1 house, many voices

From one cre­ative woman to an­other, Austin home over­laid with per­son­al­ity

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE&STYLE - By Becca Hens­ley

Jackie Gaer sees the po­ten­tial for art ev­ery­where.

She’s the sort of per­son who chooses a kitchen color based on the un­der­side red hue of a eu­ca­lyp­tus leaf (as she did in her last house); she’s the kind of artist who takes a photo of a stripped con­crete floor mot­tled with spoiled car­pet be­cause it re­minds her of an Olaf Elias­son paint­ing (as she did in this one).

It’s that in­stinct for the con­tem­pla­tive and that un­canny abil­ity to en­vi­sion form within chaos that drew Gaer to Molly Ivins’ South Austin house just months af­ter the beloved writer’s death — and be­fore the prop­erty could even be put on the mar­ket in 2007. “I knew right away that I needed this place,” says Gaer, “and per­haps it needed me.”

Re­cently wid­owed, and vis­it­ing her grand­daugh­ter who was a stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas, Gaer had trudged through Ivins’ over­grown yard (a ver­i­ta­ble Ama­zon of a se­cret gar­den, as she de­scribes it) to look through the win­dows of Ivins’ house. A friend who had heard the house might be for sale had sug­gested they stop by to take a look.

Gaer, for­merly from Eng­land, but a long­time res­i­dent of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, was ir­re­vo­ca­bly en­chanted. “It was so hos­pitable,” she said. “I could feel some­thing in­tel­li­gent and wel­com­ing em­a­nat­ing from the walls.” That af­ter­noon, she put down the earnest money — and within a few days Gaer sealed the deal. She re­turned to Cal­i­for­nia merely to pack up

‘I knew right away that I needed this place and per­haps it needed me.’

jACkIE gAEr

Cloth­ing de­signer

and re­turn to Austin.

Wish­ing to pre­serve the spirit of the house, in honor of Ivins and all those fa­mous Fi­nal Fri­day gath­er­ings, Gaer was de­ter­mined to merely nip and tuck the place — to keep the ves­tiges of its his­tory alive, while adding her own defin­ing lay­ers of life. “I’ve never been one for mak­ing plans. I’ve al­ways man­aged to wing it,” says Gaer, a well-known cloth­ing de­signer and seam­stress, who was mar­ried to screen­writer, painter and film pro­ducer Paul Gaer (of “Elec­tric Horse­man” fame, among oth­ers). Nonethe­less, she re­al­ized that she would need a keen and ego-free ar­chi­tect to gen­tly de­con­struct the house in or­der to re­vive it. “I wanted a prob­lem solver — a cre­ative per­son who didn’t feel the need to leave their stamp, some­one who would ap­pre­ci­ate the house as much as I.”

She found Sherri Wool­ley An­cipink, an ar­chi­tect who was in­spired by the struc­ture’s mid­cen­tury ranch style bones, his­tory and par­ty­hearty en­ergy, and was com­mit­ted to let­ting those traits sing. Join­ing forces with builder Bill Moore (who owned the house be­fore Ivins), the trio col­lab­o­rated to add flow to the house in some places and pri­vacy in oth­ers — and to make the house “well” again. “Struc­turally, we did very lit­tle, but we did man­age to open some spa­ces and re­de­fine oth­ers. We played with light and pic­ture win­dows; we in­voked the out­doors and brought it in.” And they spiffed the place up, adding new fin­ishes and hard­ware, floors and wall cov­er­ings. “We took it one step at a time,” says Gaer. “It was a bit like play­ing with a Ru­bik’s Cube.”

“The house,” An­cipink says, “is like a pin­wheel.”

With the liv­ing room as the hub, rooms and com­mon spa­ces spi­ral out like the ap­pendages of a star: an atrium one di­rec­tion, the mas­ter bed­room an­other, a hall­way lead­ing to the guest room to the east, a screened-in porch be­hind the liv­ing room and an area fac­ing north that in­cludes the kitchen, din­ing and sit­ting room. They re­moved a wall to ex­pand some ar­eas that felt dark and cramped in Ivins’ time, but added a nook and moved a door­way to de­lin­eate and re­fine other spa­ces.

The most suc­cess­ful is the screened-in porch. What had been a por­tion of the lar­gish liv­ing room (al­beit with a higher ceil­ing) and which abut­ted the back gar­den, the screened-in porch be­came its own clearly marked space. Fit­ted with glass doors that al­low the two rooms to unite or be sep­a­rated, the porch now cel­e­brates the verdant out­door area, bring­ing it in­doors to in­fuse the in­te­ri­ors with nat­u­ral light. Act­ing as a thresh­old to the out­side, the room feels like both an in­te­rior and an ex­te­rior liv­ing space, some­how si­mul­ta­ne­ously co­pi­ous and seg­mented, in­ti­mate and grand. A nat­u­ral stone floor dot­ted with glass tiles adds el­e­gance, while a fire­place with a man­tel made from stone quar­ried in Florence pro­nounces grav­i­tas. A mir­ror found by Gaer at a flea mar­ket crowns the ef­fort.

