Project Laman Residence
Client Jean and Jene Laman
Architect A.GRUPPO Architects
Design Team Andrew Nance, AIA; Thad Reeves, AIA;
Brett Davidson; Ana Riley
Photographers Dror Baldinger, AIA; Mark Menjivar
Jean and Jene Laman, “the pair of jeans” to their friends, both originally from Dallas, spent nearly 40 years on the faculty of Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas State University). Jean taught fiber arts; her work in metal, ceramics, paint, and paper has been shown in exhibitions around the world. Jene started and directed (for a time) the interior design department, practiced his trade through Laman Designs, and is an artist in his own right, creating boxed assemblages reminiscent of the work of Joseph Cornell. At the end of their decorated professional and academic careers, neither showed any sign of going gentle into that good night. Rather, still full of the delight and curiosity that fueled their lifetimes in the arts, the couple decided to expand their 1970s house in a wooded subdivision beside the Purgatory Creek Natural Area in south San Marcos to add a painting studio, gallery, and library.
“Rather than downsize, we added on in retirement,” Jean says.
“It’s fun,” Jene adds.
The Lamans sourced their existing house from the Heritage Homes Plan Service of Henry Dole Norris, AIA. Modest in size, it is composed of two shed-roofed wings and a gable-roofed connecting volume, all on one floor. Over the years, the couple had added a fiber-arts studio and a greenhouse, and had created a series of outdoor “rooms” where they entertained friends, family, and students. Sited well back from the road, the little compound was accessed by a curving drive that terminated at the back of the plot and a footpath that wended its way through the trees to the “front” door at the side of the house. “The original idea was walking down a wooded lane to Hansel and Gretel’s house,” says Jene.
For the new addition, the Lamans hired A.GRUPPO Architects, which has offices in Dallas and San Marcos. Jene met A.GRUPPO’s Andrew Nance, AIA, through the interior design department at Texas State, where Nance is also a professor. The commission gave Nance and his team a rare opportunity to work with private clients who have an artistic program and a penchant for experimentation.
“The vocabulary of the existing building is standing metal seam roofs and plaster with lots of sliding glass doors,” Nance says. “We tried to carry that into the new addition but introduce a different take, give it a sculptural quality and a strong presence with these two tower-like elements and interstitial spaces. The clients, as artists, brought so much to the table.”
Since the previous additions and outdoor rooms were located to the rear and sides of the existing house, A.GRUPPO sited their building toward the street, reorienting the main entrance and connecting it to the curving drive with a bridge. The slightly sloping site is an old riverbed, and its expansive clay soil makes for a lot of drainage when it rains. For this reason, another enclosed bridge connects the existing structure to the addition, which rests on a cantilevered concrete slab foundation. The superstructure is made with 8-in-thick structural insulated panels, which came in at a third of the price of steel and with the rigidity to allow the interior volumes to remain open — a key to the design.
A.GRUPPO conceived the towers as modified gambrel-roofed extrusions, clad with standing metal seam roofing and capped on the south street face with plaster to create large display walls on the interior and on the north face with translucent polycarbonate sheets to admit indirect daylight. Natural light also enters the towers — the eastern housing the painting studio, the western, the gallery — through skylights that are baffled a bit on the interior by horizontal bracing panels. Half of these panels are structural; the other half are there only for rhythm. The glass-fronted element that connects the towers accommodates the main entrance on the ground floor and on the second floor the library, whose shelves cantilever into the tower volumes. It also leads to the connection to the existing house, where A.GRUPPO moved the master bedroom to the west to open up a new corridor. They also added a new master bathroom looking out on a walled Zen garden, and a large walk-in closet accessed by way of a pair of elaborate dark wood doors taken from an antique wardrobe. A copy of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” sits on an adjacent shelf, in case anybody wonders about the reference.
As forward as the architecture of the addition may be outside, inside, the white oak floors, white walls, and pleasantly abundant but suffuse daylight put all attention on the Lamans’ art, eclectic furniture, and books. “We wanted to make it sculptural and functional, but also make it work for the collection,” Nance says. “The collection really makes it come together fully.”
Aaron Seward is editor of Texas Architect.