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House 334

Craig McMahon Architects

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Project Description

With two of the three kids having moved away, Craig McMahon’s family wanted to experiment with downsizing. They got it when they bought a 1,200-square-foot home in the Alamo Heights community overlooking San Antonio--a home with a hidden surprise.

McMahon, who runs the design-build firm Craig McMahon Architects, thought when he first tapped on the home’s walls that the place was built out of stucco-covered concrete masonry units. It was only after buying the place that he discovered the entire home was built of 10-inch-thick tilt-wall concrete panels on the exterior and 4-inch concrete panels inside. All that plus what McMahon described as “massive steel reinforcement.”

“It took six months to take down the interior walls,” he said. “I was renting every concrete saw in town and burning through them every day. I thought of tearing it down, but my wife said ‘let’s stick with what we have.’”

What appealed to McMahon and his wife was how the home added another 1,000 square feet but still invited indoor-outdoor living, unlike what McMahon called the “wedding-cake architecture” of neighboring houses that were crammed into almost every square foot of their lots. “We wanted the backyard to be a real backyard,” he said. As for the house, McMahon oriented it toward the Southeast to catch prevailing breezes, putting floor-to-ceiling glass in front and clerestory windows on the Western wall. Interior walls and ceilings were removed to reveal naturally vaulting roof spaces.

The home also was set up so that the dining room could be converted into a bedroom, and a separate studio office can provide sleeping space for some of McMahon’s adult children when they visit.

Upstairs, the master bedroom’s windows are shielded from prying eyes by 20- to 30-foot bamboo trees. “We really have a private enclave,” McMahon said. The house also has something unusual for Alamo Heights: a deck on top of the garage. “It turned out to be a great space for stargazing.”

Although he grew up in the aggregates business and emerged with a strong dislike of concrete, McMahon has been cured, so to speak. “We’re trying to buy the house across the street and we’re ready to do it again,” he said. “And my wife said, ‘Let’s do it in concrete.’”--by Craig Webb

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