A home where every day is a holiday

One lucky couple turns a vacation home into an only home

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Glenn Aronwits, GA Digital Photos

After 20 summers of rustic family vacations at their lakeside property, Jim and Susan Baker* turned their second home into their first home. "We decided to move where our hearts already lived," says Jim. But full-time life in a 12' by 12' cabin with no plumbing, water, or electricity was not what the couple had in mind. They wanted the comfort and elegance of modern living as well as the simplicity and natural beauty of Alaska lakeside living.

Ivy & Co. Architects
Construction Loan
Jim McMillan, First National Bank Alaska
Pat Tomlinson, The Lighting Gallery by Brown's
John Kuehn, Alaska Electrical Construction
Brent Eaton, E/P Roofing, Inc.
Roof Panels
Bernie Droege, AMPI Design through Spenard Builders Supply
Garage Door
Darryl Hester, Pioneer Door, Inc.
Michael N. Anderson, P.E.
Log Supports
Poppert Milling, Inc.
Don Lofgren, Lofgren Builders; and Mark Reed (Son-in-law)
Carson Bales, Bales Construction, LLC
Outdoor Shower
Mark Ivy, Ivy & Co. Architects; and Don Lofgren, Lofgren Builders
Sliding Doors and Windows
Jay McAlees, Capitol Glass/Northerm Windows
Kitchen and bath counters, cabinets, bookshelves and appliances
Shannon Thacker and Alan McCarroll, Alaska Pinecraft, Inc.; and Rock Rooney, Spenard Builders Supply
Bruce Lofgren, Lofgren Builders Construction and finish work Don and Clint Lofgren, Lofgren Builders
Faucets, sinks and bathroom fixtures
Keller Supply Company
Doors and hardware
Greg Markson, Summit Windows & Doors, Inc.
Elwyn Fischer, Elfisch Plumbing
Concrete Work and Excavation
Bales Construction, LLC
Tim McGhan, McGhan Construction Co., Inc.
Drywall Work
Wayne Evans, Evans Drywall
Built-in Vacuum
Vacu-Maid of Anchorage
Alaround Lockport Maple, Spenard Builders Supply
Blurring the lines between outdoor and indoor life

With magnificent views of the lake and Mount McKinley in the distance, the couple wanted to invite as much of the outside into the home as possible. To help them achieve this vision, the Bakers hired architect Mark Ivy. And who better to understand their rural Alaskan lifestyle than an architect who flies his own floatplane to the site? Mark understood their sensibilities quickly and helped them achieve a beautiful seamlessness between the outdoors and in.

Clean-lined with a contemporary feel, the house with its log post and beam construction of local spruce (17 logs in all) looks at home and at ease in its arboreal surroundings. Inside, a solid wall of glass is like a giant screen showcasing the lake's beauty year-round. The couple's bedroom has huge sliding doors that encompass the whole lakefacing wall, says Susan. "With walls of windows on three sides, and the doors open, we sleep in our room, but outdoors!" she says. "We watched the northern lights from our bed the other night."

And it works both ways. Outside, a large roof overhang allows the couple to "have a glass of wine on the deck and watch the rain on the lake in total comfort," explains Jim. So their enjoyment of the outdoors isn't reliant on sunny skies.

"There's a blurring of the lines between the inside and the outside," says Mark. "The structure is so simple, but it weaves in and out," he says. "You never get the sense of going through a door and having your environment change."

Don't skip orientation

Of course, it's not enough to have a lot with a beautiful view, says Mark. You have to know how to capture it.

Mark and the Bakers spent a full day on the property assessing the view, the lighting, and the home's proximity to its neighbors before deciding on the placement of the house. "It's a really interactive process," explains Mark. "We get out there with stakes and strings and we start to pull lines. I have the owners stand inside the spaces and I explain what the walls will be like. It's so easy to change, and even half a degree change in orientation can make a huge difference."

The care taken during this stage of the process allowed Mark to come up with a design strategy that maximized the north-facing views while capturing the elusive southern sunlight of an Alaska winter. Careful placement also helped maintain the couple's privacy in the otherwise open and airy home and it allowed them to preserve special aspects of the land that was special to them. "We were dodging specific trees," says Mark. "You have to respect what's already there."

Cutting costs while keeping quality

The home has less than 2000 square feet of living space, yet it feels much grander, says Susan. "Every square foot of our house flows and has a purpose." And that's the beauty of hiring a top architect when planning a smaller home, she adds. Mark's expertise helped the couple maximize their home's space. It also helped them stay on budget.

"So much of architecture is prioritizing where you're going to spend the money," says Mark. "You can put it into square footage or into the details of the home." While figuring out how to avoid excess costs Mark might look for a thinner board or different species of wood, he says. In the case of the Bakers, Mark worked hard to make the dramatic expanse of glass both affordable and functional. "I'm always in the background wheeling and dealing with the suppliers," he says with a laugh.

Sometimes, he says: "You have to be fast on your feet." Mark and the builder, Don Lofgren, had to change the home's original plan for a cantilevered staircase when it became clear that it would be too complex and costly to execute. Don suggested glue laminates as an alternative. "We mocked it up and it looked great," says Mark. "And it was done in a day at a fraction of the cost." As an architect or a homebuilder, he says, you have to be open to new ideas. "You can't dig in your heels."

The couple looked for other ways to keep costs down – purchasing simple appliances and buying floor models where possible. They also opted for laminate floors as a cost-cutting measure but which – in a house that sees its share of "wet feet and drippy swimming suits" – proved to be the smartest option as well.

Hiring (and joining) a special team of craftsmen

"We were blessed with a group of skilled friends who made our dream of a home happen for us," says Susan. The cabinets were designed and created by Shannon Thacker and built by Alan McCarroll of Alaska Pinecraft. "They're beautiful and functional," says Susan. "Shannon did a spectacular job making sure that every inch of our kitchen baths, walk-in closets, laundry/sewing and bookshelf cabinetry was carefully used," she says. It feels as though we live in a ship, where everything has a function and is beautifully suited for its purpose."

As for the builders, Don Lofgren and his brothers, "you only have to look at our woodwork and our tile to know some special artists cared about this home," says Jim. "We used local suppliers and craftspeople whenever possible and we were never disappointed."

The couple (especially Jim, says Susan) put a lot of "sweat equity" into the home, and was a valuable part of the building team. "There was outstanding involvement on the part of the owner," says Mark. "That effort is then reflected by the passion of the tradesmen. When the owners are a part of the team, there's a ripple effect that occurs. He would be doing wood finishing, sanding logs and working long hours. That brings really good energy to the project."

From peanut butter to pinot noir

For the Bakers, drinking a glass of wine on the deck is a bit of a departure from the years of summers "along with three kids, two big dogs, assorted friends and a whole lot of Archie comics and peanut butter sandwiches." For the Bakers, the good times on the lake have just begun.

*Not the homeowners' real names