Austin Business Journal
By Robin Ewing
Sherry Matthews’ house in West Austin was conceived on a napkin in the West Indies.
Austin architect Dick Clark, her friend of 23 years, sketched it while the two were on vacation in St. Barts.
“I saw him drawing and asked him what it was. He said, ‘It’s your house, but you can’t look at it,'” says Matthews, sipping a homemade smoothie in her sun-filled kitchen.
With short dark hair, black T-shirt and flip-flops, Matthews, 60, is artistically casual. The sound of falling water seeps lightly through the rectangular windows like background music.
The original concept Clark dreamed up that day in the Caribbean — a fusion of geometric shapes with a hint of the ocean — was followed to completion. The challenge, Clark says, was to create a home to perfectly match Matthews’ lifestyle. In the end, her personality became such a part of the design that it’s hard to distinguish where the architecture ends and her personal style begins.
The long, skinny lot where Matthews’ home is set drops steeply in elevation as it stretches east toward downtown.
Tucked back from the street among the trees, the house is private despite its openness.
The entrance, leading into the main living space, is on the second floor. Rows of windows and a jutting triangular deck, built like a ship’s prow, point to a view of the downtown skyline pushing through the tree tops.
Three waterfalls trace the north side of the house. The first is a rainwater fountain flowing off the roof into a basin next to the front door and then spilling over a 6-foot-wide drop, like a liquid headboard against the swimming pool. The pool water, nearly flush with the house, falls into a third basin marking the beginning of the backyard.
The sound can be heard from any room in the house.
“This is the closest thing to a beach feeling — to wake up and go to sleep to the sounds of the sea. I love water.” Matthews says. “Dick did the closest thing he could.” Matthews says she wanted to have a saltwater pool, but Austin didn’t have the technology at the time when the house was built.
Inside, the house is a comfortable blend of organic style and substance. Matthews has an eye for art in all forms. African and Native American baskets are arranged carefully in the fireplace. Colorful Cuban posters lead the way to her bedroom. African beads are displayed inside a glass coffee table.
Each item has a story.
Matthews closes her eyes as she remembers being teased about a necklace in a Masai village in Africa and unwittingly swimming with crocodiles in Papua New Guinea. Each treasure represents a memory of adventure: Borneo, Argentina, Cuba, Costa Rica, Rwanda, Botswana.
“One of the reasons I started my own company was so that I wouldn’t feel guilty when I traveled,” Matthews says.
In 1983, she founded Austin-based Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing. She works mostly with nonprofits and government agencies to create advertising relating to areas promoting issues such as the environment and health.
Matthews describes her style as “an adventure.”
“That’s because all the stuff in my house is (based on) experiences, and it represents places I have been and places and people I love — like my brother’s paintings,” she says, holding Oso, her fluffy Havanese dog, in her lap like a teddy bear.
Most of the items she collects are colored earth tones — rusts, olives, mustards, straw. To choose wall colors, Matthews sorted a stack of advertisements into boxes based on her immediate reaction to the colors — love, hate and neutral. The walls ended up terracotta and creamy mustard next to the house’s base olive green.
“I wanted vibrant colors but not garish. Soothing,” she says.
Matthews’ style — meaningful, aesthetic and minimalist — is manifest in the house design. Her house received a five-star Green Builder rating from the City of Austin, the highest rating possible for environmentally friendly houses.
Most of the surfaces are concrete, and the only wood was salvaged from a harvest in Wisconsin. The integral-stucco house has the color mixed in so that the house never needs painting.
The landscape is xeriscaped and irrigated with rainwater.
“I don’t like things that break down or need constant maintenance,” Matthews says.
Matthews unwinds by cooking, so the main living space was designed around the kitchen.
This is where Matthews relaxes at night, creating leisurely four-course meals for herself or hosting dinner parties for friends. Deep drawers and appliance closets keep it sleek. The lines blend seamlessly into the openness of the rectangular room.
“I wanted to find a way to be a part of everything but so that no one will be in my way,” Matthews says.
From her spot next to the stainless steel oven, she can chat with lounging guests, watch television, see the cylindrical fireplace and look out through the wall of windows opening to the deck.
The backyard is filled with herbs and vegetables that she plans her meals around. She talks to her plants as she waters them: rosemary, basil, cilantro, chives, garlic, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers. Pineapple, guava and fig trees are covered with young fruit.
Her office, with better views than her bedroom, is where she works late into the night.
he office’s adjoining small room is for personal writing. Her deep bathtub is a place of “refuge,” where she relaxes every night before bed.
Though she still longs for the ocean, Matthews describes her home as nearly perfect. Clark considers this a professional victory.
“An architect designs a wonderful house, and it really needs to fit the client’s life,” Clark says. “Success at matching someone’s lifestyle is the most unusual thing.”