Down by the river

For one family, living the dream on the Kenai doesn't mean going with the flow

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

The first time I spoke with Dr. Henry and Mary Krull about their Kenai riverside home, the two were on a lake in South Dakota catching trout for that night's dinner. When a family lives on the Kenai and still goes fishing when they're on vacation, one thing is clear: They love to fish.

General contractor
Doug Baxter, Batir Construction Inc., Soldotna
Timber framer
Russ Walker, Alaska TimberFrame, Homer
Judd Dickey, Mountain Timber Design, Golden, Co.
Metal siding
Corrugated Country Rustic by ASC Building Products from Spenard Builders Supply, Soldotna; installed by Batir Construction
Interior design
Nicky Pinsky & Natascha Dhondt, Homer Interiors
Mudman Drywall, Soldotna
Jay's Painting, Soldotna
Peninsula Plumbing & Heating, Ferguson Enterprises Inc., Soldotna
Hardwood Flooring
Reclaimed Heart Pine, installed by Mike Mildebrand, Mildebrand Wood and Tile, Sterling
Kitchen counters
Stainless steel
Kitchen island
Marinace Verde Granite with a chiseled/raked edge by Alaska Marble & Granite
Halibut espresso bar
Custom concrete by Leo Vait, Homer
Powder bath flooring
Honey Onyx, installed by Mike Mildebrand, Mildebrand Wood and Tile, Sterling Powder bath vanity Maple, installed by Batir Construction
Master bath Flooring
Travertine, installed by Mike Mildebrand, Mildebrand Wood and Tile
Master bath countertop
Rainforest Marble, installed by Mike Mildebrand, Mildebrand Wood and Tile
Cabinetry/built-in furniture
Custom Mahogany, Mike Barker, Barker Wood Products, Sterling
Brown's Electric, Soldotna
Tom Hall, TNT Electrical, Soldotna
Fowler's Dirtworks, Soldotna
Summit Windows & Doors, Anchorage
Doors/Windows, Soldotna
Totem pole
Tresham Gregg, Haines
Smart home technology
Low volt lighting control system, Arctic Lights Electric
Raven artwork
Celia Anderson, Kenai
Acucraft Fireplace Systems, Big Lake, Mn.
Fireplace stonesman
Marty Rainey, Wasilla
Wind turbine
Alaska Wind Industries, Nikiski
Flowers and plants
Trinity Greenhouse, Soldotna

So the pristine piece of prime fishing property where the Krulls built their "dream home" is to them, a little piece of heaven.

But the dream doesn't stop there.

Classic rusticity with a modern edge:
The timber frame solution

The Krulls' custom timber frame home on the river frontage was years in the dreaming. "We had been collecting ideas for 10 years," says Henry. For a long time the couple planned on a log house with a "big, open, lodge feel," he says. But the couple has a contemporary and quirky side to their tastes. When they discovered timber frame they found the perfect marriage of classic rusticity with a modern edge.

Judd Dickey of Mt. Timber Design in Golden, Colo., was the architect who helped them with their concept. "He was just wonderful," says Henry. "We had a very blurry vision of what we wanted. He gave us a number of options for each idea – so he allowed us to stay very involved."

The result is light-filled, open and fresh – but also solid, rustic and Alaskan. Inside, the high, substantial beams create both airiness and solidity. Outside, the maroon metal siding lends a contemporary feel to slate and exposed wood.

Blood, slate and tears

Finding the slate for the home's exterior was a labor of love, says the couple, with an emphasis on labor. The family got a permit from the Forest Service to pick up slate from the town of Hope. "That was our sweat equity," says Henry. "We started picking – and then we picked, and picked, and picked some more," he says. A pile began to grow in the driveway and the family dubbed it, "Mt. Slatemore." After about five or six truckloads, recalls Henry, the architect looked at it and said: "You're going to need about five or six times this amount."

In the end, the family hauled 25,000 pounds of rock. It took 10 truckloads and six trailer-loads. "I was a part of every load," Henry says.

Says Mary: "Sometimes we took a gullible friend along with the promise of lunch."

A hearth with heart – and a little Dr. Seuss

Inside, the heft of the exterior's stone accents are echoed in a massive and magnificent river rock fireplace. The stonemason, Marty Rainey of Wasilla is also a Denali mountain-climbing guide and he really knows his rock, says Henry. He showed up with a truckload of rocks from near Denali and created a structure that sets the tone for the whole home.

Designed by the architect, the fireplace was originally meant to extend from the floor to the ceiling in traditional lodge-style. Then, explains Henry, it was decided that the height should be dramatically lowered, "in order to preserve the open feel." Since the fireplace sits beneath a complicated junction on the rooflines, the chimney pipe had to be deviated at an angle. The result is distinctly whimsical. "The pipe is Dr. Seuss," says Henry.

A sense of style meets a sense of humor

A little whimsy suits the Krull family just fine. Their eclectic tastes and sense-of-humor are on display throughout the home.

Standing regally at the door in dramatic welcome is a traditional totem pole with five figures representing each member of the family. It made for a perfect gift for Mother's Day, which is when Henry presented it to Mary.

In the living room, a bold and expansive painting of a raven holds court. Painted by local artist, Celia Anderson, the piece was purchased before the home was complete, but the room, due to its openness, seemed to demand a lively work on a large scale.

In between the two flights of the glass-encased staircase, a drop-off is blocked by two black parking bollards – an inside joke meant to remind Mary of a particular parking "incident." No details – let's just say she knows how to take a joke. "It's a permanent reminder," she says laughing. "Henry almost considered making them yellow."

Joking aside, the bollards lend a sense of industrial chic to the very central staircase.

Halibut humor

Another example of something funny becoming fabulous was in the creation of a show-stopping piece in the kitchen. The Krulls wanted an espresso bar and architect Dickey, who is an avid fisherman, drew a plan with a picture of a halibut on it. "We took the drawing and showed it to the builder," recalls Henry. "We were thinking, 'How are we going to do a halibut?' " The contractor, Kevin Strong, recommended an artist who also specializes in custom concrete work. Thus, the "Happy Halibut Bar" was created.

It was only afterwards that the architect said: "I drew that as a joke – I didn't think you'd actually do it!"

Once again, humor was the mother of invention, and the Krulls had the last laugh.

New tricks for old things

Antiques have a strong presence throughout the Krulls' home and serve to artfully balance the "new" feel of a custom house.

Mary's love for antiques is not a "passion," she says. "It's an incurable addiction." Her mother collected antiques as she was growing up in Colorado. "I've had a love for them ever since," she says. "I've collected them my whole life and now I finally have a showcase for them."

Mary's collection isn't your typical set of heirlooms. In addition to some traditional antique furniture pieces, the collection boasts an antique wheelchair that's actually intended for sitting ("It's quite comfortable!" says Mary) and an antique ticket counter salvaged from a train depot in North Dakota.

Perhaps the most personal antique accent in the home is the vintage wallpaper that graces the laundry room. "My mom grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota and they owned a gift shop called 'The Pinecone Gift Shop,' " explains Mary. "When my grandparents died we found remnants of some wallpaper and I saved them. I've been carrying these remnants around for 15 years." Mary hired a local wallpaper expert to hang it because it was in brittle, hard-to-handle condition. "It means a lot to me," she says. "It's in the laundry room along with my grandmother's wringer washing machine."

For the Krulls, small-town life doesn't mean living small. Surrounded by beauty, family history, and good humor, the Krulls are most definitely living large.