October 29, 2020

Alterstudio Architecture Creates a Dynamic Family Home for Texas Art Collectors

The boomerang shape of the limestone, steel, and glass house becomes apparent when viewed from the backyard. Photography by Casey Dunn.

Contemporary art collectors Janelle and Alden Pinnell once thought about turning a former electrical plant in downtown Dallas into a home that would double as a gallery for their extensive holdings. Instead, they collaborated closely with a number of artists to transform the 1920s brick building into the Power Station, one of the city’s liveliest experimental art spaces, which opened to the public in 2011.

A few years later, the couple returned to the idea of making a home for themselves, their three children, and their still-expanding collection. “We needed to build something from scratch,” Alden says. Treating the project like a collaboration at the Power Station, the Pinnells gave their chosen artists—Alterstudio Architecture—the freedom to experiment, while remaining fully involved clients every step of the way. “It was clear from the beginning that they wanted something out of their house that was well beyond shelter,” Alterstudio partner Ernesto Cragnolino says. “But the question of how to live with their art wasn’t yet settled.” 

A 40-foot-long wall of sliding glass doors opens the double-height living-dining room to the rear terrace and garden. Photography by Casey Dunn.

Located in Highland Park—an affluent district laid out in 1907 by urban planner Wilbur David Cook, who also designed Beverly Hills, California—the Pinnell house is surrounded by Palladian villas, neo-baroque châteaus, and Tudor-revival mansions, some as big as 40,000 square feet, that reflect the conservative tastes of Dallas’s wealthiest denizens. At 12,000 square feet, the residence is comparatively modest in scale, though far more ambitious in its program. Separated from the street by a low berm of gray rocks sprouting cactuses and wildflowers, the two-story house presents as a single horizontal volume of Indiana limestone carved with vertical striae that cast dramatic, shifting shadows in the mornings and evenings. Toward the center of the facade, subtle openings turn the solid surface into a slatted screen, allowing light to filter into the family quarters upstairs while preserving privacy. 

Alden Pinnell’s office, located in the separate gallery building behind the entry courtyard, is outfitted with a custom built-in sofa by Silvia Zofio. Photography by Casey Dunn.

Set atop an almost entirely transparent ground floor, the massive stone form projects 35 feet out over a cobblestone entry courtyard. At its center, a young cedar elm tree rises
unencumbered through a rectangular cutout in the canti-levered section. Lined with acid-etched glass, the aperture is a delicate, Miesian surprise behind a veneer of Brutalist bulk. Straight ahead, and down a short flight of steps, a single-story, stand-alone structure contains Alden Pinnell’s office, the swimming-pool cabana, and sandwiched between them, an 1,100-square-foot gallery. Perhaps the most conventional space in the house, this simple white box with a concrete floor, 14-foot-high ceiling, and three oversize skylights is also the least traditional element for a residential program. The Pinnells treat the gallery almost as an extension of the Power Station, opening it intermittently for events and exhibitions throughout the year. “They constantly move new works in and out of the space,” Alterstudio partner Tim Whitehill reports. “It’s ever evolving, constantly getting more refined.”

GramFratesi chairs and a David Abad pendant service a custom table and banquette in the kitchen, which has custom walnut cabinetry and limestone flooring. Photography by Casey Dunn.

On the other side of the courtyard, the art-filled residence blurs the line between home and museum, while always prioritizing comfort. The entry foyer, dominated by an enormous enamel-on-canvas work by Steven Parrino, leads directly to the formal living-dining room where a massive fireplace, clad in the same limestone as the facade, rises 23 feet through the two-story void overhead. A 40-foot-long wall of sliding glass doors opens onto a terrace and the backyard, which landscape architect David Hocker has sculpted with monumental concrete risers like the steps of a Mayan pyramid, turning the whole garden into a work of environmental art. 

Travel Agency, a 1983 canvas by Ed Ruscha, presides over the dining area, while outdoor meals are served at Richard Schultz’s tables and chairs. Photography by Casey Dunn.

Back in the living area, the witty form of the house becomes apparent for the first time. While the front facade reads as orthogonal, running parallel to the street, the view from the fireplace—out to the garden and down the axis of the splendid room—reveals that the long building bends boomerang-style in the middle to follow the property line of the chevron-shape site. A luxurious but functional kitchen with a statuary-marble island and custom built-ins acts as a hinge between the more public and formal front section and the more sequestered and casual rear wing. The pivot point is marked by curved glass walls that add a touch of roundness to the house’s strict geometry—part of what partner Kevin Alter calls the firm’s “private project” to avoid “the ruthless abstraction of high modernism” by working in a gentler idiom, “more like modern art, multifaceted,” less rigid.  

