Daring to be Different in Sand Lake

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

While Beth and Scott were building their imaginative modern home in Sand Lake, they were temporarily living in, what they called, a “cookie-cutter” house. “Whenever we’d have the architect over, I’d think, ‘Don’t look around! Don’t take anything away from this,’ ” says Beth with a laugh. Scott nods in agreement. “Yes, I’d think, just do the opposite of this.”

Catherine Call and Anne Severin, Blue Sky Studio  
Framing and siding
George Matveev, GMC Builders  
Polished face block supplied by Anchorage Sand & Gravel; installation by Glacier Masonry & Excavation  
Metal siding
Custom bend metal siding by Randy Wirick, Diomede Enterprises; installation by Tommy Rogers, TR Exteriors
Cassidy’s Plumbing & Heating
Drywall, texture & paint
Image Drywall & Paint
Concrete (polished interior flooring & exterior steps)
Ron Pester, First Class Finishing
Tony Levine, Big Bob’s Flooring
Tile flooring & backsplash
Supplied by Jackie Gregory, Carpet World; installation by Dmitry Medyanikov, Medkov Tile & Hardwood Flooring
Cork flooring
Supplied by Jackie Gregory, Carpet World
Shower walls
High-gloss acrylic wall panels supplied by Lustrolite
Stainless steel handrails
H&K Sheet Metal
Big rock picture on green wall
Brendan Smith, Wildlife Research Images

Driving up to their assertive, creative, tangerine-accented home at the top of a bluff, it’s clear that no cookie-cutters were harmed in the building of it. The house stands out in the neighborhood. In fact, it would stand out in any neighborhood.

Color and character inside and out

The main entry/stairway is one of the most dramatic features of the house. A glassed-in column that runs up the side of the house, it offers architectural interest from the outside and beautiful views from the inside.

The walls are a fresh, citrusy shade of green, the floors are polished concrete, and sleek stainless stair railings guide you up to the home’s spectacular view and the open, main-living area.

But Beth’s favorite element of the space is the zebra carpet that covers the stairs. “I’ve wanted zebra carpet for a long time,” she says. But when it came down to shopping it proved to be just too expensive. “Weirdly, they don’t make a cheap commercial grade carpet in zebra,” she says with a laugh. Just as they were giving up they went bedroom carpet shopping and asked one last time. Not only did the store have it but they had it as a remnant. So it was exactly what they wanted and a bargain to boot. “We get a lot of dropped jaws when people see (it),” she says. “The best feature of the house if you ask me!”

Originally, the entry was entirely contained within the home’s main frame but, to architect Anne Severin, of Blue Sky Studio, it wasn’t special enough. “Beth and Scott wanted a small footprint and a simple design,” she explains, “but they needed something to soften the heavy shape of the home.” The “bumped-out” entryway “added a dimension to the house,” she says. “It gives it more character.”

Taming the great indoors

The main floor is fully open with subtly defined living spaces. Catherine Call, Blue Sky Studio’s owner, admires the couple’s design aesthetic in accomplishing the separate but cohesive areas. “Beth has a good sense of how to define spaces,” she says. For example, “(Beth) brought the home’s exterior detailing into the kitchen. The dropped soffit over the island recreates the look of the siding on the outside.” It’s details like these, she says, that prevent open spaces from becoming a sprawl.

Dark living-room furniture and kitchen cabinets offset the bright, colorful whimsy of the walls and cork flooring provides a natural, soft balance to the home’s more modern, edgy elements.

Big ideas on big canvases

The room’s over-sized personality calls for oversized art. Huge V Rae canvases (the baleful moose and the quizzical otter) are at once playful and dramatic. A striking black and white triptych of a mass of river rock dominates another wall. Beth had seen a smaller version of the photograph at Denali Graphics and learned that the photographer, Brendan Smith, was set to have a First Friday exhibit. Beth contacted him and asked, “Can you make it four foot by six foot?” Brendan had to learn the ins and outs of printing on such a large scale. The result is stunning. Brendan came to the house to see his work’s home and was thrilled to be sharing space with V Rae. “I told him, you share the space with her but yours is bigger!” says Beth.

Bringing decisiveness to the decor

The house is a collage of ideas that the couple have been collecting for years. “If we see something we like, we take a picture, write it down, file it away,” says Beth. This helped the process go much more smoothly, she says. For example, the kitchen’s Silestone countertops were a material the couple had seen three years earlier. “Instead of looking at hundreds of options, we said, we liked it, let’s do it. It saved us a lot of time.”

Also, says Scott, “We tried not to make a zillion choices.” The bathrooms, for example, all share the same sinks and faucets. And while every room has an accent color, they all come from the same handful of choices. So there’s an almost subliminal cohesion throughout the home.

Having a decisive nature helps, when building a home and being your own contractor, the couple agree. And trusting each other’s taste helps even more. And when they saw something they agreed upon, they weren’t afraid to do the research and go after it. For example, the couple saw the Lustrolite high-gloss acrylic wall panels that were used in the master bedroom on a home renovation show. Beth had to track the company down. “Turns out, they hadn’t shipped to Alaska before,” says Scott. The material is mold-resistant, easy to clean and is completely do-it-yourself, he adds. “You can cut it with a Skilsaw and it goes up with two-sided tape and silicone,” says Scott.  

Hiring subcontractors

Despite the couple’s can-do attitude, experience and skill-set (Scott is a professional carpenter), the couple gives full credit to their “fantastic” team of subcontractors and architects. “It was a really collaborative process,” says Beth.

Scott’s building experience helped the couple make smart hiring decisions. “I know most of the people who have been in business a long time,” he says. But they also relied on instinct. “We would just go with a feeling,” says Beth, when they would meet potential craftsmen.

Listening to their instincts paid off, says Beth. But so did listening to their subcontractors once they were on the job. “We were always saying, ‘What would you do?’ or, more importantly, ‘What would you do differently?’ ” They tweaked and altered their decisions based on professional input – more insulation, different patterns of drywall, tiny tweaks throughout the house. “After all,” says Beth, “they’re the experts.”

Some of the tweaks were not so tiny. In particular, the bold orange accent colors on the home’s exterior.

“At first, we wanted just a strip of orange under the soffits,” says Scott. “Anne didn’t seem too sure at first – orange? Are you sure?” he recalls. “But then she went back and played around with it and said, ‘let’s do more.’ It was her idea to do the whole top band orange.”

Wild, but wise, at heart 

While the couple let their imagination run wild, everything else was firmly tethered. “You have to check and double-check everything,” says Beth, of doing their own contracting. “You have to be accountable for everything – the measurements, the cost, all of it.” It’s nerve-racking, says Scott, when your cabinets arrive and they’re all plastic-wrapped and stacked. “When you open them and they’re all there and all right you just think, ‘Thank you!’ ”

Also, the couple had realistic expectations about the process. “We figured it would take a year and a half,” says Beth. “And we were only three weeks off-schedule.” Factored into that time frame was, well, a life.

“We made sure this didn’t take up 100 percent of our time,” she says. “Sometimes, instead of working on the house, we’d say, ‘Let’s go fishing!’ ”

For this family, nothing else would do but to build a house where fun comes first.