Reaching for the Stars (And the Coffee Cups)

Women playing harp and violin

Our family first became aware of which buildings, homes, stages, and other venues are wheelchair accessible when the youngest member took up harp. This is a heavy, delicate, and awkward instrument to move, and it is best done on a specialized dolly. Wheels. You use wheels.

We discovered which routes to take to safely enter a building avoiding stairs, where the elevators are, and which spaces are too tight to turn a harp around. We bought a vehicle based on how well it carried a harp with passengers. Awareness is the first step toward enlightenment. We started to ‘get’ the problems that people with various physical limitations face in public and at home.

By now, Americans have figured out that people in wheelchairs need ramps and sight-impaired people need braille within reach. But there are also circumstances that require less than a full-on home remodel to help an elderly parent age in place, or help a teenager with a broken leg survive for a few months in her two-story home.

Many people consider these possibilities when building a new home, or designing a remodel. It helps if you have planned at least one bedroom/bathroom for the first floor, if you have at least one outside door that does not involve a step down onto a yard or walkway, and if you have enough mid-level storage that someone who is not in a position to reach either high or low can retrieve the necessities. Mentally walk through the home to see if it will accommodate friends in wheelchairs or using walkers.

Turning radius, width of doorways, levelness of floor/ground, and storage/work/bathroom areas that accommodate a seated person are the really big considerations for a wheelchair user. Levelness of floor and storage that can be accessed by a person on crutches or a walker are crucial for someone healing from an accident or surgery. Written characters that are large enough and high-contrast enough for dimming vision, a smoke detector made for hearing impairment, toilet seats on risers, wider doorways, even flooring, and storage accessible from knee level to shoulder height can keep a senior in her home longer than a house that does not have these features.

There are so many sites that will help you understand accessibility considerations at home, and I have pulled up a few to get you started.

The Design Book from Paralyzed Veterans of America

Accessible Home Design

Checklist from ‘Mobility Management’

A Dreamy Wheelchair Accessible Apartment

Women playing harp and violin
Two of the musical residents in our decidedly inaccessible home- we had portable ramps for all the step-ups and step-downs, the front walkway, the front porch, ad infinitum

Some builders will add support inside walls where grab bars can be installed in the future. They will design a bathroom with a roll-in shower and a toilet that has room for a wheelchair to pull up alongside, even if you don’t need these features at this time. When these features are designed in from the beginning they are often not noticeable as special accessibility features, and they have more appealing aesthetics than rooms that have been retrofitted after the need arises. If you are working with a builder to create a new, accessible home, make sure that the builder’s specifications actually meet your needs! A few inches can make the difference between a usable and an unusable space for you.

New Numbers

Another happy buyer client. “I love my new back yard with all the sunshine and grass! Thank you, Lynn, for helping my human and me find our beautiful new home.”

The clients of Austin Metrostudy are builders and related industries. “Our survey team drives over 8,500 miles and over 1,000 subdivisions every 90 days to provide you with the valuable information you need on future lots, vacant developed lots, homes under construction, and homes that have been completed.”

A representative of the company made a presentation to a group of REALTORS® on Friday and I will give you a brief report from the 5-county Austin area, and the Dripping Springs/Driftwood area, in particular.

Overall job growth in the Austin area has fallen from 45,000 new jobs/year created in 2015 to 30,000 new jobs/year created currently. However, with growth of 30K annually, it is still a hot job market and demand for homes is up with available inventory down. What does this mean? Rising home prices and a real affordability issue for the City of Austin. For the home-buying population in general, the good news is that annual salaries in the Austin area are $20,000 higher than other parts of the country.

New home builders have caught on to the affordability issue and, not wanting to leave any part of the home-buying field fallow, they are building less-expensive homes in the following ways: the homes are being built on smaller lots to reduce the price of land being used per house; some homes have fewer bells and whistles to make construction less expensive; and subdivisions are being developed farther from the city center where the land is cheaper for the developer to buy.

Builders are now experiencing a decided downturn in available workers, so a new house is taking longer to build, including most custom homes. There are fewer workers available to do the same amount of work.

There are certain pockets that have unique building situations, and my home area, Dripping Springs, is one. The land is hilly, so it is naturally more expensive to build on than flat farming lots are. Also, if you recall from my post about septic systems, neighborhoods in this area need to have their own sewage treatment plant, or each home must have extra acreage to accommodate an individual septic system. More land per home= higher price per home. The other unique aspect of the Dripping Springs area is that it is scenic; many lots have expansive views, which, of course, drives up the home prices.

