Flights of Fancy
Football, footwear and flying – one couple's house fulfills their dreams both big and small
Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Dave M. Davis Photography
Bob and Sandra Mason, two life-long Alaskans from Bristol Bay, were thrilled when they purchased their 80s era home with the most important features an aviator could ask for: its own hangar and airstrip.
David Seymour ABIM
Valerie Rizzo, ASID, CKD
Pat Tomlinson, The Lighting Gallery by Brown's
Don Kuestner, Kuestner Hardwood Flooring; Alaska Marble & Granite
Entryway tile and stair treads
Windows & Doors
Greg Markson, Summit Windows & Doors
Glass/railing for upper walkway
California Bent Glass installed and furnished by Ian Smith, IFS Construction
Ross Bergman, Majestic Sales
Kitchen & bath countertops
Kitchen & bath cabinetry
Omega Cabinetry in cherry
sable and cherry truffle
Miele, Wolf, Sub-Zero Faucets Grohe, Keller Plumbing Supply
Café Pienta and Crème Andina tile with inserts by Oceanside, Alaska Marble & Granite
Omega Cabinetry in Cherry Truffle
Alaska Marble & Granite; Joe Reza, Anchor Tile
Mark Stearns, Alaskan Wood Moulding
Demolition, framing and siding
Scott Hillman, Hillman Construction
Cultured stone siding
Mark Wyrick, Northland Concrete
Kurt Wilken, Statewide Mechanical
Bill Brickwell, Brick's Electric
RadioRA2 Lutron lighting programming
Brian Miller, Arctic Lights Electric
Low-voltage wiring CAT 5e, surveillance cameras, surround sound
Audio Visual Installation & Design
Rolled steel for bridge and all posts/beams retrofitted to house
Paul McGrady, McGrady Steel & Supply
Steel for bridge
Tracy Tuttle, T&T Metalworks, installed by Danny Davidson, Davidson Construction
Fans and gutters
Mike Kirchner, Kirchner Enterprises
Joel Benedict, Statewide Foaming & Coatings; A+ Insulation
Finish carpenter and stain
Ian Smith, IFS Construction
Shawn Alger, Alger Painting
Tim Ruf, Ruf Drywall
But the house had more than its share of problems: a poorly conceived entry area, a disjointed main floor that felt cramped, and a dated, plain Jane exterior, just to name a few. But it was the huge and cumbersome glass atrium dominating the living room that inspired the first step of the home's dramatic transformation. Bob set out to remove the atrium but found it to be (literally) an outsized job. "By the time I got up to the third level of scaffolding in the house, I started scaring myself," he says with a laugh. They brought in professional framers – Hillside Construction – to finish the job. But the first step had been taken. From there, says Bob, plans for the home's metamorphosis "took on a life of its own."
Before long, it was clear that the couple's ideas for the house had outgrown their budget. But instead of saving money by compromising quality and cutting corners, Bob decided to step up and act as the general contractor. Now, after three years of successes, disappointments and living out of an airplane hangar, the Masons are finally living in the home of their dreams.
A silk purse from a sow's ear
The couple brought in home designer David Seymour to help them put their vision on paper. "It was the proverbial 'man' house with nothing feminine or inviting about it," says David. "We really had to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." In the end, the design included a new and dramatic arctic entry, an enlarged and open floor plan for the main living area, a brand new master bedroom, and a fresh look for the exterior.
The added master bedroom was built over an underutilized second-floor deck and helped to transform the facade. "I made it look like it was part of the original design," says David. "I want people to say, 'I like the house,' not 'I like the addition.' " Thoughtful architectural details – expansive windows, a new roofline, stone and wood columns and a glass cupola that glimmers at the peak of the structure – completely erase the memories of the home's stark exterior.
