Sitka Sanctuary

One couple retires in style in a custom-built home that celebrates this seaside city’s bounty of beauty

Story by Amy Newman • Photography by GA Panorams

With their children grown and retirement on the horizon, Bill and Amy Penrose dreamed of leaving Anchorage to start the second chapter of their lives. Like other retirees, that dream included better weather than what Anchorage had to offer.

Ivy & Co. Architects
General contractor:
Clayton Construction; Licari Construction; Keith Custom Construction
Interior design:
M.K. Arthaud Interior Design
Spenard Builders Supply
Ivy & Co. Architects; Journey Homes
Rino’s Tile & Stone
Allen & Petersen
A J Gagnon Masonry; General Mechanical, Inc.; Rino’s Tile & Stone
Renewal by Andersen
General Mechanical, Inc.; Capitol Glass
A J Gagnon Masonry
Water feature:
Waterwalls of Alaska
Excavation & rock walls:
Troy’s excavation
Mudry Consutruction; Interiorworks
Sitka Electric
Mears Construction
Bookcase, benches & cubbies:
Wood Dudes
Furniture & area rugs:
Journey Home
Spenard Builders Supply
Countertops & backsplashes:
Rino’s Tile & Stone
CBC Construction
Quality Painting
Clear View Railings
Sitka Ready Mix
Radiant heating:
Warmly Yours
Wine room racks & cabinetry:
Designed by Spenard Builders Supply

“We wanted to get to where the weather was a little better, where you didn’t have to shovel what came out of the sky,” Bill says.

But for the Penroses, better weather meant trading Anchorage’s snowy winters not for 365 days of sunshine, but for the Sitka rainforest. The couple became enamored with the Southeast community on visits to Bill’s brother, and, over the years, they purchased five plots of land on the Mt. Verstovia hillside in anticipation of building their retirement home.

The result of their planning is a one-of-a-kind mountain retreat with stunning panoramic views and a jaw-dropping “wow” factor inside and out.

Harmony on the hillside

Bill and Amy wanted the house to celebrate Sitka, starting with the exterior.

“We wanted the exterior to be striking and unique, but harmonious with the surrounding mountains and rainforest, and take advantage of the overlook of Sitka Sound,” Bill explains.

Mark Ivy, of Ivy & Co. Architects in Anchorage, was instrumental in helping strike that delicate balance, beginning with the roof.

The traditional gable and shed roofs were too boring, and their downward slope would partially obstruct the view, Mark said. His solution was an inverted, or butterfly, roof. The upward slope of the eaves would maximize both the view and the amount of light that could filter through the windows.

“It flares up in front and in back, so we can look up at the woods in back and not only the ocean, but the sky in front,” Bill says. This gives the couple a clear view of an active eagle’s nest off the front of the house, deer in the forest out back, and whales traveling through Sitka Sound below, Amy adds.

Other thoughtful details also embrace Sitka. The deck surrounding the front of the house mimics the curve of the windows, allowing for unimpeded views from every vantage point, Bill explains. Log pillars in the front and back evoke the surrounding forest, while the brown siding on the home’s bottom half is reminiscent of rusted metal, an homage to the Sitka harbor, he adds.

Open concept, priVate living

Bill and Amy had very specific criteria for what they wanted in the house, particularly the main living area. They wanted a maximum 4,000 square-foot single-story house – “We’re going to grow old there and we didn’t want the stairs,” Bill says – and a complete separation between the master wing and the guest suites. An open-concept living space, a gourmet kitchen for Bill and a spacious utility/laundry room for Amy to work in were other requirements.

But it was Mark’s off-the-cuff suggestion on how to deal with the rain that would collect in the V-shaped roof that became the home’s most striking feature. Knowing the couple wanted to celebrate Sitka, he jokingly suggested bringing the rainwater inside.

“If you really want to be sporting, we can dump the water right in the middle of the house and celebrate it,” Mark recalls saying.

Bill and Amy jumped at his suggestion, and, after mulling the challenges required to make his idea a reality, they settled on a 6’ by 10’ touchable water wall. Rainwater is funneled into a stainless-steel tank beneath the house, then pumped through a series of filters to remove debris, Mark explains. A manifold at the top of the glass sends it down the glass into a pool below.

“It’s probably the single biggest ‘wow’ factor of anybody walking into the house,” Bill says. “Their jaw drops and they just stand back.”

Another eye-catching feature is the barn door separating the guest suite from the main living space. Hand-crafted by local artisan Gale Erickson, the door, which features a compass rose oriented true north, is made of local yellow cedar and reclaimed Amazonian hardwoods, Bill says. The exotic wood was abandoned in Sitka Sound years ago by a shipping vessel that did business with the old pulp mill, making the door both a functional art piece and historic relic.

Digging into the abyss

The Penroses' dream home wasn’t without a few nightmares. When it came time to break ground, they quickly found there wasn’t any actual ground to grab on to.

“It (the soil) didn’t have any aggregate in it,” Mark explains. “It was like Crisco; you could move it with your hands. The builder was trying to reach for the bottom and there was nothing.”

The solution was to move the house to the back lot, where the excavators found solid ground, he says. But that meant altering the home’s design to accommodate the suddenly smaller lot size.

Bill and Amy wanted the house untouched, so Mark decreased the size of the garage and eliminated a circular driveway. The number of logs surrounding the house was reduced by half, and a cable lateral system planned for the siding that would have given the home a marine element was scrapped, he adds. But the remainder of the home’s design, both inside and out, remained untouched.

In the home for little more than a year, Bill and Amy are more than pleased with the results. Mornings are spent soaking in the view over coffee and reading the morning paper from the private deck off their bedroom. Amy says she often stops what she’s doing to gaze out the wall of windows in the main living space.
“It’s an extraordinary home,” she says.

Bill agrees. “It couldn’t have worked out better.”