The observed numbers for 2016, fourth quarter are: 473 new home started, and 378 homes sold/transactions closed. There are 2.9 months of inventory in the area (6 months or so is considered a balanced market, with about the same number of homes on the market as buyers looking for a home.). The number of vacant developed lots (the ‘hood has streets and utilities in place) is equal to a 32.8 month supply. There were 741 new lots in 2016, with 8000 future new lots on the books. 1000 of those have streets in, or excavation has started. The average base price for a new home in the Dripping Springs area is $458,000, and this number has not risen recently.

love to keep track of new homes in this area, whether they are truly luxurious, or less expensive, but thoughtfully planned. One new subdivision with prices well below average is easily in walking distance from the business area of Dripping Springs, as well as from an established historic park. Also, see my post on the truly custom homes in Driftwood.




The New Home and Garden Show

Right here, in Dripping Springs, home to thousands of new homes in the next few years- The First Annual Home and Garden Show today and tomorrow. March 25-26, 10-7 on Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday at the Dripping Springs Ranch Park on Ranch Road 12.

Sponsored by Rotary Club of Dripping Springs, Harvest Rain, and Hill Country View, there is also a kid entertainment zone provided by Costco. They advertise builders, contractors, materials, decks, pools, spas, entertainment systems, storage, plants, landscape displays/materials, and kitchenware information and products on display. With plenty of parking, this sounds like a great day to me!

“What’s in it for ME?”

Functional Friday- a Pop-up Bed

If you have a small home, or you have a double- or even triple-use room, there’s nothing like a drop-down Murphy bed to provide a comfortable mattress and a good night’s sleep for a guest, or yourself. And, it becomes part of the background the rest of the time. In fact, I have one in my home office that has integrated cabinetry and bookshelf.

There are two types of drop-down bed: they both use springs and a counter-balance method to fold a mattress from flat against the wall to horizontal sleeping space. One is a flat-panel look and the flat panel folds forward to support the mattress. The other is a folding-door look; the doors fold open and the bed inside is pulled down from the wall. There are even folding-door styles which have bookshelves integrated into the doors, which either slide or fold out the way of the bed.

We (meaning my handy husband) have built two, and we actually uninstalled them both from one house and transported them and reinstalled them in a new house. Rockler Woodworking has a kit which includes the gas springs, hardware, a plan, and video instructions for building your own, which is what we did AND lived to tell about it.

Here is a photo of one of them when it was in its first location. I, being artsy and all, painted an abstract design on the front for my own entertainment.

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This same pull-down bed now sports attached bookcases on each side.

Before we built our two Murphys, we considered buying from More Space Place in Austin, which has a lot of different styles to blend with various decors.

Functional Friday- A Real Custom Home

Functional Friday- This day is reserved for home design, home décor, and tips for organizing.


This week, I visited a sample custom home in Driftwood, Texas and listened to builder representatives explain the custom home building process. The company is Hill Country Artisan Homesand it is a division of Pacesetter Homes, which is a Qualico company out of Canada.

My most basic take-aways for you are:

  1. Look for financial stability in the home builder! You don’t want to get part-way through the process and find that the builder has gone belly-up, taking your monetary advances along into bankruptcy.
  2. Look at the resources of the home builder. The higher-quality and more reliable the vendors of materials and the building crews are, the more likely you are to get the best prices that the builder has negotiated, and even to get a completed product ON TIME.
  3. How well does the company communicate? Especially if you are building a new home in another state or city from where you are currently living, you’ve got to have timely and thorough communication from your builder.

The builder I visited with this week builds truly custom homes, either from your own plans with your own architect, or starting from select plans in their portfolio and working with an independent architect that the builder regularly works with. In this particular subdivision, The Preserve at La Ventana, the subdivision covenant states that no two homes may have the same floor plan or design. The lot sizes start at 1.5 acres and the home-with-lot prices start at about $600,000.

The first meeting with the client is reserved for asking the client lots of questions to narrow down lifestyle needs, including access for now and in the future, hobbies, specialty items, etc., and to find out which style the client is attracted to. At this stage, no one even looks at a floor plan. This is the ‘discovery phase’.

If you want more detailed information than I can give in a short blog post, I’ll be happy to share what I learned. Just email me at, or give me a call at 512-970-9121.

Sunbathing in the Woods

img_2444What happens when a very creative homeowner buys a home on an acre of Texas Hill Country woods? She builds a Moorish/Asian/Mexican winter sunbathing mecca, of course!

