When we hear the words “real estate developer” there’s commonly a little feeling of suspicion. People, but especially inhabitants of a city with a strong sense of character, fear new things entering their environment because they know that their world is going to change, for the better or worse, and developers are the ones bringing that change. Austinites, living in the most rapidly growing city in America, all have their opinions on the new additions they like, and the ones they don’t (I, for one, have many that I can’t stomach, though I will not name them here), but there is plenty of innovative and exciting design to be proud of. Ben Myers, and the architecture firm he chooses to collaborate with, Bercy Chen, represent the best that this city has to offer in terms of development. They spare no expense, whether it be in effort or the materials used, as they are always design-focused with the goal of adding value to the property, the neighborhood, and the city. Not to mention, of course their work adds tremendous value to the lives of the buyers.
Ben Myers is an exceedingly intelligent and informed real estate developer, hence why he chooses to work with the hyper-talented team at Bercy Chen. He is also articulate, considerate, and down-to-earth. He is the kind of developer that Austin needs.
The Value of Architecture: Where did your interest in architecture and design come from?
Ben Myers: My parents. My mom is an artist, RISD trained.
The Value of Architecture: What kind of art?
Ben Myers: She’s in a lot of different mediums. Right now, she’s doing acrylic on paper. She’s done textiles and sculpture. And my dad is an urban planner, so I grew up with them always working on houses, and insisting upon living in houses that were interesting. We were never in a builder home. My parents’ last house was a 19th century California adobe ranch house in Pasadena. And I mainly grew up in a craftsman house, and they would take me to museums a lot, you know what I mean?
The Value of Architecture: You come from an engaged, artistic environment. Basically what every child should be exposed to but isn’t.
Ben Myers: Exactly. I think it’s very unfortunate that there aren’t more field trips. It’s sad kids aren’t exposed to all this.
The Value of Architecture: Did you end up studying art and design?
Ben Myers: No, actually, I studied communications, but when I was at school I was a docent at the Gamble House in Pasadena, which is operated at USC, where I went to school. I was so lucky to work basically at the most significant and best-preserved craftsman in the world, a national landmark, and Charles Henry Green’s best work.
The Value of Architecture: What’d you do after college?
Ben Myers: I moved to Palm Springs to restore a mid-century modern bungalow.
The Value of Architecture: Did you move to Palm Springs for work, or just to restore this house?
Ben Myers: Just to restore the house. That was all I was doing there.
The Value of Architecture: So you just jumped right into restoration. That’s very impressive.
Ben Myers: Thanks, then after that was finished, I came to Austin, which is where I was born.
The Value of Architecture: You were born in Austin? I didn’t know that.
Ben Myers: I was a professor’s brat, so we moved all over the place, as long as it was near a university.
The Value of Architecture: Is your mom or your dad the professor?
Ben Myers: My dad.
The Value of Architecture: What did he teach?
Ben Myers: Urban planning.
The Value of Architecture: Where does he teach?
Ben Myers: At USC. He still teaches there.
The Value of Architecture: What was the driving force to come back to Austin? Was it school?
Ben Myers: My wife and I felt that we needed to be in a place with more action. California was sort of dead at the time with the recession, and Texas was still doing really well, so we decided to evacuate back to the homeland. Retreat! Back to the homeland!
The Value of Architecture (laughing): What year was that?
Ben Myers: That was the end of 2012. And it worked out really well.
The Value of Architecture: Yeah, Austin didn’t seem to be affected by the recession. It was always booming. There was nothing but growth.
Ben Myers: Exactly. It wasn’t affected by it. It was very interesting. I think it was probably the oil boom that was happening side-by-side that everyone else was feeling.
The Value of Architecture: How’d you know about Bercy Chen?
Ben Myers: Years ago I saw the Annie House in Dwell when that was first published. That’s Thomas Bercy’s house. That was when I first noticed. Then in 2013, I saw them again when the Edgeland House was published in Dwell, and everywhere else. It was published everywhere.
The Value of Architecture: The amount of coverage they get is remarkable, and so well-deserved. So how did you get into contact with them?
