Oceanview Oasis

Majestic mountain views and distinctive design combine to make the ultimate family home

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

After walking into Mark and Sherrie Richey’s amazing Oceanview home, it’s easy to tell that they have roots in Texas. Everything about the house is on a Texas-size scale. When a member of the Richey family warns you not to get lost in their home, you’re not really sure if they’re kidding. At 10,500 square feet, with seven bedrooms, eight baths, four full kitchens and a separate two-bedroom apartment over the carriage house, getting lost seems like a probability as opposed to a possibility.

But the Richeys didn’t just want space when they began planning their home – they wanted the right kind of space. “Being from Texas,” says Sherrie, “we always dreamed of being able to see the ocean and the mountains at the same time.” The house, sitting atop a bluff, offers unparalleled views of the Turnagain Arm, the Chugach Mountains, and the Anchorage Wildlife Refuge. Here’s what you can’t see: neighbors, cars, other houses. “We wanted to feel like we’re the only ones here,” says Sherrie. “We feel like we’re in the middle of the wilderness.” In other words, the refuge is not just for wildlife. “We wanted the house to be a refuge from our daily life.”

Thinking big – and small

When planning a house this big, you have to be able to think small. Small details, that is. Every room requires a hundred small decisions and it’s these things that give a house its character. In the Richey home, huge mahogany doors are hand-carved with intricate designs. Each is finished with spectacular hardware purchased from Baltica – a 300-year-old Lithuanian company that, says Sherrie, outfitted the Napoleonic castles. Every light fixture has been lovingly selected for its discretion or its ability to dazzle (though, to be sure, all eighteen of the Schoenbek chandeliers emphatically dazzle).

In the bathrooms, hand-painted accents adorn the porcelain. The Richeys sent samples of bathroom stone to a Texas artist who did coordinating designs specifically for each separate bathroom.

Locally, faux painting expert Jane Bennett helped finish the house to a meticulous degree. From the expansive luminous blue sky painted on the master ceiling to the tiny outlet panels painted with faux wood creating perfect camouflage, Bennett’s skillful work is found throughout the home.

This commitment to perfection had to be mirrored by the craftsmen who executed the couple’s distinctive designs, says Sherrie. One carpenter, charged with building a custom sitting area comprised of two beautifully sculptural love seats that sit intimately before the fireplace, spent five months working 40 hours a week to get the piece just right.

It’s definitely not hip to be square

The curves and arches that distinguish the wooden love seats are part of a larger design principle, says Sherrie. “The whole house is built on the concept of an S curve,” she explains. “The curvature of the stairway, of the art glass, the carving on the doors.” The effect is airy and flowing and a little bit suggestive of the curves and twists of the water just outside the imposing windows.

Nature and artistry meet

In order to design a home like this without the help of an interior decorator, one must know one’s own tastes. And the Richeys like Bisazza tile. A lot. The rich and shimmering tiles abound – in expected places like the kitchens and bathrooms, but also in unexpected places like upstairs hallways and bedroom floors.

Running the spectrum from muted stone shades to rich jewel tones, the tile work creates a cool, serene and faintly Mediterranean feel. Mark’s interest in geology gets play in the designs, which are often accented with squares of tiger’s eye, or jasper, or mother-of-pearl.

Leftover tiles were cut and used to make intricate mosaics throughout the house, adding depth and interest to many of the rooms.

Secret storage spaces and ample (but discreet) appliances

Both Mark and Sherrie Richey’s busy days as physicians can be decidedly chaotic. So their shared instinct at home is to create a clean and uncluttered oasis. This is not a house full of occasional tables and fussy knickknacks. “We like our things to be contained,” says Sherrie. Indeed, there is an enviable absence of mundane clutter throughout the house. No remote controls, baskets of keys or piles of mail are in evidence. The secret, says Sherrie, is in the home’s extensive network of custom built-ins. The most unassuming surfaces can be opened to reveal a secret hiding place for the unaesthetic everyday things.

The kitchen, in particular, is a wonder. Every appliance, including five dishwashers, three sinks (not including the pot filler), and countless refrigerator drawers (to say nothing of a full-sized Sub Zero) is hidden cunningly behind rich and attractive wood surfaces. Even a coffee/espresso maker is betrayed only by the appearance of small metal spigots peeking out from a smooth wood surface. There is not a salt shaker to be seen, but decorative columns on either side of the range can be pulled out to reveal a gourmet’s prodigious supply of spices.

Building a house that will take care of itself

For the Richeys, a good structure is one that can take care of itself. “We wanted a house with an exterior that would be completely maintenance free,” says Sherrie. Choosing all stone – Himalayan slate from Nepal and Pennsylvania Blue Stone – means no wood to be painted or siding to be repaired. The gutters are fuss-free and attractive copper. And the roof looks like slate but is actually made of compressed rubber which, unlike slate, won’t break.

Planning for the future

While the Richeys were deeply involved with the planning of the home, they give enormous credit to their architect, Mark Ivy. Looking back upon the early stages of planning to the end result, says Sherrie, “We got everything we wanted.”

That must be true, for the couple was sure to scale the house to accommodate a wheelchair and included an elevator to make every floor of the house easily accessible. So while the Richeys don’t look as if they’ll be slowing down any time soon, it’s clear that they plan on enjoying their extraordinary home even when, as Sherrie says, “we’re old and gray.”