Timing, talent and attention to detail
The walk-up front, which was treacherously icy in winter, gave way to a brand new arctic entry. Light-filled and airy, the otherwise sparse room sparkles by the light of a playful crystal chandelier (Sandra likes a bit of "bling," says Bob.) The glass balustrades of the sweeping curved staircase pick up some of this sparkle, and the rich Brazilian cherry hints at the aesthetic motifs of the rooms above. The handrail was made on site, say Bob. "It took six pieces of wood and required 120 clamps." And the craftsmen had only 10 minutes to put in before it set. The procedure was tension-filled but the dramatic results paid off.
This kind of painstaking woodwork is found throughout the house and Bob credits their finish carpenter, Ian Smith (IFS Construction), for bringing a depth of knowledge and the heart of a perfectionist to the project. Barely perceptible curved detail on wooden handrails and elaborately customized closet interiors lend a sense of polish and solidity to the house. "He showed us the option to install routed corners on our baseboard rather than double-mitered," says Bob, saying that part of his building process involved being "enlightened" by the professionals he worked with.
The couple hired Valerie Rizzo to help them create the home's new look. "It was basically a blank slate," Valerie says. "And I went in to give it a personality."
The new design repurposed the space to open up and increase the size of the main living area. Removing some walls was addition through subtraction, allowing more natural light to come into the house. Cozy sitting areas furnished with overstuffed furniture invite you to have a chat by the fire, or read a book by the window, or cozy up in front of a movie (or, in Sandra's case, in front of a football game – her personal passion). A formal dining area is strategically screened from the rest of the house while still feeling integrated into the rest of the space.
A spectacular kitchen with every possible amenity reigns at the center of the space and would satisfy even the most demanding chef. But Sandra's favorite kitchen tool is not the professional-grade espresso machine or the steam oven, but rather the strategically placed flat-screen TV that allows her to prepare meals without missing a minute of the game.
Lighting plays an important supporting role in the house. "We Alaskans need as many lights as possible," says Valerie, who coordinated and sourced most of the home's lighting with Pat Tomlinson of The Lighting Gallery by Brown's. Light valances in the wall casts light both upward and down. Crystal pendants hang over kitchen workspaces. A spectacular crystal chandelier holds court over the dining room table. And bold, orb-shaped, metal chandeliers lend weight and balance to the high openness of the vaulted ceilings.
Bridging the gap
The most delightfully surprising source of light comes from a glass bridge – lit runway-like – that spans unexpectedly from an upstairs office loft to the second floor bedrooms. An exercise in shimmering whimsy, it all but begs to be walked across. David's favorite element in the house, its previous incarnation was "just two glue lams and a couple of joists," he says. The new bridge was built outside of the house and was lowered into place when the roof was being built. Planning its installation required five-star planning, says David. Because of the finely-tuned coordination, the bridge "fit exactly into the space between the other beams and was welded in place with no modifications," he explains. "Quite a feat."
Upstairs, it's easy to admire the light-filled master bedroom with its spacious fireplace along with the spectacularly appointed master bath with a champagne tub and a shower sized for two. But it's the room adjoining the bath that elicits a gasp: A two-story walk-in dressing room/closet, meticulously outfitted for a woman with a love of fashion and a weakness for shoes. (New rule, says Bob: "Buy a pair, get rid of a pair!") But it's not only Sandra's sanctuary. A short ladder from the room's second floor opens into a light-filled "crow's nest" – an oasis designed for an impassioned pilot.
Patience, perseverance and the pioneer spirit
Bob describes the process as "a bunch of little miracles," but David credits something else entirely – perseverance. "He was so amazingly positive," David says. "Even when things were going badly, he was always smiling. I have worked with owner/builders before but none who were committed to this extent," he adds. "They both have this pioneer spirit and they never gave up. It was a gigantic undertaking and a labor of love."
And hearing Bob talk about the process is like hearing him read a love letter: "Basically, if Sandra had a dream or a vision for our house, I tried to make it happen." And he had just one message for the contractors: "If you make my wife happy, you make me happy." I guess a woman who cheerfully moves into her husband's airplane hangar for almost two years deserves, at last, a place to put her shoes.