A Dragon Tale in Goldenview

Traditional Symbolism Meets Modern Architecture

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Chugach Peaks Photography

The approach to Kurt and Jai-Her Wong’s stunning home is dramatic. The home rises up energetically from its perch and flexes its architectural muscles — extreme angles, a sweeping drive and dynamic stonescapes take a decisive stance on the landscape of Goldenview.

This may be why walking through the front door is such a transporting experience. Inside, the home is a study in serenity — a deeply peaceful and inviting space with clean elegant lines, muted colors, mellow aged-wood beams and calming views of Cook Inlet. Like the Wongs, the interior is quiet, inviting and charming.

“We knew we wanted something simple,” says Kurt.

Working all the angles

Building the home, however, was anything but simple — and not always serene. In fact, says Mark Ivy, the home’s architect, “It was pretty exciting in a stressful sort of way.”

The lot, he explains, had long been on the market when the Wongs purchased it. “It was considered unbuildable,” he says. The land sloped dramatically, and was trapped in a web of setbacks, due to the area’s extensive development. But the site had met its match in Ivy.

“I loved the challenge,” he explains. “I like fixing old structures and, in a similar way, I liked fixing the lot. I like to present the point of view that we don’t have to be a disposable society, and in this case, I was saving a disposable lot.”

The Wongs were confident in Ivy’s tenacity and creativity. “We wanted to give Mark an opportunity to explore ideas,” says Kurt. “They said ‘do a house that you’ll be proud of,’” recalls Ivy.

In a way, says Ivy, looking for solutions to the site’s specific problems was a serendipitous process. The 22-degree angles of the building’s exterior correlate with the angles of the lot. “The spaces get progressively smaller as you go south,” he explains. “The kitchen, sitting room and master bedroom are more on a right angle because they could be.” The roof had to be sloped according to the slope of the site.

The result is a modern house that looks very much at ease in its timeless natural surroundings. “The angles of the house are like the angle of a mountaintop,” says Kurt. “It’s very organic.”

Letting the great outdoors in

The outdoors are a welcome guest in almost every room in the house. Huge, light-flooding windows in the main living areas give way to clever skylights in more private rooms. In winter, wood beams that project from the house and act as gutters play to shimmering icicles in winter. Stargazing and aurora-watching can be accomplished from the warmth and comfort of the sitting rooms. In the warmer months, a choice of outdoor sitting areas — from a large deck for entertaining to small cozy decks off several main-floor rooms — invite tete-a-tetes, time with a book or just quiet reflection. The thin line between the indoors and the outdoors makes the home feel “like a treehouse,” says Jai-Her.

Natural history: The beauty of age-old wood

The extensive use of beautiful old-growth wood inside the home adds to the treehouse effect. “To get to work with real materials was a privilege,” says Ivy. He was awe-struck at the quality of the lumber Kurt procured. At the shipping yard, where he saw the wood for the first time, “it was shrink-wrapped beyond recognition. … We had to look at the grain-end of the wood,” he recalls. Seeing what was clearly centuries-old lumber, Ivy distinctly remembers thinking, “‘this has got to be against the law!’”

Kurt shares his enthusiasm. “We got the last batch of timber (from Oregon) before the forest fires of 2002,” he says. “We wanted natural materials of the highest quality. We wanted the best materials we could get.”

Reflecting on a job well done

Still, the best materials in the world are only as good as the craftsmen who shape them, says Ivy. He credits the talents of the contractor, Paul Lethenstrom; South Central Plumbing; Rain Proof Roofing; and Alaska Timberframe, all of whom “did an incredible job,” he says.

He named the home “Reflection.” It reflects exceptional teamwork, says Ivy. “You couldn’t ask for a nicer client.”

“It’s a reflection on both of us,” says Kurt with satisfaction, “the homeowners and the architect.” And, he adds, “it’s a reflection of the view, and of nature.”

Decoding the dragon

If it seems as if good fortune was smiling on the project, consider the symbolic significance of the house.

“(The house) is called the ‘claw of the dragon’ because of the feng shui,” explains Kurt. Goldenview Drive, he says, from a Chinese point of view, is in the form of a dragon and the home’s circular driveway works in conjunction with it. In Chinese symbolism, the dragon is vivid, energetic, positive and uprising, with a strong sense of spirituality.

This cultural and spiritual angle inspired Ivy. “The main floor ended up larger than the basement, so it overhangs,” he explains. “The angles and beams represent the claws, the driveway represents the tail and the rocks represent the scales,” he explains.

The metaphor doesn’t end there. The couple was amazed when Kurt’s martial arts master intuited what the Wongs already knew. “He is a man of wisdom,” says Kurt. A grand master in kung fu and a Chinese doctor, Kurt credits him with an ability to perceive the spirituality of an environment. Master Su pointed out that the island in the Inlet, so clearly seen from the Wong’s home, seemed to represent the fireball of the dragon.

The perfect end to the metaphor? Both Kurt and Jai-Her were born in the Year of the Dragon.

The home holds yet another, beautiful symbol: two long-lived trees that stand outside the couple’s master bedroom. One taller than the other, says Kurt, “they are like husband and wife. They look very comfortable.”

And so do the Wongs.