Ben Myers: When I first got to Austin I did an architecture certificate program at UT just for fun. We were able to take a tour of a firm, and I signed up for the Bercy Chen one. Calvin Chen gave us a tour of their office and took us to the mixed-use development down the street that they did. So I kept them in mind, and then a year later, just rang the doorbell.
The Value of Architecture: That’s how it works, right? You ask and you shall receive.
Ben Myers: Right, right.
The Value of Architecture: So you found the San Juan site first, then came to them with it?
Ben Myers: Yes, exactly, I got the site first. Once I got the site locked down, which was the difficult part because people were writing contracts on the hoods of cars at that point—for land, especially.
Once I had that secured then I went to Bercy Chen and rang the doorbell. Dan Loe let me in.
The Value of Architecture: How did you find the San Juan site?
Ben Myers: I found it because I was looking in particular for a site where I could build more than one house. I wanted it to be in the Eanes ISD because my thought process was that the best school district is always the safest investment.
The Value of Architecture: The high school in the district is Westlake?
Ben Myers: Westlake High School, yes.
The Value of Architecture: Were you ever planning on moving into the property or it was strictly an investment to build on?
Ben Myers: I was considering moving into one of them, and the reason why I didn’t do that is because of financing regulations. I wasn’t going to be able to finance it that way. I could only finance it as both of them being Spec homes.
The Value of Architecture: Where do you live?
Ben Myers: In Allandale. East of Mopac, south of Anderson Lane, west of Burnet, and north of 2222 in that little pocket.
The Value of Architecture: How do you like that area?
Ben Myers: It’s great. I have a 1962 ranch house, pretty cool, nice little swimming pool. It’s a great neighborhood. I can walk to a lot of things, like Taco Deli and Hopdoddy.
The Value of Architecture: If you can walk to a Hopdoddy, then you have an A+ Austin life. So how was the design and creative process with Bercy Chen?
Ben Myers: It was amazing. We really share a lot of the same philosophy on the built environment. There’s an emphasis on quality, an emphasis on maximizing the space, getting the best possible use of every square foot of the house.
The Value of Architecture: Were you going back and forth with the designs?
Ben Myers: Oh yeah, often we would have a meeting, and I would take the paper from the meeting, and I would spend the weekend thinking about it. I would go to the site and look at it, think if it worked or not. That was a big part of it. We were really thinking about it from the perspective of someone living there, a family of four or a family of five, also because I thought I was living in it.
The Value of Architecture: Is that your situation? You’re a family of five?
Ben Myers: No, not yet, but we’re trying.
The Value of Architecture: Oh, good luck!
Ben Myers (laughing): Thanks! But, we were thinking that way because of the schools and everything, the type of people who want to live in this neighborhood. So we always considered what it was like to live in it, and we were also thinking of the future. That goes into every little detail. For example, in the garage we have two 40-volt outlets for electric cars, because that might be the future. Then, in all the details of the materials— the black Mexican marble in the bathrooms, the concrete floors on the ground floor, the steel on top of the stucco for the exterior. I think it’s going to be great when the steel rusts down on the stucco, and it has that weathered look. You get that in addition to the different thicknesses of the exterior, and all the different textures.
And also, we were trying to make it as comfortable as possible. I’m so excited for the rooftop deck. It’s a great outdoor space, and not enough people think to utilize the roof for that. Here, people are outside, they can see the bluffs across the lake. In the courtyards below, there are these carved out voids from a solid block, which looks great from the exterior but is also a serene way to live. There’s a wet room in the master bath with water repellent Tadelakt plaster; it’s a Moroccan plaster used in palaces. And, if people have company over, of course you need to have a coat closet—all those details. Details that people don’t necessarily get with a builder home.
The Value of Architecture: You always have to think about it as if you’re living in it. Say to yourself, “What would I want?”
Ben Myers: Yeah, exactly. You have to imagine being in it. Think about it in a real world way. Be honest with yourself about what would be helpful, what would be best. That’s what we tried to do.
By: David Plick