Tale of Two Houses

A Tale Of Two Houses

The Contemporary Renovation


“Light, light, light.” Austin interior designer Mimi Rosenthal recalls that was her mantra throughout the seven-month renovation of her Highland Hills home, built in the 1970s. Rosenthal had a strong desire and a clear vision for a home with fewer walls and more windows.

Her collaboration with Marsh-Vorspan Partners, an Austin-based design/build firm, gave Mimi exactly what she wanted. As you walk into the front entrance of her home, you are met by a panoramic view of rolling green hills. And yes, the light pours in.

“The living room now is just an ‘aahhh’ sort of space,” Mimi says. “What we did was astounding. We knocked out the whole back wall of the house, including the fireplace and chimney.”

In place of the view-obscuring brick wall, Marsh-Vorspan installed Pella sliding glass doors that open toward the center. Measuring 16 feet across, the glass doors are eight feet tall. “In order to accommodate the eight-foot doors, we changed the slope of the living room ceiling, and raised it from eight feet to nine feet. That was quite a bit of engineering, but Marsh-Vorspan did a wonderful job with it.”

Mimi believes Marsh-Vorspan is unusual among contractors, in that they have not only an expert knowledge of construction, but also a very refined design aesthetic. The partners of the firm each bring their talents: Chuck Vorspan has an M.A. in architecture from the University of Texas, while Doug Marsh was a master carpenter for over 20 years. In addition, both also enjoyed many years of success as general contractors before teaming up to form Marsh-Vorspan in 2000.

“It was really wonderful for me, as a designer, to be able to work with someone who spoke the same language,” says Mimi. “And yet,” she continues, “if I would say to them, ‘I’m thinking about this…’ they would be able to tell me in quick order whether it was the most effective use of my money. That was really very helpful.”

Even though the renovations were substantial, Mimi chose to live in her home during the construction. “It was like camping out for seven months,” she laughs. “But I actually enjoyed it. Working with Marsh-Vorspan was very creative, very collaborative…and just a lot of fun.”

The Historic Renovation


Although Marsh-Vorspan knows how to bring light and life into Austin's contemporary homes, they have a special affinity for renovating historic homes. Gary Ashcraft says they have an absolute gift for it.

The evidence lies in his beautifully renovated Craftsman-style home, located in the historical heart of old Castle Hill. Marsh-Vorspan rebuilt the 1907 bungalow from the foundation up, adding an 1800 square feet addition to the original 1200 square feet home, creating a dramatic second story for the house. For this project, Marsh-Vorspan created the architectural plans and Paul Parson did the interior design – a partnership enjoyed by all.

“We really appreciated the way that Marsh-Vorspan retained the character of the old house in building our new house. We felt we could trust them – so much so that we actually left most of the detail work up to them,” says Gary.

As Marsh-Vorspan gutted much of the old house, they saved many of the architectural elements such as the dormer windows, the beaded-board wainscoting and the antique pine floors. All of these reappeared in the new home, in addition to other Craftsman-style details that were matched and recreated throughout the rooms.

Much of the old lumber also found new life in the renovations. The antique pine framing material, for instance, was carefully milled into beautiful stair rails and balusters. Gary was delighted by the level of craftsmanship evidenced in Marsh-Vorspan’s work, as well as by the fact that “there wasn’t much of the old house that wasn’t re-used in some way.”

The renovation of the Ashcraft home lasted about a year, so Gary came to know the people of Marsh-Vorspan very well. Of them he says, “They are very trustworthy; they always did what they said they were going to do. They’re just very honest, straightforward, good people.”

He continues, “I always felt that the most important thing to them was that we were happy with the job. By the end of the project, the people of Marsh-Vorspan were not just contractors – they were friends.”