In 2017, an Austin couple purchased a Horseshoe Bay home on Lake LBJ, about an hour outside of the city. The only problem?
“They wanted a view of the lake, and the house didn’t have great views,” says designer Annie Downing, the founder of Annie Downing Interiors, in Austin. “And it was very dark. They also wanted something roomier, because they have two kids, one in college and one in high school.”
Okay, so there were a few problems. Downing was brought onboard to help fix them in 2019, after the clients tore down the Texas Hill Country structure but before the architectural plans were finalized. Born and raised in the Lone Star State, Downing spent a decade working in politics in Washington, D.C., before returning to Texas 13 years ago.
“I took art classes at night and a couple of interior-design classes,” she says. “I started helping friends for fun, and finally someone said, ‘You should start charging people for this.’ So I took on a couple of large jobs and realized I really liked them, and it grew organically from there.”
For this particular job, the clients’ main goal was to spend as much time in the home with as many people as possible. So Austin architect Clint Garwood, working with Horseshoe Bay–based builder Turrentine Properties, designed multiple sitting areas, a scullery with a pantry and second dishwasher behind the open-layout kitchen, and a queen-over-queen bunk room that sleeps several kids.
Downing’s task? To help the clients work through all the details—and to unify those details from the start. “I had to create the overall picture, all the layers, so they could visualize it as a whole rather than in parts,” she says. “So we did the hard finishes, lighting, paint colors, wallpaper—everything all together.”
Before the house was even demoed, Downing presented a rich, bold wallpaper for the powder room to the clients. They approved it, and Downing designed the entire room around it—only to learn months down the line that the wallpaper was no longer available. “The company told me they weren’t making it anymore, but they could print it for me if I wrote a check that day,” she says. (Downing did, and eight months later, the wallpaper arrived.)
The tile-selection process was a lot smoother. “I picked everything and laid it all out room by room at the Ann Sacks showroom in Austin with the client, because I wanted her to feel it and touch it and see it in person,” she says. “That was actually one of the easiest decisions."
Downing relied on tile to tie the home’s five full bathrooms and the pool bath off the boathouse together—and to the lake, as well as the pool overlooking the lake. “We wanted it all to be cohesive, so every bathroom has a similar feel,” she says. “There’s a lot of blue tile because of the water, and because every single bedroom has a view of it.”
The bunk bathroom has an Ann Sacks Savoy herringbone tile “with a little more oomph than a plain tile,” says Downing. “The edging is a really pretty blue, and I liked that detail a lot. Then we repeated the same blue-gray tile in different sizes in different bathrooms. And the upstairs primary bath has the same floor tile as the downstairs one , but we used Ann Sacks Savoy field tile for the shower surround, and in the guest bath. I like that it’s a simple subway tile, but it has that light-blue edging detail that makes it look so much nicer.”
Downing also utilized stone in the bathrooms and the kitchen to add subtle color and texture in the largely white home. “I wanted beautiful materials that are simple, which is why I used a lot of Ann Sacks,” she says. “Their Mia marble field tile has a lot of variation in it, greens and grays and warm tones that look really good in any setting.”
In the kitchen, Downing created an impressionist-like effect with hand-painted Tabarka tile. “The entire kitchen wall is tile, so we needed to make a statement there. I knew the view of the tile would be super subtle from far away. Luckily, even though that’s hard to really capture in one tile—and I presented only one piece of tile to the clients—they loved it.”
Downing chose brass sconces to bring some warmth to the kitchen, and white oak for the interior doors, the upstairs floors and downstairs bedrooms, and the tread on the circular staircase connecting the first and second story. The door leading to the theater room is steel and glass, and the entire back of the house off of the living room is one large steel window too. In fact, when you enter the home, you get a see-through view of the lake from the front door.
“Now they have these incredible views because they designed the house for the lot. In some rooms, you can even see the lake from three different views,” says Downing. “People like to use ‘light and bright’ to describe homes, but in this case, it’s definitely true.”