Sun-baked hacienda-style in the Far North

A home for horses and a haven for humans

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Arctic Edge Photography

When Robert and Diane Mitchell* first decided to build on the 5-acre property where they keep their horses, their vision was fairly modest. "A little structure," says Robert. "A little cabin where you can get in out of the rain, out of the cold." Well, there's no question that the resulting house will keep you warm and dry, but that's where the similarities to this description end.

Home design
Dustin Miller, Landmark, Inc.
General contractor
Dave Miller CGP, Landmark, Inc.
Interior designer
Tamara L. Spaulding ASID, Spaulding Interiors
Kichler, Hubbardton Forge, Fabby and Quoizel Design by Tamara L. Spaulding ASID, Spaulding Interiors
Mike Riordan
Wall finishes
Mike Riordan
Architectural plaster on exterior retaining wall
Lynn Kriley, Architectural Plasters
Chase Lundgren Fine Art
Hardwood flooring
Kahrs from MacCheyne's CarpetsPlus, installed by Kurt Pomeroy, P.G.M.T Inc.
Masland from MacCheyne's CarpetsPlus, installed by Kurt Pomeroy, P.G.M.T Inc.
Kitchen Countertops
Mastercraft/Zodiac/Back splash from Spaulding Interiors
Tumbled Antique Bronze Travertine, installed by Kurt Pomeroy, P.G.M.T. Inc.
DeWils from Spenards Builder's Supply, installed by Landmark, Inc.
Porcelain Serenissima Quintana 12x12 tiles from Spaulding Interiors, installed by Kurt Pomery, P.G.M.T. Inc.
Allen & Petersen
Tesco, Spaulding Interiors
Bathroom Countertops
Bathroom Cabinetry
Les Graves, Custom Woodworking
Bathroom Flooring
Persian Red Marble, installed by Kurt Pomeroy, P.G.M.T. Inc.
Toto, Plumbing Showcase
Danze, Plumbing Showcase
Bathroom Tile
Creme Marfil Tumbled Marble, installed by Kurt Pomeroy, P.G.M.T. Inc.
Bathroom Lighting
Tesco, Spaulding Interiors

The gracious timber frame house with its inviting and expansive covered porch and its hint of the old west is anything but "a little structure." In fact it suggests nothing less than a sprawling ranch that you might find in New Mexico or Texas. "It's overgrown," admits Robert. "We got carried away."

The seed of this "overgrown" idea was planted when the couple visited the timber frame home of Dustin Miller of Landmark Inc. The company, headed up by Dustin's father Dave, has been building beautiful homes in Fairbanks since 1980, with an emphasis on timber frame construction. Rustic yet sophisticated, comfortable yet refined, and beautifully integrated into its wooded surroundings, the house struck a chord with the Mitchells. Says Dave, "They just immediately fell in love with the timber-framing and with Dustin's design ideas."

"We loved the open beams and the exposed wood," says Robert. "We love the post and beam construction concept."

Dustin designed their house around the general shape and feel of his own house, but made it feel more like a ranch with a barn attached to it. The result is an open, airy space, with vaulted ceilings, a dramatic loft, and an expansive traditional covered porch. The homeowners changed the overall layout but got the same effect. "That's the thing I love about timber frame," Dustin says. "It's one big space. You can make it a hundred different ways inside."

Warming up the great indoors

The interior of the home is a clear reflection of Diane's passion for the Southwest. "She wanted to have a hacienda look," says Tamara Spaulding of Spaulding Interiors. "She wanted the feel of a ranch that you might see in Mexico."

The terracotta tiles, the "buckskin" tones, and the red cast of the exposed wood combine to create a toasty contrast to the harsh Fairbanks winter outside.

"Coming up with the palette and the textures and the lighting was so important," says Tamara. "They needed to be warm and inviting. They should make you want to come in and take your boots off, start a fire, and just enjoy being."

Authentic textures and a fantastic fireplace

A local craftsman, Mike Riordan, originally from Santa Fe, did the meticulous and dramatic stucco-like walls. "He did two different kinds of natural wall finishes – one clay-based and the other Italian plaster," explains Dustin. "They are the most beautiful walls that were ever put into any house I've built."

Mike's artistry also provided the distinctive and dramatic look of the substantial fireplace. "He shaped it according to the owners' and my design," says Dustin, "and then covered it with plaster." The fireplace, finished with a piece of old burl wood for the mantle, has a distinctly authentic and antique look.

If it's not there – create it!

Adding a sense of whimsy and eclectic charm to the home are two show-stopping murals, painted by California-based artist, Chase Lundgren. "I thought he would be the best one to do the mural for the powder room," says Tamara, who has worked with Chase before. "I wanted it to have some punch," she says. "I wanted it to have a feeling like you're in a desert, but it's not like you're lost." Diane had a lot of input into the artwork, says Tamara. "She had a real vision."

After the powder room was complete, says Tamara, they focused on the loft. "It felt like the loft should have a door in it," says Tamara, "a door that looks out onto a pasture." And so a faux window overlooking a meadow populated by the family's horses and dogs was created. "If it's not there, you can create it," says Tamara with satisfaction.

History comes out of the woodwork

If the artwork tells a story on the inside of the house, another equally beautiful story is literally contained within the wood of the exterior of the house. The 150-year-old Douglas fir timbers that make up the front are a little piece of Fairbanks history built right into the home. The wood was re-claimed from coalbunkers dating from 1932, "when Cap Lathrop ran the coal company," explains Robert. The bunkers were abandoned and eventually the timbers were made available for purchase.

"Dustin hand-cut the front porch frame and it's just an amazing part of the house," says Dave. "When you start studying the wood, you can see the age and the history – the actual holes where the irons have been driven."

"We have pictures inside the house of the original coal bunker," says Robert. "There's a lot of historical value in that porch."

Dave is equally enthusiastic. "The idea of reclaiming timbers and letting them continue to be a part of Fairbanks history," he says, "to use them to beautify a home – that makes us happy."

And while there's a nip in the air and the months of long winter nights are coming, at the Mitchells' last frontier ranch, you can almost see the tumbleweed.

*The owners' names were changed.