High design

It's in the details

Back in Austin, I was stopped in my tracks by this new lounge that’s opened in a frayed, formerly residential fringe of downtown that’s undergoing a surge of redevelopment (think maybe Norwood or North Avondale for a comparison). It’s called Icenhauer’s, and it’s in an old house that looks very similar to Birmingham housing stock of the same vintage. At first glance it looks like someone just “fixed it up” with a new coat of paint and some yard work. But look closer, and the sophistication of the renovation startles.

First, the green trim is both subtle and very contemporary as a foil to the white clapboard siding. The porch has a crisp concrete base matching the (new) base of the house; horizontal boards are used to one side, a modern version of a privacy screen. Simple, unobstructed glass is used in original window openings. While deferring to the 1895 original, the renovation (by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture) manages to produce something completely fresh and new.

A family home for 110 years

Above is the “before” picture, which brings us to the next revelation–the landscape work. Gone is the concrete block wall, lawn, and concrete path. In its place we find a precise geometry of steel edging, pea gravel, stone pavers, and a fantastic sign, a clean, streamlined version of a neon sign from 60 years ago. Throw in some stylish chairs and tables, and you’ve got a very sharp yet relaxed design.

The new Austin nightlife

Additions to the rear, including a new porch, more gravel/hip butterfly chairs for seating, and a combination of stone and wood create a cool environment for outdoor chilling.

Pour it on

While I didn’t get the opportunity to try this place out at night, it’s clear that the unified design outside flows inside as well. Stone and wood create warmth and texture; a palette of browns and grays keep things calm; carefully chosen lighting keeps the mood soft and sexy. Birmingham has some great bars, but I can’t think of one that combines all these elements in quite the same way, or where the owner was clearly committed to following through with holistic design to this level. Inspirational, though. Cheers to that!

[thanks to Icenhauer’s for the before and evening images]

5 responses to “High design

  1. Is this place on Rainey?

  2. Great looking and unpretentious design

  3. While not quite as perfect since it’s not on a flat lot (hard to come by in this town!), the former Naked Art location seems like an ideal application for this type of restoration. Perhaps the empty lot next door could serve as the patio.

    • Yes–i think in Birmingham, often those with eclectic, artistic, or modern design taste are often artists, or budget-minded art galleries or venues, that can’t afford the level of detail found in the Austin project. Of course low-budget design can be great, and very satisfying (think Bottletree). It would be nice to have a better mix, though, of high and low when it comes to contemporary design here.

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