A hillside house that sees the forest for the trees

One family finds happiness among the hemlocks

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

When a neighborhood grows up quickly you can usually tell. The natural environment is cleared away to make room and the houses have not yet mellowed, aged, settled into their land. Sasha and Bryant’s beautiful hillside home breaks this rule. Resting in a preserved hemlock grove, the house is nestled into the mountain rather than perched on it.

General contractor
Paul Lethenstrom, Sundance Designs
Construction manager
Trent Slaymaker Co.
Ivy & Co. Architects
Interior designer
Mary Kay Arthaud, Journey Home
Hubbardton Forge, Journey Home
Brazilian Walnut, ForeverTuff Collection, Johnson Premium Hardwood Flooring
Kitchen & bath cabinetry
Custom built Ash cabinets by Richard Jacober, Re-Creations Wood Design
Kitchen granite
Solarius Granite, Rino's Tile & Stone
Kitchen backsplash
Cornerstone Listello, The Cronin Company
Kitchen flooring tile
Metal Effects Copper, Daltile
Powder bath granite
Madura Gold, Rino's Tile & Stone
Master bath granite
Marinace, Rino's Tile & Stone
Kitchen appliances
Meile dishwasher, GE refrigerator, Viking range from Allen & Petersen
Range hood
Kitchen and bath faucets
Delta, Ferguson Enterprises, Inc.
Powder bath flooring
Tumbled travertine by Maniscalco
Master bath tile & flooring
Francisian Slate, Daltile
Concrete wall
Concrete Cowboys
Dining room table
Custom built by Richard Jacober, Re-Creations Wood Design
Glass bridge/walkway
Design: Ivy & Co. Architects;
Steel frame work: Allied Steel Fabricators; Glass block installed by: Simoni Tile
Floyd Sena Woodwork; and Norcraft Carpentry
Philippine Mahogany supplied by Hardware Specialties
Batu Hardwood
3D Concrete Inc.
Faltz Landscaping, Inc.
Garage door faux effects
Faux Studio
Furniture, area rugs and decorative mirrors
Journey Home

“We kept as many of the big trees as possible,” says Sasha, noting that the smaller trees were uprooted and replanted. The home has none of that exposed newness that marks so many houses in their infancy. It looks like it belongs – grounded, protected and mature. It looks, in fact, at home.

Want more light? Here’s a tip

“It was a challenging house,” says Mark Ivy, the home’s architect. The lot’s spectacular views face west but the sunlight floods in from the south. He wanted to make the most of both while maintaining the family’s privacy as neighboring homes grew up around it.

To exploit the light, Mark designed a shed roof. “A gable roof would have lost the sun,” he explains. “We tipped the roof back and maximized the light.” Inside, windows reach right up to the roofline, so that light pours in with no view of the neighbors. “We wanted every ray of light that we could capture.”

The walls of windows and a network of decks provide an aerie-like view of downtown, Sleeping Lady, Cook Inlet and the mountains beyond. Mark’s ideas for orienting the house were “masterful,” says Sasha.

A welcome with a wow-factor

Inside, the home’s most high-impact design elements greet you at the door and capture your interest. A subtly shimmering glass-block bridge, and an unusual, spare staircase create an intriguing first-impression. “This was a planned concept,” says Mark. “When you walk in you see the bridge and the path upstairs and you immediately get your bearings,” he explains. Then you look to the left at the view, left again at the living room and let your vision travel through the space. “It’s an undulation of spaces,” he explains. “A gradual surprise.”

The glass bridge is light, reflective, yet substantial. It perfectly complements the ethereal aspects of the staircase. “We wanted to design an inexpensive stair with drama,” says Mark, so he created an illusion of floating treads. It required very precise placement of the anchor bolts and then he used simple, glue-in treads. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” he says.

“There was a fair amount of trial and error,” says Sasha. “They had never done stairs like this. But I love how it turned out – the staircase is just so much fun.”

Perfect for a party – or a pint

With extended family in town, Sasha and Bryant wanted a home where they could entertain easily and often. With the open, flowing design of the main living area, an inviting living room with a wood-burning stove, a cozy but spacious kitchen dining area, expansive decks and an honest-to-goodness Irish pub, the space can seat more than 20 people formally and casually entertain many, many more.

The dining area anchors the main space. “Sasha wanted the dining room between the living room and the kitchen,” explains Mark. “I wanted it to feel like its own space.” To accomplish both, he designed an overhead slatted ceiling that frames and compresses the space. “It’s a space within a space,” he explains. “It makes it feel special.”

An artful life

For a busy and active family, the home’s décor needed to avoid being fussy, ornate or too cluttered. “I wanted it to look polished but natural,” says Sasha. “And we didn’t want a fragile house,” she adds. With two growing sons and a rambunctious family dog, “we couldn’t live somewhere fragile.”

To help them, they hired Mary Kay Arthaud to help find the furnishings and develop the major décor elements. Rich wood stains, intricate slabs of granite and furniture scaled for open spaces create a warm, safe and sturdy feel – the very opposite of sterile – a place where real life takes place. “I want people to come in and not know I was here,” says Mary Kay. “It’s your house. I want it to look like you.”

Says Sasha, “My mother says it’s like living in a work of art. But we really live in it. It’s our home.”

Solitude and sociability

“The design of the house really suits our family’s rhythms,” says Sasha, pointing out the cozy den off the main living area where the family has movie nights. Upstairs, the kids’ quarters (two bedrooms that share a bathroom and open up into a rec room) are separated from the master bedroom by the glass bridge. (“We talked about building a drawbridge,” jokes Mark.) The bedrooms are all designed on a smaller scale “to encourage the kids to come out and socialize instead of hibernating,” says Mark.

“Everyone has their own space if they need it,” says Sasha. “But there are also lots of cozy spaces where we gather together.”

The joys of a long journey

From undeveloped lot to a complete and beautiful family retreat was a long journey but a slow and steady process has its benefits. “We spent hours with Mark tweaking the design,” says Sasha. The pace of the process gave the design “time to evolve,” she says. “Nothing was done randomly. Everything was deliberate.”

“We felt very comfortable putting the design completely in Mark’s hands,” says Sasha. “If we had an idea, he would always explore it with us,” she says. “But,” she adds smiling, “his ideas were usually better.”

But Mark sees it differently: “They’re not all my ideas. I’m guided by the family,” he says. And a good outcome is always the result of teamwork, he says, citing the collaboration with Mary Kay and the home’s contractor, Paul Lethenstrom. “How this works is that you get everyone involved,” he says. “Everyone owns the whole direction. And when this happens, everyone’s quality goes up. Everyone’s passion goes up.” And that, he says, “is how you make people’s dreams come true.”

The homeowners’ names were changed.