A cedar elm and a large enamel-on-canvas work by Steven Parrino in the house foyer dominate the cobblestone entry courtyard, which serves both the main residence and the gallery, a few steps down to the right. Photography by Casey Dunn.

Upstairs, in the family quarters, space seems to fracture as though refracted through a prism. The three children’s bedrooms occupy the rear wing, while the main suite surrounds the glass-walled aperture above the entry courtyard. Janelle’s bathroom enjoys a view of the cedar elm, abstracted through milky-blue glass. Her office—“the cockpit of the house,” according to Alter—overlooks the living area through a veil of walnut slats and also opens onto a plant-filled courtyard hidden behind the slatted street facade. A smaller adjoining courtyard provides Alden’s glass-wall shower with an equally lush view, one that it shares with the hallway gallery running above the living area. 

Such framing stratagems and shifting perspectives are found throughout the public and private zones—inside and out—which is hardly surprising given the genesis of the project. More than just a shelter, the dynamic house has the power of an artwork all its own. 

Hung with Salubra 2, a 14-panel acrylic-on-mahogany work by Sherrie Levine, the hallway gallery connecting the children’s rooms to the main suite looks down on the living area. Photography by Casey Dunn.
The cabana, part of the gallery building, is a versatile space that serves as a pool house, TV room, bar, and guest suite (there’s a Murphy bed behind the custom walnut cabinetry). Photography by Casey Dunn.
Lined with acid-etched glass, an aperture cut through the cantilevered second floor allows natural light to flood the main-suite bath and dressing rooms. Photography by Casey Dunn.
Jorge Zalszupin’s sofa and chair join Piero Lissoni’s glass-top coffee table in front of the living area’s limestone-clad fireplace. Photography by Casey Dunn.
Walnut slats screen Janelle Pinnell’s second-floor office from the living-dining room below, while a glass wall provides views of a small internal courtyard off the main shower. Photography by Casey Dunn.
The cabana patio is furnished with coffee and side tables by Albert Garcia Llongarriu, custom lounge chairs and sofa by Paula Silva-Ruvalcaba and Rodrigo Vázquez Guerrero, and a monolithic planter of black volcanic stone by José Noe. Photography by Casey Dunn.
A low berm of rocks planted with native grasses, cactuses, and shrubs separates the residence from the street. Photography by Casey Dunn.
Tall enough to accommodate large-scale works, the plain white-box gallery is set 18 inches below grade in order to meet neighborhood building-height codes. Photography by Casey Dunn.
Gaps in the street facade’s solid limestone cladding create a slatted screen concealing a pair of private second-floor courtyards. Photography by Casey Dunn.

Project Team: 
Michael Woodland, Jenna Dezinski: Alterstudio Architecture. Silvia Zofio: SZProjects. Hocker Design Group: Landscape Consultant. Essential Light Design Studio: Lighting Consultant. Brobus Technologies, Inc: Audiovisual Consultant. Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.: Water-Proofing Consultant. Ellinwood + Machado Consulting Engineers: Structural Engineer. Positive Energy: MEP. Monk Consulting Engineers: Civil Engineer. Steve Hild Custom Builder: General Contractor.

Product Sources: Cassina: Coffee Table, Low Side Table (Living Area). B&B Italia: Lounge Chairs. Roll & Hill through The Future Perfect: Fireside Floor Lamp. Espasso: Sofa, Fireside Armchair (Living Area); Sofa (Cabana). Delta: Recessed Lights (Living Area). Luminart: Pendant Fixture (Dining Area). Artefacto: Dining Table. Carl Hansen & Søn through Suite NY: Dining Chairs. Knoll: Outdoor Dining Table and Chairs (Terrace). Le Porc-Shop: Custom Outdoor Lounge Chairs (Terrace, Patio); Sofa (Patio). Rotsen Furniture through Chairish: Coffee Table (Cabana). All Wood Cabinetry: Custom Cabinets. ABC Carpet & Home: Rug. Holland Marble Company, Inc.: Kitchenette Countertop; Window Bench (Cabana); Island Marble Tile (Kitchen). Ceramica Suro: Custom Wall Tile (Cabana, Patio); Custom Lava-Rock Planter (Shower Courtyard, Patio). Garibaldi Glass: Custom Window Wall (Main-Suite Aperture). Lapalma: Bar Stools (Kitchen). GamFratesi through Suite NY: Chairs. B.Lux: Table Lamp, Pendant Fixture. Miele: Cooktop, Oven, Dishwasher. Sub-Zero: Refrigerator. Lobster’s Day: Coffee Table, Side Tables (Patio). Glazing Vision: Skylight (Gallery). Juno: Track Lighting. Throughout: Bybee Stone Company: Limestone Flooring and Cladding. Permalac: Exterior Steel-Panel Finish. Sky-Frame, Western Windows, MHB: Windows and Doors.

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