Austin, Texas

You could argue that the front of it resembles a giant DustBuster, but Mark McGarrah, co-founder of the Austin-based ad agency McGarrah/Jessee, likes that his home is a bit unusual. Perched high above a steep canyon in west Austin, the 3,900-square-foot, four-bedroom house is both modern and earthy. It has clean lines and little furniture. To warm up the otherwise austere interior, McGarrah chose humble building materials--brick tiles, concrete counters, salvaged timbers, and limestone.

McGarrah, his wife, Elise, and their two sons, ages 12 and 14, tend to congregate in the kitchen. That's why local architect Jay Hargrave designed the kitchen as the hub, with a long counter that looks out on the tree-covered hills. But come mealtime, the family often prefers to roll the dining table, which is on casters, out to the wraparound deck to better take in the surroundings--and better spot the deer, foxes, and coyotes. "Nature is right there," McGarrah says. "You'll wake up in the middle of the night, and the coyotes are right under the master bedroom, howling."

The Unusual Shape
"I love it. It makes the house interesting. It speaks to thinking differently--not doing things in the typical way. That's how we try to live our lives and what we try to teach our kids."

The Stone
"More than 50 tons of Texas limestone were used on the house. We chose limestone because this whole hillside is a solid block of it. Instead of digging to put in the utilities, we sawed channels in the limestone."

The Deck
"My favorite spot is the back deck, which hangs out over the canyon. It's a great spot to take it all in. You'll see vultures and hawks going by. If I'm alone on the deck, it's usually with a beer and a dog or two lying around."

The Storage
"We designed out clutter and things that get in the way. We don't need a lot of furniture or accessories. It's minimalist and simple. That has an effect on you. It's like going to a resort."

The Style
"There's a slickness and a fanciness we tried to avoid. The countertops are chipped. They're not perfect, and that's by design."

The Glass Mosaics
"Kathleen Ash, a local artist, did those custom for the house. We have a few of her other pieces. When the house was in the finishing stages, we told her to create whatever she thought should go there."

The Wood Beams
"Our agency's downtown office was originally a warehouse in the 1800s, with these pine beams in it. The wood timbers create a warmth that you don't typically find in a minimalist house."