She generously shared her space with me and then sent me her personal photos to use on this blog. I really wanted you to admire her vision and I wanted to give you courage to live your own fantasy, too.

img_2445No resting spot complete without a cat!







Fantastic! Do you have a favorite spot you’d like to share with us?

The Not-so-lowly Brick


Back on April 1, I had an inspiring visit with Eric Jensen at the Elgin Butler Company showroom in north Austin. Butler Brick is an old Austin company established in 1873, about the same time as Gracy Title Company from a previous post. Eric is the Trikeenan Tile and McIntyre Tile representative for the company, both lines of “artisanally-made” tile that belong to Elgin Butler now.

Below is a snapshot of the museum wall at the Elgin Butler Company showroom. The Butler home was built on the soil that now hosts the Zachary Scott Theater in Austin, and the clay quarry was excavated in what is now Zilker Park. If you ride or walk along the trail on the north shore of Ladybird Lake past the Texas Rowing Center, you will see an old brick support for one side of a pulley system that carried clay from the quarry on the south side of the Colorado River to the north side, where the original Butler Brick factory was.


Do you know the difference in construction of traditional modular brick and thin, facing brick? Yeah, I didn’t, either.

This is a face-glazed modular brick, sized 2 1/4″ x 7 5/8″ on a side:


The holes lower the weight. This brick is manufactured like pasta being extruded, then cut into brick-size. The glaze gets sprayed on and fired after each brick is hardened, checked for proper specs and sanded smooth. Bonus? The glaze is graffiti-proof.

Here are variations of bricks:


In the back is the large structural brick. You could really build a wall out of a bunch of these things! And in the front,  thin bricks made by scoring the glazed structural brick and breaking off opposing faces. These can be applied to the surface of a wall that is constructed of a material less expensive than the brick.

Now a question for you: what happens to the ‘insides’ of the brick that has been shorn of its glazed faces? It is broken up and used in the clay for making more bricks. Not much waste here.

Eric said that the market for bricks has changed rapidly- even high-end buildings are expected to be demolished in a relatively short period. So, thin brick, rather than structural brick, meets the needs of the architects and contractors who are working for the owners/investors.

Now, let’s get excited about the artisanal tiles showcased at the Elgin Butler showroom. E.B. owns McIntyre Tile, a small factory in the wine country of California. It also owns Trikeenan, located in Hornell, NY, next to Alfred University, home of extremely highly-trained ceramics graduates.

Tile glazes are gauged on their smoothness and consistency of color from 1, which looks the same in every single batch, to 5, which can sport quite different hues and textures in the same kiln batch. Trikeenan is known for its hand-dipped, “rangy” mineral colors. The kilns are not uniform in temperature throughout, so the glaze processes differently, depending on where tiles were stacked inside the kiln.


The Trikeenan tiles above all came from the very same batch! The slight irregularity in size and shape is especially highly-prized.

Below, you can enjoy more fun with those irregular, handmade-looking, artisan tiles:

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Shhhhh…. here’s a secret: when the tiles are formed, they are smooth. They have to be impressed with a roller to create those dings and scratches.

IMG_1853 IMG_1852

McIntyre tiles are being made for high end designs, too, and they are extremely hard, durable tile for indoors or out. Here is a line of “Sears and Roebuck house” colors, made for restoring these particular historical treasures, or for emulating the feel of that Arts and Crafts period.


Here’s my brick and tile informant, Eric Jensen himself, pointing out more showroom products.


Every time I venture into the Elgin Butler showrooms, I want to take, at the very least, a sample of EVERYTHING home with me. I run my fingers across everything because it is all so luscious.

On this trip I was introduced, for the first time, to the office guru: John Russell (Russ) Butler, great-grandson of the founder of the company. Russ no longer owns the company; it was sold by the Butler family to Matthew Galvez about 10 years ago; but Russ retains office and employment as the “how-to” guy for all the builders and architects on the other end of the phone connection.


He majored in Chemical Engineering in college, with a minor in Ceramics, and worked for Gladding, McBean, maker of terra cotta sewer pipe. In the pre-Sputnik, pre-Atlas rocket era, Russ Butler worked on ceramic nosecones for rockets.

Apparently, I will be able to slip into a group tour of the brick plant one day, so I’ll report back to you. If you have any questions, you can go visit the Elgin Butler showroom yourself, or ask me here and I’ll find you an answer. I hope you feel inspired to find a way to enjoy more classy brick and tile in your life.