Style and substance

A sleek, cerebral house celebrates material over materialism

Story By Mara Severin • Photography by Ken Graham Photography


Mike Mullowney's downtown modernist gem is so committed to its design principles that it seems like it must be the realization of a long-term dream. But for Mike, building a home from the ground-up was a point of takeoff – not of landing. For him the process meant discovering his personal style, articulating his aesthetic, and defining his lifestyle.

Jeff Barnes and Flemming Petersen, Barnes Architecture Inc.
Project Manager
Gary Luper, GML Inc.
Structural Engineer
Ben Oien, Oien Associates Inc.
Bud Hooker, Northwest Landscape Inc.
MKS Equipment
Concrete & Concrete Block
Simmons Masonry Framing Pfeifer Construction Co.
Better Built Construction
Roofing (Patio Pavers – Hanover)
Daynight Construction Inc.
Doors & Windows (Aluminum Storefront – Kawneer)
Capitol Glass Northerm Windows
Plumbing & Mechanical (Toto, Grohe, Lochinvar)
Partusch Plumbing and Heating Inc.
Electrical (lighting – Louis Poulsen, Zumtobel, Juno, Bega)
Power and Light Inc.
Audio Visual
AVID Home Theater
Cabinetry (maple, custom glass, aluminum)
A. Wasler Specialties
Custom Concrete (stair treads – landing & ramp, concrete countertops)
B2 Construction
Custom Steel (stair, kitchen island, stainless steel countertop, elevator wall cladding)
H&K Sheetmetal Fabricators Inc.
Tile Installation
Gee-Jay Construction
Flooring (Berg & Berg Brazilian Cherry)
Wildwood Floors
Appliances (GE Monogram)
Allen & Petersen
Otis Elevator
Garage Door Facing (Alumafloor aluminum tiles)
Schweiss Doors
AAA Fencing

Mike hired Flemming Petersen and Jeff Barnes of Barnes Architecture to help him replace the traditional bungalow on his park strip property with something he could call home. "The old house just wasn't in tune with his lifestyle," says Flemming, who is also a personal friend.

"Mike didn't have a strong sense of what he wanted," in the beginning, says Flemming. So the design process took some time. "He really wanted to reflect on things and think about what he was doing." Mike began to read books, collect images from magazines, and pay attention to building materials and architectural styles. He even traveled to look for inspiration, visiting well-known buildings and bringing to bear cultural influences from places like Malaysia and Japan. In other words, says Flemming, Mike became a student of design. "It was wonderful. He took it so seriously."

Nowhere to go but up

To take advantage of the lot's potential for views, it was clear that the house needed some height. At the same time, Mike found himself leaning towards open, airy, and light-filled floor plans. "A lot of the initial concepts were not well-suited for urban living," says Flemming. "They were perfect for a mountaintop in the Alps," he says. "The design challenge was to maintain that aesthetic in a downtown urban environment."

The result is a tall, slender structure that creates spaciousness and openness through its height while maintaining a footprint that doesn't overpower the lot or the neighborhood. The front entry, on the lowest level, is a muted, sparsely furnished space that creates a sense of expectation, says Mike. "You know there's more to the house than what you see," he explains. "The space directs you. You see light and you're instinctively drawn to it. The space shouldn't reveal itself all at once."

The light, when you follow it up the staircase, grows from a gleam into a flood as you approach the second floor – the main living area. The space is open to city-, mountain- and water-scapes, but still feels discreet.

A double-height ceiling connects the main living area with the floor above that houses Mike's office and master bedroom. "I wanted there to be a kind of flow between the spaces so you feel like you're occupying the whole house regardless of where you are," says Flemming. "I didn't want the house to feel like it has areas of empty space – spaces that can make a house feel lonely."

A material mosaic

Instead of focusing on fixtures and furnishings, Mike let the design do the talking. "I didn't want moldings and drapes and other things that are distractions," says Mike. "I want to celebrate the materials." Among Mike's favorite materials in the house are literally its building blocks: CMU blocks that are polished to reveal the beauty of the aggregate – something that's usually hidden within. Polishing lends a subtle sheen that makes the material a beautiful interior and exterior feature.

Other exterior materials include pale, silver cedar, a striking contrast to the Corten steel, which weathers, rusts and changes with time. "It's a dynamic material," says Mike. "Sometimes, when the sun hits it, it's almost a psychedelic red."

Inside, cherry wood floors, heavily figured bird's-eye maple, poured concrete floors and countertops, cabinetry of exposed apple-ply maple, and even pebbled leather over cork flooring complete a fascinating mosaic of textures, finishes and natural elements.

Heavy metal

Metal, however, is a clear star of the show. Jeremy Williams, the specialty foreman at H&K Sheetmetal Fabricators Inc., coordinated the steel work all over the house – the kitchen island, the staircase, the bridge between the house and yard, and the enormous sheets of raw metal that wrap the elevator tower. "It was a really fun job," says Jeremy. "We had a lot of free rein. They would give us their ideas and we'd run with it." Their commitment to the project is visible in the finest details – the quality of the welds, the care with which they chose the steel sheets with the "best water marks and mill marks."

The team even made a custom range for the kitchen when the one on order didn't suit the kitchen. "It just didn't look good," says Jeremy. "So we just took the guts out of it and built our own."

"They're really can-do guys," says Mike.

Calm, clean and serene

Design, views and a distinct, modern point of view are all things the house has in spades. What it doesn't have? Clutter. The furnishings are minimal but dramatic. And with the exception of some bookcases that line the staircase giving a glimpse of book titles and travel souvenirs, the design allows a place for everything and everything in its place.

Surfaces gleam, views are unfettered, the space feels clean and serene. "I want my home to be a sanctuary," says Mike. "It's where I want to relax and be calm."

Flemming measured his success when he met Mike's mother and she took him aside and said, "This house is totally Mike." But Mike's own commitment to the process helped lead to the spectacular results. "He really approached a custom home the way it should be approached," says Flemming. "He wasn't just buying a commodity. He was creating something and getting something out of the process."