Beauty on the Bluff

Story by Julia Moore

  • Elite Photography Alaska Elite Photography Alaska
  • Judy Patrick Photography Judy Patrick Photography
  • Elite Photography Alaska Elite Photography Alaska
  • Judy Patrick Photography Judy Patrick Photography
  • Judy Patrick Photography Judy Patrick Photography
  • Judy Patrick Photography Judy Patrick Photography
  • Elite Photography Alaska Elite Photography Alaska

When Juli and Mike Hartford saw the house for sale down the road from their friend’s house, they were instantly inspired by the bluff out front – the birds, quite literally, called to them. It took a couple of years to decide what exactly to do with the existing ranch-style home, but the result was well worth the wait.

Key Contributors
Anna Lee, AIA Architect, Alder Architecture & Design
Structural Engineer:
Ben Oien
Steve Cross
Pile driving:
Deep Earth Foundations
Ken’s Garden Center
Siding, deck, railing, gutters, exterior trim:
Bobby Padie, BP Professional Siding
Garage door:
Door Tech, LLC
Above & Beyond Roofing
Exterior doors & windows:
Robinson Millwork
Repurposed timbers:
Jason Underhill, Finished Works, LLC
Interior paint:
Mat Valley Painting
Interior door & trim finish:
Mike Pistro
Interior doors:
JoDee Braendel, Spenard Builders Supply - Millwork Center
Spenard Builders Supply - Millwork Center
Fonov Construction & Electrical, LLC
Tile & countertops:
Five Stone Company, LLC
Working with what you’ve got

“When Mike came to me, he wanted to know what my thoughts were – whether we should just shove it over the hill or renovate it,” says architect Anna Lee with Alder Architecture & Design. The old ranch-style home was shabby and the smell of cigarette smoke had seeped into the walls from decades of the previous homeowner smoking indoors, but it had everything they needed to start from scratch. “Even if you just have framing, slab on grade, and your utilities, that saves money right there,” Anna explains.

And, luckily, only the exterior walls were load-bearing, allowing them to rip out every other wall in the house – which they did. They even stripped the roof in order to install a sloped roof, letting more light into the home, and giving more views from the bluff.

“We were looking for something that blended into the lot, instead of something that stuck out,” says Juli. The home blends well with the rustic Alaskan wilderness surrounding it, cantilevering out just feet before the bluff’s edge with steel pilings driven into the earth for extra support.

Somehow, Juli, Mike and Anna transformed a “grungy house with a million-dollar view,” as Anna described it, giving it a second life – they did the same thing with many of their materials, which were repurposed.

Blending the old with the new

One special material Mike and Juli used in their home is an antique window that belonged to Mike’s grandfather. “It’s a leaded glass window with crystal. The sun hits that and it just send reflections and colors all over the place,” says Mike. The window is placed in-between the living room and bedroom, which may seem strange at first, but it’s visible throughout the home. “The idea is that you can enjoy it all the time – you can be in the kitchen or the dining room or the bedroom and see it,” Juli adds. The bench in Mike and Juli’s boot room is also made from a bar top originally from Mike’s grandfather’s home.

In the main room, 14-inch-by-14-inch timber beams frame the room and views. These beams, reclaimed from an old warehouse in Fairbanks, were suggested by Anna instead of steel or metal, which are easy to maintain but lack the aesthetic the couple wanted. Overhead in the main room, locally sourced white spruce matches the soffit outside.

On the front exterior of the house, the beautiful metal siding plays well with the solid, worn-timber framing. Mike and Juli actually bought the rusted steel siding from one of the contractors after seeing it. “I cleaned it with soap and water and a high-pressure wash, and it was coated with an automotive clear coat,” says Mike. “As you go along, you find materials you like that you can use. That’s what we did."

On vacation every day

With repurposed, quality materials, Mike and Juli built their dream home that requires hardly any upkeep through the years. “The flooring throughout is concrete with some added pigment; we don’t have any carpet or linoleum or anything,” says Juli. Mike adds with a laugh, “It’s not going to wear out. And we’ve got this little robot that runs around the house and cleans.”

The ranch-style home is small, making it easy to clean and maintain. But, it’s open, giving Mike and Juli space to entertain. “There’s plenty of work space in the kitchen, but it’s not too big to keep up with,” says Juli. “It’s easy for people to hang out and talk to you when you’re in the kitchen, and they all end up in the kitchen anyway!”

And with a home framed around the view, why not meet in the kitchen? From the sloped driveway up, the home is designed with the view from the bluff in mind. When walking into the home, the roof raises from eight feet to nine feet, which leads into the main room with its sloped ceiling. “It creates a progression all the way from the driveway to the view in the tower,” says Anna. The tower, or main room, actually extends as far as the deck, making it as good a place to capture the view as being outside, she adds.

“We get the nice sunlight through the windows all day long. We get to hear the sandhill cranes out front,” says Mike. “It’s like we’re on vacation every day.”

*The homeowners’ names were changed