Tranquility among the timbers

Story by Julia Moore
Photography by Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams

  • Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams
  • Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams
  • Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams
  • Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams
  • Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams
  • Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams
  • Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams
  • Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams
     

For years, Bryan and Andrea Winn knew they wanted to build their own home. The Winns had actually drawn up plans on two other plots of land before discovering the land where their house now rests. When hiking and seeing the beautiful views – from the creeks nearby to mount Susitna in the distance – the couple was set on building a mountain home to match the hillside.

Key Contributors

Architect:
Ivy & Company
General Contractor:
WillowRidge Construction
Interior Designer:
Jill King, Red Carrot Design
Lighting:
Lighting Gallery by Browns; Solid Ground Electric
Cabinets:
Charles Ling, SBS; WillowRidge Construction
Roofing:
Rain Proof Roofing
Exterior Paint, Stonework & Deck:
WillowRidge Construction
Landscaping:
Bill Evans; Dan Beek
Concrete:
Northland Concrete
Staircase, Railings, Custom Welding:
Levi Lye; WillowRidge Construction
Plumbing:
Morse Mechanical
Custom Windows:
Lightwave Glass; WillowRidge Construction
Audio/Visual Installation:
AVID
Artwork:
Ken Foster, Blacksmithing; WillowRidge Construction
Timber Framing:
Jason Underhill; WillowRidge Construction
Interior Doors:
WillowRidge Construction

“We wanted it to be an Alaskan home, a home that fits the environment and makes sense here,” said Andrea, describing their vision. “That was a big driving force for the design.”

Drawing inspiration from its surroundings, the house features hefty timber frames – the largest being eight by 16 inches and about 40 feet long – and exposed bridge washers and bolts for a dramatic mountaineering effect. Along with fitting the home to the environment, many aspects of the build were founded on forming the environment to fit the home. The challenging landscape made for a tough start.

“It was a big excavation,” says Josh Sundstrom with WillowRidge Construction. “And we were basically sculpting the ground to receive the house as designed.” The design, too, played off the surroundings. “Even placing the house, Mark Ivy and I spent quite a bit of time with laser levels and string lines trying to position the house in the right spot on the property to maximize sun paths, views and the topography of the site.”

Mark Ivy, with Ivy & Company, hasn’t forgotten about this part of the construction, either. “(Josh) and I crawled around that site for hours and hours,” he says with a laugh.

Having different portions of the home positioned so that the sun hits the right spot at the right time – rising and shining into the sitting room by the master bedroom, hitting the private deck around midday, and shining warmly on the entertaining area underneath the floating master bedroom at night – makes a difference for Bryan and Andrea, who can enjoy coffee together in the morning or relax and have some quiet time.

“We’ve got a loveseat and a chair in the entrance of the master suite,” says Andrea. “The windows are floor-to-ceiling, and we can look out onto the waterfall. I really enjoy sitting in there and reading a book.”

Collaboration sparking creativity

Having many snug places in the home where Bryan, Andrea and the kids can sneak off to and read was one of the Winn’s requests in the design. “There was a lot of collaboration throughout the process with Ivy and his team, Bryan and Andrea, and my team. It’s kind of neat when everybody can get together and contribute that way,” says Josh.

Mark and Josh took the family’s hobbies into consideration in the design, like creating a nook in the living area for Andrea’s piano where she can play for her guests without being far from the crowd and the musical area for their kids’ harp and bass. Bryan also has his own creative station where he can write. There are glass panels at the edge of Bryan’s office loft, which he can keep closed when he needs to focus or open when he wants to hear what’s going on around the house.

“I absolutely love sitting at my desk in the loft office,” says Bryan. “With the barn door open there’s a sightline through the reading nook to Mount Susitna and the inlet, perfectly framed by a picture window. Sitting in the loft feels like being in a treehouse; it’s the highest point in the structure and provides a perfect spot to focus and reflect.”

The team even dreamed up a solution to an area that can easily become the drabbest part of a house – the basement – by creating windows in the floor above. “They play off the grids in the exterior windows,” says Josh. “We built a solid steel framework and inserted really thick glass panels in the grid work. It’s all smooth and flush with the floor. It doesn’t stub your toes or anything.”

Mark compares these floor windows to skylights, allowing natural light and manmade light to travel into the basement and brighten up the basement. The windows look effortless lining the halls, but they took an immense amount of planning. “As soon as you put a bunch of holes in the middle of the house, and you have plumbing, HRV, all the mechanical stuff that’s crisscrossing through that, it adds a challenge to get the electrician’s and the plumber’s systems across those holes in the floor,” explains Mark. “That was a challenge, working with Josh to figure out how many openings we could get, and the pattern and space for technicians.”

Uniting the outside with the in

In the dining room, the wall of glass panels can slide out all the way, opening the area to the outdoors. This idea wasn’t part of the original home design. In fact, it wasn’t dreamed up until partway through construction. “A lot of the structural work had already been done,” says Bryan, who wanted the extra space to entertain between the deck and dining area. “Josh and Mark had to find a way to strengthen the beam above that area, so that you’d be able to put long sliding glass panels in.”

In summer, the Winns can open the dining room, extending it out onto the naturally beautiful – and highly durable – wooden deck. “We used a wood called larch, which has a very similar grain pattern to Douglas fir, but it’s really rot resistant,” says Josh. “In fact, old timers would often use that wood for fence posts because it was so rot resistant.”

In winter, when the glass panels are closed, the couple can enjoy being practically submersed in nature while keeping warm. “You can look down at the city lights and the snowy trees, and it’s just beautiful,” says Andrea.

After the years of work – the excavation, lining up windows with the path of sunlight, laying the timber frames, and the landscaping – the Winns’ home surpasses all of the homes they dreamed of. “It’s just comfortable to be here,” explains Andrea. “I never envisioned such a lovely home.”