The Most Interesting House in ’09

By Heather Armstrong

At first glance, it looks as if someone is preparing for the apocalypse — massive concrete walls and steel beams jutting from what appears to be a hole in the earth.  It is an aboveground bunker?  A well-reinforced TJ Maxx?  The sight of it becomes even more curious juxtaposed against the quaint and manicured wood and brick homes of Canterbury Hill Street in Terrell Hills.  So, what exactly is it?

“We get that question all the time,” says Patricia Perezanta.  “Yes, it’s a house!” she laughs.   A house she and her husband began building in their heads many years ago, and hundreds of miles away.

Patricia and Ignacio Perezanta are not builders or architects.  Both are stockbrokers, who started out as mechanical engineers, full of curiosity about how things work.  Ignacio’s family also owned a gypsum mine in Mexico, so he grew up around construction sites.  Patricia believes that’s where the first seed was planted for Ignacio.  Eventually, it bloomed while they lived in Mexico City, when he began brainstorming that, with Patricia’s help and expertise, he could design and build a home, himself.  And when Ignacio’s job brought him to San Antonio, he knew the time was ripe and decided to go for it.  He approached a friend, Vic Tapia, and together, they put their plan in action under the business name of Modern Luxury Homes.

“I said I wanted to do something big, something interesting, something different.  Something that would be made of the highest quality possible that we can put our hearts into,” Ignacio says, believing he has done that.  But at first, he had one tiny obstacle to face – where to build his dream home?

If we build it, they will come

The unique character of the homes in the wealthy enclave of Terrell Hills is one of its selling points.  And that caught the eye of Ignacio Perezanta, as well.  A modern cement and steel house might have been a natural choice in San Antonio’s Stone Oak neighborhood, but Ignacio was sold on Terrell Hills.  So, when he found a 12,500 square foot plot for sale on the corner of Canterbury Hill St. and busy North New Braunfels Ave., he bought it.

“We love this neighborhood and the people here want something sustainable and resilient,” says Ignacio.

He believes if he builds it, not only will interested green-minded people come, but other concrete homes will begin to pop up, as well.

Terrible Hills

“It’s monolithic!” says Vic Tapia, Ignacio’s business partner.

Tapia does not believe there is a home like it — in construction methods or appearance — anywhere in San Antonio. The structure consists entirely of steel, concrete and glass.

Underneath the home are 90 helical piers, 15 to 20 feet long, each one drilled into the earth until it hit solid rock.  Atop those piers are aboveground steel beams, which form the foundation of the floor, but not touching the ground.  Ignacio calls this the “floating” effect, as the house is not supported by the ground, but by the piers, and as such, it appears to be floating.

“Everything is connected to the piers, which are connected to the I-beams,” says Tapia. who explains that in Terrell Hills’ unstable caliche clay soil — the reason for the “Terrible Hills” nickname for the area — those piers will not move, no matter how the land expands and contracts with rainfall and drought.

Steel I-beams form the frame of the house, and the rest is concrete.  The walls are called SCIP – structured concrete insulated panels.  Each panel is a thick sheet of foam insulation; workers create a mesh casing around the panel, then use machines to spray a layer of cement, which is quickly smoothed out or troweled.

“The walls are airtight and they are so strong, they have 4,000 pounds per square inch of resistance,” Ignacio says, not willing to bank if the walls could completely withstand an F-5 Texas twister, but could definitely give it a fight.

Back to the future

Concrete homes are not exactly new.  People have been building with concrete for more than 100 years, and concrete homes are commonplace in parts of Europe and Latin America.  These cement structures are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. as more builders and homeowners increasingly go green.

Concrete is known for its durability, and for consuming less energy, water and natural resources.

“It does not have one piece of wood in it, and so it’s termite proof, and also fire-proof,” Tapia explains.

But how can concrete be energy efficient?

The insulated concrete wall panels are airtight, absorbing the heat and cold rather than letting it pass.  So, on a hot San Antonio August afternoon, all that steamy hot air, and even the noise, is kept out.

Modern times

Ignacio hired architect Oscar E. Flores to design the 4,300 square foot, five-bedroom, five-bath home, opting for a modern, open-concept home with luxury and sustainability in mind.

“We designed it with the idea that less is more, and to bring the outside inside,” says Flores, who has designed homes from Mexico to Canada.

From the outside, the home will feature clean lines with a touch of Mexican styling and huge, double-pane windows bringing in lots of natural light.  A custom fountain — featuring open squares and multi-colored lighting — stands to the left of the recessed front door.

Inside, the open-concept theme blends the living room, kitchen and dining rooms, all surrounding an outdoor pool that, at first glance, appears to be in the middle of the house.

One of Flores’ favorite features is the floating staircase.

“The steel steps all appear to be floating because you cannot see the support, so each step looks like it’s suspended,” Flores says.

The master bath will feature not only an indoor shower, but also an outdoor garden shower.

“It will really be special with natural light.  It will be like you’re in a resort,” Flores says.

Two additional features Flores designed:  a second-story garden terrace with views west over New Braunfels to the old TMI water tower, and a wine cellar with walls so thick (one foot!), it can be used as a storm shelter.

Flores believes the home ideally fits recent trends by particular homebuyers looking for luxury, but not in square footage.

“People are looking for better-designed homes, they want intelligent homes,” Flores says.

Intelligent design

“Everything ‘smart’ that can be thought of has been for this home,” says Chris Tapia (Vic’s brother), who is in charge of what he calls the brain of the home.

Ductless air conditioning, with a compressor above each bedroom, allows residents to set their thermostats for optimum comfort.

The three-car garage is being outfitted with power and outlets for electric cars.

The builders used commercial-grade electrical wiring to ensure safe, high-quality, energy-efficient power.

All of this will be controlled intelligently.

“With the push of a button, the owner can access almost all areas of the home to control it, including lighting, security, cameras, shades, curtains, the pool, locks, home audio, appliances, just to name a few,” Tapia says.

Up for sale

Ignacio Perezanta’s dream home will be finished sometime in September or October, and already there is interest from buyers.

He has not finalized the list price yet, but explains that it will be in the luxury price range.

“It’s not just a beautiful home, but it is the best – quality – in every aspect possible,” he says.

The for sale signs haven’t even gone up yet, but there will be soon another concrete structure going up in Terrell Hills, and no, it won’t be a TJ Maxx.

Ignacio already has plans for his second concrete creation.  He just hasn’t figured out where.

Heather Armstrong is a freelance journalist who lives in Alamo Heights.  Heather was an award-winning television reporter/anchor who also worked in radio and newspaper. Her career took a turn when she moved to Bogotá, Colombia for six years working for the State Department, but happy to be back in Texas, and exploring the people and stories in her native state.