

The Andersson House

Upon entering the main gate (a towering farmhouse corridor adorned with metalwork and flanked with deep cobalt blue walls), I came to the edge of the central pool and courtyard. 



"Pool", however, is an immense understatement. While it certainly is intended for swimming in, the narrow rectangular shape, mystic turquoise color, dark wooden perimeter, stone animal head spigots, and lush plant-covered verandas make it more reminiscent of a sacred spring. 



Unfortunately, the unrelenting rain during my visit prevented any poolside activities, but the overcast lighting and constant sound of raindrops on the water added an air of brooding mystery to the space which was not unwelcome.

Occupying an efficient 770 square feet, The Andersson House is the larger of two spaces available for creative residencies on the property. It was the home of Arthur Andersson, Moore's architectural partner, with whom he bought the property and designed the space. I didn’t have any expectations before I arrived - my knowledge of Moore and Andersson was limited mainly to abstract architectural philosophies and academic achievements. I can say now I was thoroughly unprepared for the sheer wonderment I experienced walking into that house for the first time. 



The main room is deep, stretching from the entry to the window at the rear. Books cover the entire right wall on angled cases. Above them on white pedestals float black and white portrait cut outs of Texan folk heroes adorned satirically with antlers. 



Playful sculptures reside on every surface - a clay lion, a dancing figure, dozens of small Eiffel Towers. Looming in the center of the space is a diagonally aligned wall topped with an oversized curved pediment. A window cutout artfully frames views of the living and dining rooms, and provides a subtle divider between spaces. In contrast to this classical structure, the adjacent door to the bedroom is comically small, wooden, and swings freely without a latch. Against the stark white walls, this doorway provides a mischievous clash of styles, complete with its own modest classical pediment done in rustic wood.



The immersive intent of the space is apparent in the myriad textures that make up its structure and decor. As with the wooden door, other juxtapositions of material are prevalent in the home. The shower, for example, is a magnificent departure from the rest of the house, with dark stone walls, a glass skylight, and wooden plank flooring. The seating surfaces scattered throughout the space include wooden benches, a suede loveseat, a cowhide chaise, and - my personal favorite - an immense furred throne-like armchair made from the enormous curved horns of Texan cattle. 



Everything begs touch, closer-inspection, and curious wonder. It is a space to be engaged and not simply moved through, a nod to whimsy, decoration, and frivolity. There are infinite details - trinkets, knick-knacks, scattered evidence of an intricate life - waiting to be constantly discovered and rediscovered.



On the first night, the dramatic shadows and looming decor had been slightly unnerving. I found myself settling into the bedroom rather quickly to avoid sitting in the dim fantastical main room alone. On the rainy morning after, however, the house was serene, quiet, and contemplative. The subtle daylight and sound of rain transformed the house into a cozy and secluded nest. 



I opened wide the French doors to the covered patio overlooking the pool, letting in the sound and smell of rain and plants. I made tea, and Courtney, my colleague and photographer, joined me for a peaceful Sunday morning conversing, reading, and reveling in this surreal mind of Arthur Andersson’s.



The Cube Loft

Originally Andersson’s personal studio space, the since converted “Cube Loft” is a playful rendition of condensed living. While at first seemingly very simple, the stark white walls and minimal decor bely an inner complexity that allows every nook and cranny of the small space to be fully utilized. 



The decor, likewise, makes its first impression as clean and minimalist, but on further inspection, carries the same whimsicality seen in other parts of the compound. Colorful masks and folk sculptures are tucked into stairway shelves. Books, seemingly chosen for hue and shape, add pops of tasteful color all around. As I gazed upwards upon entering, one of Bauhaus artist, Herbert Bayer’s, works unfolded in colorful geometries, accentuated by the sloping white walls around it. Outwardly, the entire space resides within a cube, but the architecture of the interior is far from square. 



Particularly of note is the staircase, which has split-treads, intended to support each foot in sequence. The photo below captures this interesting feature and the requisite care that has to be taken ascending and descending. A midnight snack run is certainly treacherous! 



Conveniently, however, the split treads allow the cabinets and countertop of the kitchen on the ground floor to nestle perfectly into the negative space. 


The loft area is quite cozy, but the bedside window and angled ceiling create the illusion of airiness. Here again, efficiency reigns supreme as storage spaces are tucked below the bed, and into the walls themselves. The work desk is actually a perfect ledge formed from the intersecting walls and my legs were free to dangle, open to the ground floor below. In contrast to the curated clutter of Andersson’s home the night before, there are only a few items of actual furniture in the loft - the majority of surfaces are part of the structure of the loft itself. 



On that particularly rainy day, I found the Cube Loft to be the perfect size for a lone traveler. During the day, the ample windows let in a generous amount of light despite the gloom. At night, the small space provided a nest-like feeling of safety and comfort. Tucked against the eaves of the upper landing, I was lulled to sleep by the gentle patter of raindrops on the roof. After a restful night, the filtered sun through the trees outside cast a warm glow into the bedroom. There are no curtains or drapes but the copious foliage outside guaranteed a gentle wakening by natural light.



Conclusions

The Moore/Andersson compound is certainly worth a visit for those who find themselves in the Austin area. For this post, I did not even touch upon Charles Moore’s main house on the property, which we also toured under the gracious guidance of Charles Moore Foundation Director, Kevin Keim. The main house is, to say the very least, an enchanting marvel: a wonderland of eccentricity, color, shape, and culture. I would not even attempt to do it justice here with writing and pictures. Like the rest of the compound, it is meant to be consumed via experience and the senses, to be lived in and witnessed; ultimately, to reflect the life and passions of those who reside there.

Carol Chen is Houseplans' Senior UX Designer; Courtney Pittman is a teacher and photographer based in Austin.

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