Home is where the art is

A family-friendly 'gallery' proves that elegance can be easy and couture can be casual

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

A large canvas hangs in the living room of Denise and George Trefry's South Anchorage home. Painted by Dot Brady, the abstract painting showcases lovers and children, dogs and rabbits. The words "family," "friends" and "I love you" are scrawled throughout the piece like friendly graffiti.

"Isn't it fun?" asks Denise Trefry. "It symbolizes us. It has kids, dogs, friends, babies, pets. It's really vibrant and alive. I just love that piece."

"Vibrant" and "alive" similarly describe the Trefry home. Before entering the house, its youthful and playful ambience is apparent. Approaching the front door one is greeted by a whimsical rusting metal "mural" of swimming fish and a mermaid.

At home with nature

Inside the house, light pours in from imposing windows that dominate almost every space. On one side, the windows reveal the woods of John's Park; and on the other, the wildlife refuge, Turnagain arm, and the mountains beyond. Though the house is elegant, luxurious and comfortable, it feels at ease in its natural surroundings. Outside one window a number of birdfeeders attract nut hatches, chickadees, and on this particular morning, woodpeckers. Just beyond, a very old "gnarly" birch tree is covered in a thousand white lights – symbolizing the peaceful coexistence of manmade and natural beauty.

Fulfilling the designers' vision

The house, it seems, stood in wait for the Trefry family. Designed by Mark Ivy in 1986, it never quite lived up to his vision for it, according to Trefry. She was determined for the house to meet its full potential, and with her lifetime of design experience, the house met its match. Trefry's mother was an interior designer and she "grew up at the knee of great designers," she says. "They were my mentors. Even when I was a little girl, I would design my own room." Ivy himself became a collaborator in the push to bring the house into its own. "Mark had many brainstorming meetings in this house," she says.

"Basically everyone who worked on this project was super enthusiastic," says Trefry. Her husband never really said no. He even agreed to sleep on the floor in the library for months, and put the whole family up in a downtown hotel for five weeks. "We were like the little hotel family," says Trefry with a laugh. "Like Eloise."

Divide and conquer – creating family-friendly spaces

It seems a small sacrifice – the result is an elegant, livable space that is meant to be enjoyed by the whole family.

"Nothing in this house is 'precious,'" says Trefry. The main living spaces are open and fluid, but what makes the house so family-friendly are the cleverly arranged sitting areas that inhabit every nook and corner. At every turn is a sofa or chair inviting a lively chat or a quiet moment with a book. The effect is intimate yet open.

A window seat on the lower floor, perfect for star gazing, is so big that it also encourages sleepovers. The children's bedrooms upstairs open onto an airy family room with cozy sofas, just right for conversation or games. "This is our favorite place to just hang out," says Trefry.

The children are currently far-flung and have decidedly artistic leanings. John, the oldest son, is attending film school in Australia. Daughter Kate (whose charcoal self-portrait hangs in the house) is an artist and studies writing at Colorado College. Sam, the youngest, a high-school student in Anchorage, is described as a poet. It is not hard to see the roots of their ambitions. Apples don't fall far from the tree.

Meet Art – a beloved family member

Artwork is such a presence in the house that it is almost like a family member. Paintings and sculpture, drawings and watercolors – they grace every room, every wall, and every shelf. "Denise is not afraid of art," says Beth Brewington, a close family friend. Trefry laughs in agreement, "Gotta have the art."

Like the Brady piece and the welcoming mermaid, the art is energetic, often whimsical. Russian icons by Courtney Birdsall live comfortably next to cunning little felt bears by Salley Combs. Commissioned portraits of the children, splashy abstracts, serene landscapes, angular sculptures and clean-lined vases all live in harmony. The Trefrys have a particular love for Alaskan artists and their home boasts work by Scott Witzer, Gina Holloman, Ric Manrique and Catherine Senugetuk, among others.

"One thing I can say is I don't really think George wants any more art for his birthday," Trefry says with a laugh. "'Look honey, it's a brand new painting, don't you love it?'"

Of course, George Trefry has done his share. Prominently and strikingly displayed in the living room is an eye-catching structural piece he purchased for his wife. It is a bodkin designed by master wool weaver Kathy Alexander, a New York artist who raises her own Alpacas to create her fabrics. A metal statue in human shape, it currently wears an antique ikat from Central Asia and "gets an outfit change several times a year," says Trefry. An unusual gift, you might say, but not unlike the man himself: "Being with George for 23 years has been a giant adventure."

Cirque du Trefry: Entertaining theatrically

The house with its open, breezy layout is a wonderful place for entertaining. And while the summer views are stunning, a winter party at the Trefry house has a different kind of glamour. The dining room floor juts out toward the mountains and has a border of tempered glass right below the 14-foot tall windows. In the winter, lights shine through the glass like footlights, and a 14-foot silk curtain is drawn, framing in the dining room like "a kind of stage," says Trefry. "And the curtains are almost like a ball gown."

And if a ball gown conjures up images of festivity, energy and elegance, the reason is clear. The Trefry family is obviously having a ball.