Family-friendly rebuild

One couple combats growing pains with grown-up style

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

Jenny and Dan Fawcett know a good thing when they have it: a safe neighborhood where their children (Conrad, age 8, and Nora, age 2) can play, a good school within walking distance, close access to the Hillside trail system, great neighbors and an excellent view. So when they decided that their lower hillside home was not keeping up with their growing family’s needs, they decided to keep the baby and throw out the bathwater. “We couldn’t duplicate what we have here,” says Dan. “And we looked. We really did.” They opted for a total home remodel, rather than a total family upheaval.

building designer
Blue Sky Studio; WillowRidge Construction
General Contractor
WillowRidge Construction
Pat Tomlinson,
Brown's Electric
White oak, installed/finished by Phillip Elliott, Elliotts Hardwood Floors
Stone & brickwork by Tim Patten, WillowRidge Construction
Clad fir, Marvin Windows & Doors purchased from Greg Markson, Summit Windows & Doors; installed by WillowRidge Construction
Marvin Windows & Doors purchased from Spenard Builders Supply
Built-in cabinets
Designed/built by WillowRidge Construction
Kitchen countertops & island
Alaska Marble & Granite
Kitchen cabinets
DeWils Custom Cabinetry purchased from Charles Ling, Spenard Builders Supply
Kitchen hardware
Antique brass,
Lee Valley Tools
Backsplash &
kitchen tile
Troy Geest,
Superior Tile & Stone
Breakfast nook
Custom built by WillowRidge Construction
Bathroom tile & shower enclosure
Andrzej Krozel
E/P Roofing, Inc.
Pre-finished cedar, Michigan Pre-Stain Stone Masons: Tim Patten, Chad Griffin, WillowRidge Construction
Garage doors
Clopay pre-finished wood doors, Ram Services
Designed by WillowRidge Construction; installed by Treeline Construction
Northland Concrete
Staircase & railings
Custom designed/built by WillowRidge Construction
Plumbing &
radiant heat
Morse Mechanical LLC
Security systems & audio/visual installation
ATS Alaska
Scott Chambers, Solid Ground Electric
Project Management
Tim Patten, WillowRidge Construction
Journeyman Carpenters
Chris Basalayga, Josh Moser, Justin Rhoades, Paul Kralik, Mike Ryan, Calvin Sweeny, Josh Sundstrom, WillowRidge Construction

Some things they were sure of. They wanted to do away with the allergen-friendly forced-air ventilation and install hardwood floors with radiant heating throughout. They wanted to scrap the upstairs Jack & Jill bathroom and make each of their children’s bedrooms connected to a bathroom. The main living room would get an expansion and the exterior would get a complete makeover with a more welcoming, winter-friendly entrance.

But it isn’t the upgraded heating, plumbing and mechanical systems that you’re thinking of when you walk in the front door. It’s the airy, open layout, the cozy nooks, the incredible forest and mountain views and, above all, the craftsmanship: Expansive hardwood floors, an elegantly angled staircase, intricate build-ins and meticulous trim are everywhere you look. Rich, warm, woody shades of autumn envelop you. The house practically glows with the soft sheen of lovingly cared for wood. The house is a study in simplicity, elegance and symmetry.

Home design homework

The couple was less sure about how they wanted their “new” house to look. They hired architect Catherine Call of Blue Sky Studio to help them corral their ideas and develop a vision. “We didn’t really know our style,” says Jenny. Catherine asked the couple to immerse themselves in magazines and websites. “She said, ‘grab anything that catches your eye and we’ll talk about it,’ ” recalls Jenny. “It helped her develop a feel for what we liked.”

“Catherine came back with a great plan,” adds Dan. And so the journey begins.

Style evolution

The couple hired Josh Sundstrom’s team at WillowRidge Construction to take their ideas to the next level. With their involvement, says Jenny, “the vision really blossomed.”

“Josh was essential in helping the design evolve,” says Dan. “We really loved the craftsman look but we didn’t know it yet.”

“I’ve always had a passion for traditional design,” says Josh; “I want everything to be timeless. It was fun to be able to engage with a client who’s willing to let us explore the possibilities and do it right.”

“It’s a collaborative effort,” adds Josh. “We worked hard to assemble a company of craftsmen who have learned the techniques and bring a high level of artistry to their craft.” From Tim Patten, the project manager, to the team of journeymen carpenters, “everyone plays an important part.”

Cookies, cupcakes and collaboration

However disruptive a home remodel is, a home re-build is even worse. “We stripped the house down to plywood outside and studs inside,” says Josh. “There were only three sheets of sheetrock left in the whole house.”

Luckily, the family was able to move next door into a house that had recently become vacant. “It was a huge disruption but this minimized it,” says Dan. “We were able to keep the same school and the same routine.” Plus, the family was in the unique position of watching each stage of the transformation. “It made us feel like we were part of the process,” says Jenny. “The guys always took the time to say hi to Norah and to talk to Conrad. They always had time to answer questions.”

For Josh and his crew, this brought a level of intimacy to the project. “We developed such a cool relationship with the family,” he says. “Conrad would come over in the morning with cookies or cupcakes. He would walk through with his dad and talk about the work.”

Space to play

The new home boasts a number of family-friendly updates. Conrad’s distinctly nautical bedroom loft is a universal favorite. Even Nora likes to climb up there, says Jenny (though she needs help getting back down again). “That was so much fun to figure out and build,” says Josh.

Just off the main living area, a rarely used office space was converted into a carpeted play-space with built-in toy storage. Instead of doors that open onto a separate hallway, it now opens onto the main-living area. “I can see what’s going on in there while I’m at the kitchen counter,” says Jenny. So the kids can be under her watchful eye without being underfoot.

Perhaps the most charming family-friendly feature is the dining nook in the kitchen – a cozy booth just perfect for homework, after-school snacks and weekday dinners. “It’s an intimate, safe place,” says Josh. “But it still gives you a vantage point. You can feel cozy but still enjoy the views of the house and the outdoors.”

Wood, bricks, and a little bit of salt

The home is a careful balance of human ingenuity and natural beauty. While the handiwork throughout is meticulous, Josh wants the focus to be on the materials. “I think texture is really important,” he says. Using different species of woods celebrates the skill of the artisan, but also the inherent beauty of the wood. “The quarter-sawn white oak has fantastic grain patterns which makes it so interesting to look at. My firm belief is that humans are more comfortable with things that mimic nature.”

Adding to the textural depth of the home is the weathered fireplace made from re-claimed bricks from the kiln of Bird Creek potter Peter Brondz. Josh had procured the bricks earlier and was waiting for just the right project to use them. “We love brick and there are a lot of old brick buildings where we’re from (Montana),” says Jenny. Part of Peter’s firing process involves salt which over time glazed the bricks giving them a smooth, inviting surface and a rustic patina.

A family vacation – every day

The Fawcett’s journey was a long, and at times arduous, one. But it was worth it. “Josh is truly an artist,” says Dan. “But the family in the home is what’s important to him.”

“Our home is refuge,” say Jenny. “It’s where we take a break from the busy-ness of everyday life. It’s where our family can come together and relax.”

“It stopped me from building a cabin,” adds Dan. “I feel like we have our cabin here.”