Hillside Haven

Story by Amy Newman • Photography by Marcus Biastock

  • Marcus Biastock Marcus Biastock
  • Marcus Biastock Marcus Biastock
  • Marcus Biastock Marcus Biastock
  • Marcus Biastock Marcus Biastock
  • Marcus Biastock Marcus Biastock
  • Marcus Biastock Marcus Biastock

Leah and Aaron Beachem found the perfect spot for their dream home high atop the Eagle River hillside. The large, forested lot offered sweeping, panoramic views of the Anchorage bowl, enough space for a main residence and attached in-law apartment, and a gently flowing stream that cut across the property.

A referral from friends led them to residential designer Karen Kassik-Michelsohn, AIBD, of Anchorage design-build firm Michelsohn & Daughter Construction, Inc., which Karen runs with her husband, Paul, a general contractor. The result of their collaboration is a classically designed multi-level stunner that maximizes the lot’s tremendous views while offering plenty of space for entertaining – and for the grandchildren the Beachems hoped would soon fill the house with laughter.

Rooms with a view
Residential Designer:
Karen Kassik-Michelsohn
General Contractor:
Michelsohn & Daughter Construction, Inc.
Dacor Lighting & Cabinetry, Inc.
Cozy Carpet Interiors; Giant Don’s Flooring America
Majestic Sales Company, Inc.
Windows & Doors:
Builders Millwork Supply
Kitchen & Bath Countertops:
AK Natural Stone Craft
Kitchen & Bath Cabinets:
Spenard Builders Supply; Builder’s Millwork Supply
Spenard Builders Supply
Bathroom Shower Enclosure:
Aurora Glass
Earhart Roofing
Full Seasons Painting by Hernandez Enterprises
Garage door:
Ram Overhead Doors, LLC

There was no question that the lot’s stunning views would be an integral part of the home’s interior, and Karen’s design showcases them to their fullest. But because the lot is reversed, with the view facing the street below, incorporating those views meant building the house backwards, she explains.

“When you walk into the front door (of a view lot), you want to be able to look right out,” she says.

The home’s design accomplishes that. The front entry opens directly into the family room, where double stacked picture windows stretch across the back wall up and up into the open second floor space. The windows continue into the dining room, which is adjacent to the family room on the left.

The main floor uses an open design concept – Newel posts made from fir add character and structural support to the downstairs, and complement the acacia wood flooring – which guarantees unobstructed views of the city from every vantage point downstairs, as well as from the second floor gallery, which opens out onto the family room.

While the views are the undisputed focus of the downstairs space, an oversized gas fireplace in the family room succeeds in pulling the eye away, even if only for a few minutes. Made of a gas insert from Majestic and natural stone tiles from the Cronin Company, the imposing façade draws the eye up toward the vaulted ceilings and the exposed beams of the second floor gallery.

The same tiles were used for the fireplace in the small home office, which Karen placed on the side of the property directly off the kitchen to take advantage of the stream that runs through the property.

“To be able to open the window and listen to that water running constantly is lovely,” she says.

Entertaining the idea

The main floor’s open layout not only maximizes the views, but accommodates the Beachems’ desire for an expansive space to entertain.

“This open living is very, very popular right now,” Karen says. “When you’re entertaining in this space, to not have any barriers between the kitchen, living and dining room makes a lot of sense.”

The kitchen, located directly off the mudroom at the front of the house, opens into the dining and family rooms, allowing easy interaction between everybody on the main floor. Stainless steel appliances, neutral wall colors and white cabinets give the kitchen a clean, contemporary look, and stand in stark contrast to the oversized slate tiles, leathered granite countertops and dark cabinets of the large center island. The juxtaposition makes the lighter elements pop, adding an extra touch of brightness.

A wet bar has a built-in kegerator which, along with four wall-mounted wine curios, up the kitchen’s entertainment factor and allow the Beachems to cater to their guests’ needs without straying far from the party. And for those long Alaskan summer days, a Trex wraparound deck allows guests to move easily between indoors and out.

Classical design meets hillside slope

A well-designed home, Karen says, takes into account both elevation and floor plan. She says a great deal of effort went into using classical design elements to make the home proportionate.

“If you look at the elevation of the house, things line up,” she explains. “Windows are proportionate, wall sizes are proportionate. Windows are centered on the peak, other windows are centered, the columns are stacked and centered.”

It’s a classic design, but getting the elevation right on the sloped lot proved challenging, especially since Karen had very specific instructions regarding the entrance to the home.

Leah was adamant that there be no more than one step leading up to the main home’s front door, Karen explains. The attached in-law apartment needed to have none, to maintain accessibility for Aaron’s parents, who plan to summer in Alaska. This meant the design couldn’t simply rely on pilings or other forms of elevation to maintain proportions. Instead, excavation and back fill of the entire lot was necessary to ensure the home was perfectly proportioned and complied with Leah’s minimal step-up requirements.

Now settled in, the home has surpassed the Beachems’ expectations. And another dream will soon be realized as well – they are eagerly awaiting the birth of a grandchild later this year, so the two full bedrooms plus a playroom in the basement will finally be put to use.

* The homeowners’ names have been changed.