With a per­son­al­ity and pres­ence as deeply etched and pow­er­ful as Ivins’, though man­i­fested ut­terly dis­tinctly — and per­haps more sub­tly — Gaer has filled her house with a life­time of mean­ing­ful pos­ses­sions.

She has ar­ranged each space with an artis­tic élan that seems in­tu­itive, mak­ing ev­ery room a tex­tured nar­ra­tive ripe with the muse. The atrium, for ex­am­ple, over­flow­ing with plants and a foun­tain, she calls her “lit­tle Morocco.” In­deed, it’s a mys­te­ri­ous al­cove of sorts, ac­cented with Al­cazar-style lanterns, palm trees and Moor­ish frames. The gue­stroom, also Moroc­can in mood, has a win­dow that looks into the green­house­like space. “I tell my grand­chil­dren, ‘You shall awaken to a jun­gle when you stay with me,’ ” she says, ac­knowl­edg­ing the el­e­ment of fan­tasy she has cre­ated.

Like­wise, the hall­way that leads to the gue­stroom from the main house is painted a deep taxi cab yel­low, which catches the sun and casts it back into the house. A low ta­ble made from slick Per­spex sits on a furry, white rug. Walls in var­i­ous green and blue col­ors, redo­lent of spring­time eggshells, har­mo­nize the house as a whole. Pop­ping from them are dra­matic paint­ings and art­work, mostly made by her hus­band, but also by painters such as Ed Gil­liam. Shelves and cases — in the kitchen, liv­ing room, bed­rooms, fam­ily room — boast items ar­ranged like vi­gnettes, all in­ti­mat­ing a story yearn­ing to be told.

Find such things as: a bird’s nest, an an­tique fan, seashells, vin­tage pho­tos, cigar boxes, chil­dren’s art, myr­iad spools of thread in a jar. Some shelves hold count­less, folded squares of vel­vet, silk, taffeta ar­ranged by shade and hue; oth­ers show stat­uettes of re­cur­ring themes — such as owls and pussy­cats, paper from un­packed boxes ar­ranged as tex­tu­ral sculp­ture and pointed col­ored pen­cils at alert at­ten­tion in a vase.

Even her roomy closet is a play on tex­tures, an un­told story, ex­hibit­ing ex­am­ples of some of her fa­vorite cre­ations, such as a jacket and out­er­wear de­signed for mu­si­cians — think Jour­ney’s Steve Perry, among oth­ers.

And the gar­den, whim­si­cal and free-spir­ited like the house, ex­udes barely con­tained, yet cer­tainly ev­i­dent, cre­ative or­der with its Ital­ian pines, rhodo­den­drons, wis­te­rias, hy­dreangeas and an­tique roses all set along me­an­der­ing path­ways that en­cir­cle the house.

No­body can fill Ivins’ shoes. And, of course, Gaer, mak­ing Ivins’ house her own, doesn’t even try. In­stead, she trans­forms it to her tune, never for­get­ting that it had a past and is full of voices. She adds her voice to the mix.

Thao Nguyen pho­tos AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

The out­doors come in­side in the atrium, which Gaer calls her ‘lit­tle Morocco.’ Moor­ish ac­cents help carry through the theme.

Jackie Gaer says she ‘could feel some­thing in­tel­li­gent and wel­com­ing em­a­nat­ing from the walls’ of Molly Ivins’ for­mer home.

Thao Nguyen pho­tos AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

One change that suc­ceeded par­tic­u­larly well, both owner Jackie Gaer and ar­chi­tect Sherri Woo­ley An­cipink say, is the screened-in pa­tio, for­merly part of the liv­ing room but now its own space, bridg­ing the in­doors and lush green out­doors. The fire­place man­tel uses stone quar­ried in Italy.

Path­ways me­an­der around the house, edged with Ital­ian pines, hy­drangeas, an­tique rose­bushes and other shrubs and plants. The home was for­merly owned by writer Molly Ivins.

Spa­ces such as the open kitchen and din­ing area and a sit­ting room spi­ral off the liv­ing room; ‘the house is like a pin­wheel,’ says ar­chi­tect An­cipink. Art­work and pos­ses­sions that carry per­sonal mean­ing es­tab­lish the per­son­al­ity of owner Gaer.

Col­lec­tions of fab­ric from many years of de­sign­ing fill Jackie Gaer’s shelves. Other ledges hold per­sonal items and me­men­toes from an an­tique fan to col­ored pen­cils cor­ralled in a vase.

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