Modern Glass Retreat

This glassy modern haven appears to float over the water.

When architect James Evans of Collaborative Designworks was approached to build a lakeside retreat in Riverside, Texas, the clients already had a vision. They were intrigued by the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Farnsworth House, particularly the way the glassy International Style house seemed float whenever the plain it perched upon flooded.


  • Residential


  • Classic Line
  • Sliding glass door
  • Hinged door


  • Houston, Texas
A man stares in a doorway opening directly over the lake.

The bedroom features sliding glass doors that open directly over the lake.​

The clients, a pair of Houston-based lawyers, had owned their 26-acre property for a while already. The location boasted maximum privacy, three spring-fed quarry lakes, and a hilltop house. While the hilltop house was functional (and remains on the property as a guest house), the clients grew weary of the hike to the lake itself.

Their goal: a new retreat located as close to the water as possible. And Evans took that challenge very literally, building part of the foundation in the lake itself and creating a cantilever that appears to float over the water.

A small glass home sits on a foundation that’s in the quarry.

By extending the home’s foundation into the quarry, the home is as close to water as possible.​

A bathroom vanity mirror reflects the lake visible through a glass wall.

When privacy is not a concern, even the bathroom can take full advantage of the views and surroundings.​

The result looks like a modern floating pavilion, with a glass-wrapped exterior that extends from the lakeshore. Fixed and floating decks provide space for outdoor dining and relaxation outside the home’s main living area, while the primary bedroom and bathroom feature floor-to-ceiling windows—and sliding glass doors—directly over the water. “The setting for this house is quite unique. There’s complete privacy, so it gave us the opportunity to create a house almost entirely of glass – approximately 65 percent of the exterior is glass,” says Evans. With adventurous and creative clients, Evans was able to design a rectangular one-bedroom home that lets nature in from every angle. Featuring a large open living area, a library that could be converted to a second bedroom, and three bathrooms, the home offers ample entertaining space and showcases beautiful finishes, such as the vertically laid brick walls that enclose the inner portion of the house and flow to the outside.
Light reflects on the ceiling of a glass-walled room.

The glass walls let the surrounding natural light in, creating a serene environment.​

A vibrant library shares a long glass wall with the hallway, with the lake visible outside.

Continuing the vertical brick walls and plank ceiling from the inside to outside helps dissolve the boundary.​

A man stands in an open doorway on a long glass façade.

The home features Series 600 sliding glass doors placed regularly around the façade.​

Evans used finishes like the brick and continuous ceiling planking to help dissolve the bounds between indoors and outdoors. “The glass walls mean that when the brick runs from inside to outside, or the ceiling material is going from the inside to outside, you’re making that line as thin and minimal as possible. That’s where you get that unbelievable effect of not quite knowing where the border is between the outside and the inside.”

The vast amount of glazing in the house was the key to achieving an immersive indoor-outdoor experience the owners wanted. “We were looking for large expanses of glass, large sizes for different elements, and we needed that glass to be operable,” Evans explains. “Those things together make it feel like you’re living outside. In this house, if you open up all the sliding doors, you’re effectively outside, like an open-air pavilion.”

A dining room and living area share glass walls that allow views to the lake outside.

With fixed and moving glass walls, the lake is a part of the experience from every room.​

As much as the project embraced the glassy exterior, Evans had another goal to achieve – energy efficiency. “We needed high performance. We needed a window systems that was going to perform the way we wanted because, while it can be cool here in Texas, a lot of times it’s very hot.”

Evans approaches most of his projects with efficiency in mind, focusing not only on meeting energy codes and regulations, but also the owner’s desire for a lower cost of ownership and reduced environmental impact. That meant that in addition to the home’s innovative geothermal heat pump system, close attention was paid to the building’s external envelop.

“You have to have a highly efficient building envelop that keeps you from having to do as much heating and cooling,” says Evans. “Western Window Systems performed at a level that allowed us to have this much glass and glazing and still meet our energy goals.”

A mist covers the lake at sunrise; a glass building and deck on the shore.

Even on a chilly, misty morning, the home’s natural surroundings create an immersive experience.​

A modern style living room features glass walls and an open floor plan.

The home’s fixed windows and sliding glass doors span up to 12 feet in height in the living area.​

A front entrance, with deck and outdoor kitchen beside it overlook a lake.

Over the entrance and main living area, the hybrid butterfly roof extends the views from the inside.

The fenestration had other requirements to meet as well. The sliding glass doors run floor to ceiling in most of the home, and Evans needed a solution that met his height and size requirements for the openings he wanted.

“In this house, we’re using the glass as basically infill between the floor and the roof,” says Evans. “Because we have an inverted or hybrid butterfly roof, the roof raises at each end, and we wanted the glass to follow the line of the roof. That starts as 10 feet tall at the bedroom, and rises to just over 12 feet in height in the living room. Not a lot of systems can do that.”

Evans wanted the appearance of the home to be as open as possible. “When you have a site like this, you have the ability to really embrace the natural beauty and have a house that fits into the location and takes advantage of it. The glass, the windows and doors, make this project such a unique part of the landscape.”

A small glass house sits on a lake, surrounded by trees.

The home is designed with easy access to the outdoor areas, lake and woods, for indoor-outdoor living.

A home’s glass exterior reflects the surrounding woods and trees.

The private retreat artfully uses glass to absorb and reflect its surroundings.

Architect James Evans, Collaborative Designworks

Photographer Joe Aker, Aker Imaging

Videographer Michael Hart

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