A very principled home

Arts and crafts principles meet mathematical ones in this crafstman home

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

When Carl and Annette Swanson decided to move, after 20 years in the same house, they began with Plan A – looking at the existing homes market. "I didn't want to build," says Annette. She was uninspired by the thought of a long process and of absorbing herself in the minutiae of building from the ground up.

3 D Drafting and Design; and Carl Swanson (homeowner)
Interior designer
One of a Kind Design, Claudia Snegirev
Colony Builders
Framing and siding
Avtonom; Far West
Premier Roofing; E/P Roofing, Malarkey Shingles
Copper gutters
Wesco Plumbing; Partusch Plumbing
Muotka Mechanical
Brick's Electric, smart home Lutron system
Carlos, Inc.
Action Drywall
ADC Painting, interior; Abuello's Painting, exterior
Doors and windows
Builders Millwork Supply
Decora Cabinets in Harmony Cherry
Majestic Sales
Wine cellar
Vigilant Wine Systems
Garage doors
Spenard Builders Supply, Wayne Dalton
Audio Visual Installation & Design
Trim carpentry
SW Construction
Light fixtures
Browns Electric; Décor Lighting
Allen & Petersen
Shower doors and mirrors
Speedy Glass
Northwest Plaster and Stone
Cable rail
Rivers Wood Products
Heated drive and walk
GMG General
Photography staging
One of a Kind Design, Rachel Broady
Design by Carl Swanson; work by Evergreen Landscaping

But after a fruitless hunt for a home that fit their needs and their tastes, she began to reconsider. And Carl helped that process along. "He said, 'Trust me,' " recalls Annette. And over the next two years, he says, laughing, "I said that a lot."

Carl has years of commercial building experience in Anchorage, so unlike many first-time homebuilders, he brought more to the table than a photograph, a fantasy, or just a dose of optimism. He brought knowledge, expertise, and a strong point-of-view.

The resulting Craftsman-inspired house is so thoughtful, so complete, so much an expression of their lives, and their tastes, that it seems like fate that they couldn't find a house on the market.

Bonding with the builder

The Swansons share a love for traditional design and natural materials. They wanted a serene, tranquil space. They wanted to use local craftsmen and stonemasons. They wanted to emphasize hand-made detail over mass-production. So creating a design with these principles was a must. But it would also be a challenge.

The couple hired Colony Builders to help them meet those challenges. "Carl had a real vision about the Arts and Crafts era and we helped him to fulfill it," says Bill Taylor of Colony Builders. "We really enjoy building from that era," he continues. "You can see all the special details that went into it. For us, it's personally appealing and that gives us even greater satisfaction."

Secret serenity

A key aspect to the home's tremendous appeal is the physical lot. Fronting a park, the home is set back from the street and strategically oriented for a sense of peaceful isolation. Walking into the home is a revelation – you're greeted by a sweep of wilderness and it's an unexpected delight – a surprise.

The open, airy setting is utilized and echoed in the home's interior. While the living areas are distinct and well delineated, there is a natural motion that draws your eye throughout the house. This was intentional, explains Carl. From one spot in the living room, "you can glimpse into the kitchen or the library – you can peek into other rooms."

Taylor appreciates the feeling of flow throughout the house. "If you're doing a beautiful job, you want to be able to see everything easily," he says. "The traffic flow allows you to fully appreciate the work that went into the home."

Drama in the design

The great room and the kitchen are the real heart of the home and where the Swansons do most of their living. Stylistically, says Taylor, the room is the "real statement in the house."

Part of the "statement" is in what's not present, rather than what is. "We don't like clutter," says Annette. The furniture, therefore, is clean-lined and straightforward, the adornments are minimal. The aspects of the room that are integral to the design – the fireplace, the dramatic chandelier overhead, the wall of windows showcasing the untouched beauty of the park, the complexity of the woodwork and its mellow sheen – these are the elements in the room that shine.

The adjoining kitchen is a triumph of function and finesse. Tall cherry cabinets are in elegant contrast with stunning granite – a slab rich with creams and reds and flecked throughout with fish scale-like silver. Crackle glass fronts the top cabinets creating a sense of open cabinetry without fully exposing the contents. Interior cabinet lighting creates luminosity and furthers the illusion of transparency. An embossed tin backsplash evokes the Arts and Crafts motif.

A sliding ladder on a track (which echoes one in Carl's library) adds a whimsical, vintage note while being fully practical.

Aesthetic theories and intuition

For some people, building a home is a series of technical problems to be solved. For others, it's a series of emotional ones. For the Swansons, it was a marriage of both. It's unlikely that you can speak with Carl about his house without also discussing his fascination with the science of aesthetics.

Carl used classic mathematical principles such as the "Golden Mean" and the Fibonacci sequence to make design decisions for the house. The first is a ratio (roughly 1:1.618) that appears throughout nature – in, for example, a nautilus. The second is a series of numbers – a rhythm that is present in a pinecone, a sunflower, in the branching of a tree. Both principles have been embraced by architects and artists as mathematical paradigms of aesthetic appeal. In the Swansons' home, the wainscoting, the exterior columns and the staircase balusters were all designed based on these principles.

The distinctive tapered shapes are a thematic element throughout and an extension of these geometric concepts, says Carl. "There are very few squares throughout the house." The columns, the banisters, the impressive fireplace – all of these shapes are tapered. "Nothing feels too forced," he says.

"It's subtle," adds Taylor, "but geometric proportions are critical to making something pleasing to the eye." This effect can be obvious or subliminal. "Carl has an engineer's mind," he says. "To him it's mathematical. To the more artistic type, it might be intuitive."

The method may be mathematical, but the results are pure emotion.

Serious design makes for serious fun

But don't let the math fool you. The Swansons' home was built for family, friends and fun.

Two decks – one adjoining the third floor loft, and one off the main floor – are connected by a spiral staircase. This expands the couple's outdoor entertaining space and gives guests an opportunity to enjoy the view of the park and of the beautiful, tranquil and geometric garden in the backyard. The lower deck has a huge grill, a heated floor and a fireplace, which considerably extends the family's summer season.

On winter evenings, you can settle into the enormous game room – complete with a pool table, pinball machine and a full cocktail bar with martini-shaped barstools.

If you prefer corks to olives step into the basement wine cellar. Have a seat at the wine-barrel tasting table. Select a vintage wine or a cigar. In that room, with its Mediterranean tiles and its hushed interior, the feeling is transporting. You could be in a wine cellar in France.

When you're done, perhaps you can go watch a French film in the couple's elaborate theater room. Emphatically, there is something for everyone.

No regrets

After tackling a building project of this magnitude most people have at least a few regrets – a few ideas that misfired, or a decision they wish they could take back. But the Swansons view the results with complete satisfaction. Says Carl, "People ask us all the time: 'Is there anything we would do differently?' And we always answer: 'Absolutely not.' "