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Team Spirit Turns the Wheel

A comfortable, usable back yard in Austin, Texas

Written and produced by Ethne Clarke
  • John Granen

    Austin, Texas, is one of the country’s entrepreneurial hotspots, personified by homeowner, Bart Knaggs, right, and the landscape designer, Patrick Kirwin, left, who helped Bart actualize the garden he had created in his imagination. As Bart recalls it, standing on the street below waiting for his children after school, he’d look up at the tangled mass of fallen trees, rangy shrubs and a flat white block of a house and think, "That’s our next home." What was an overgrown lot and an unimpressive 70s-built ranch house is now a low-key, eco-friendly two-story home with a comfortable and useable garden.

    Photography: John Granen (except where noted.)

  • John Granen

    The Knaggs family: Bart and Barb with, from left, 10-year-old twins Samantha and Frances and 4-year-old Caroline.

  • John Granen

    The sloping site was engineered to create a series of terraces geared to the needs of the Knaggs family. Kirwin and Bart, using native materials, designed the dining table and benches, while log stools around the firepit were hewn from a mesquite tree salvaged from Kirwin’s property near San Antonio. Architectural salvage and recycled materials are what give the garden décor its hand-crafted character. Says Kirwin, "Austin gardens have true sense of place because people here support using native plants and materials; it makes sense environmentally as well as cost-wise."

  • John Granen

    An infinity-edge swimming pool overlooks a seating area on the garden’s lowest level.

  • John Granen

    Barb Knaggs likes to dress the table for outdoor meals with as much elegance as for indoor entertainment. Introducing some natural materials, like slabs of sawn timber as placemats beneath the china, and clusters of moss as a centerpiece eases the transition between formal dining and backyard picnic.

  • John Granen

    A metal-roofed veranda along the house front shades the main rooms and also makes a welcoming entrance. Natural colors of stone and wood set the decorative style for furnishings inside and outside the home.

  • Jay Janner

    Putting together a team of architect, landscaper and interior designer was Bart’s and Barb’s first step to build their home. But then Bart knows a thing or two about teams, having put together Lance Armstong’s stellar racing group, and now he’s pinpointed another potential winner and has partnered with Armstrong to develop an urban bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s, named for Armstrong’s seven-time win of the Maillot Jaune.

    Photograph: Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman

  • Michael Hsu

    Mellow Johnny's is set in a 1950s building near downtown Austin—one of the few buildings left in central Austin to retain their original low profile. This is not your ordinary bike shop, nor is it aimed at competitive bikers, instead it is Mellow Johnny’s aim to turn Austin into a bike friendly city similar to Portland, Oregon, one of the most bike-friendly city’s in the nation. And with Austin’s skyline disappearing behind condos, Armstrong and his partners see a huge potential ridership on their doorstep. And perhaps in other cities in the near future. 

    Photograph: Michael Hsu, Architect