River Retreat

A Kenai riverfront home melds north and south to
create a family-focused getaway

Story by Jamey Bradbury

What do you do when you’ve got a new piece of Alaskan property and a beloved winter home in Mexico? Combine them! That’s what Don and Lynn Burns did when designing their Kenai Peninsula home, says architect Mark Ivy.

Ivy & Co. Architects
General Contractor:
Homeowners, Don & Lynn Burns
Timber Framing:
Jon Gantenbein, Timbers, Tales & Yarns
Brown's Electric
Electrical Contractor & Kitchen Lighting:
Alaska's Wiremen
Hanson Construction
Finish Carpentry:
Perrine Woodworking
Tulikivi, Wood Heat Fire Stone
Capitol Glass/Northerm Windows
Polished Concrete, Alaska's Outstanding Concrete
Chadwick Excel in Hickory wood with butternut stain, Dura Supreme, Hollie Ruocco, Creative Kitchen Designs, Inc.
Cabinet Hardware:
Hardwares Specialties
Allen & Petersen
Backsplash & Island:
Linegar Stone Works
Kitchen Tile:
Installation Specialists
Bathroom Countertops:
Quartz, Linegar Stone Works
Bathroom Tile:
Interior Specialists
Hanson's Roofing
Jay's Painting Co.
Concreate & Stone work:
Dave Tomlin, Alaska's Outstanding Concrete
Hanson Construction
Landscape Architect:
Nancy Casey, Casey Planning & Design
Moore's Landscaping
Plumbing & Radiant Heat:
Kasilof Plumbing & Heating
Guardian Security
Custom Lighting, Hood & Metal Wall Finishes:
General Mechanical Inc. Fabrication

“Their winter home had this distinct feature where you could walk from the entry through the house to the other side,” Mark explains. “On one side of that passageway was the private master suite, and on the other was a public area. The design works really well in a warm climate, so we decided to try and pull that off in Alaska.”

The floor plan features a great room, with a simple roof pitch, that opens into the kitchen, which has its own ceiling vault – “like a room within a room,” Mark describes. The master suite also has a vault, as do the mudroom and the garage. “So you end up with this repetitive gable statement.”

From the outside of the house, says Lynn Burns, people often comment that the roofline resembles a series of mountain peaks. Mark thought it looked like a family – the largest gables representing grandparents, the smallest standing for the grandchildren and the medium-sized, the parents.

This vision, plus the Burns’ request that their home incorporate a timber frame look, inspired the architect – and solved a challenge presented by this unique roof.


“The way the floor plan functioned, there wasn’t a real clean timber frame column pattern,” Mark says. Instead, he lined the roof with repetitive beams that intertwine wherever each roof’s fascias converge, with a supportive pin running through the beams. Demonstrating the concept, Mark intertwines his own fingers, in here’s-the-church fashion. “So those beams look like fingers coming together, and all the gables look like a family holding hands.”

From the inside of the home, visitors might notice that there’s no ridge beam at the peak of each gable. Instead, tension ties support the gables – and also hide the electrical components that power the triangular light fixtures at the center of each tie. Don Burns, who acted as this home’s general contractor, had a metalworking and mechanical contracting company when he and Lynn lived in Anchorage. He created the fixtures – there are over 50 of them throughout the home – based on a design he saw at Mark’s office. For a bit of whimsy, he added the silhouette of a fish that vanishes whenever each light is turned off.

Just-right space

The image of a family holding hands is apt for the Burns’ home, which they call “Living Water Lodge.” The couple regularly entertains, sometimes as many as 90 visitors, but they also wanted a modest home that would meet their needs.

“We wanted a smaller place to maintain because we’re in our 60s,” Lynn says. “But we have two daughters and seven grandkids – lots of family over often. We eat together, and there are comfortable places to sit both inside and out.”

She appreciates that the great room allows her to remain part of the action even as she readies meals. The island, designed by Hollie Ruocco of Creative Kitchen Designs, provides a natural separation between the kitchen and living room and is raised on the living room side so guests can’t see what’s on the lower part of the counter.

Hollie worked with Lynn for almost a year and a half to get the cabinetry and storage throughout the house just right, like the lift cabinets that allow Lynn to keep cereals and condiments easily accessible without being constantly visible.

“She knew exactly what she wanted, so we worked to design everything specifically for the way she uses things – and she uses everything!” Hollie says. Creative Kitchen Designs also designed storage for the master bathroom, office/guest room, laundry, dining room and mud room.

A natural glow

The kitchen’s Dura Supreme cabinets have a butternut finish that perfectly matches the ceiling timbers. It’s all in keeping with the natural look the couple desired for this riverside getaway. “We wanted a place that would fit in with the environment here,” Don explains. One of his favorite aspects of the home is the concrete floor, polished down to expose the rock to resemble the riverbank outside. In-floor heating adds warmth and comfort.

The bathrooms feature natural stone in the walls and shower areas, with rustic stone his-and-hers sinks in the master bath. The couple enjoys the hot water circulating system that delivers instant hot water to all the home’s faucets.

Mark also designed dramatic, angular windows (with glass by Capital Glass) to let the outdoors in and give inhabitants a view of the river.

Wait – there’s more!

With only one bedroom and an office that doubles as a guest space, you might wonder where the Lynn and Don put all those visitors they host from May to September. The answer: Three quaint-but-comfy guest houses, all located on the “compound,” each with its own bedroom, sitting room, coffee bar and full bathroom.

“People love it,” Lynn says. “They can have their coffee in the morning and get up when they want, and when they’re ready to face the day, they come on over to the main house.”

The couple had an active life in Anchorage, all about work and raising children, says Lynn. With their new home, which took three years to build, they’ve entered a new “season” of their lives. “This season seems to be a peaceful one,” she continues. “One where we can spend time on the river and enjoy nature, and my husband can fish as much as he wants. We have a great life here."