New Life Construction
The Japanese term wabi sabi describes a basic design concept that stresses a partnership with Mother Nature, harmony with the seasons, and an unpretentious foundation in all things organic. The Clark house, in Salt Lake City, exquisitely expresses this concept through its subtle design, climate-sensitive landscaping, environmentally conscious interiors, and especially in the way the homeowners approached building from scratch in a historic neighborhood.
Right from the planning stage Michael and MaryBeth Clark knew exactly what they did not want. Turned off by the “starter castle” trend in home building that began in the 1980s and is pervasive today, the Clarks wanted a house that made sense, with functional rooms and useful spaces. “A house is not a trophy to me,” Mike explains. “It’s a place to live.”
The Clarks’ decision to tear down their existing house and start fresh came with its own batch of challenges. Set on a corner lot near the venerable Salt Lake Country Club, the house was among dozens of one-story 1940s ranch-style homes. The Clarks were mindful of not wanting to jar the flow of the neighborhood by building a McMansion.
The initial step was to nail down a compatible design team, so Michael first turned to friend and interior designer Gail Madison Goodhue from Santa Cruz, California. Next, after perusing Sarah Susanka’s book The Not So Big House, which urges home building to satisfy the soul not to impress the neighbors, the couple decided to look for an architect with a similar philosophy. A state-by-state listing from the book’s Web site led them to Kenton Peters of K2 Design. Contractor Doug Rosenbaum had worked with the homeowners on a business project; local landscape architect Mark Vlasic rounded out the team. Although the designers had not collaborated before, they immediately discovered they could work well together. “There was inevitable head-butting,” says Peters, “but everyone was good at listening and asking questions.”
The Clarks brought a detailed laundry list of ideas and guidelines to the design table. MaryBeth didn’t want a great room, but separate living, dining, and kitchen spaces that flowed naturally from one to the next. Mike wanted a private courtyard and a house that was wired to the hilt with advanced lighting and Internet and audio systems. Both were impressed with boats: their efficient use of space, the functional compartments, and how everything is buckled down.
They also leaned toward green design “without going
overboard,” says Mike, who wanted to use as many efficient, renewable resources as possible. “I didn’t have a particular ‘feel’ in mind, I just wanted a sanctuary, a natural place.” Some key green features incorporated into the structure include Tectum ceiling panels, which are great for acoustics, made from renewable woods, and stylish. The homeowners also installed bamboo floors, insulating concrete walls, and an efficient passive cooling system, featuring large overhangs to block direct
sunlight, and upper-level clerestory windows.
Both the architect and interior designer responded to the Clarks’ desire for uncluttered, peaceful spaces and an Oriental wabi sabi influence. To achieve this in the architecture, Peters nestled the low, angular house into the lot and back from the street. The much-needed second story was built so that it is unnoticeable upon approach. Many trees, mostly tall, fragrant Scotch pine, were saved. Mark Vlasic’s native plant–based design and water features accentuate the alpine setting as well as the feel of a Japanese garden.
Modern yet cozy, the house is structurally clean yet provides adequate space for entertaining and distinct play areas for the Clarks’ two children. The interior designer chose natural hues for the interior finish materials and selected textiles to reinforce a quiet ambience. “I wanted to warm up the interiors, keeping them real and down to earth,” she says.
While the Clarks did not base their design ideals on the wishes of their neighbors, they were mindful of the importance of being responsible neighbor-citizens. As a gesture of goodwill, the contractor gave gift baskets to the owners of nearby homes during the dustiest, dirtiest times of demolition and construction. The overriding lesson here seems to be that when building a modern home in a classic, Leave It to Beaver–style setting, designing with a conscience and extending the proverbial olive branch can go a long way.