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Utah Style and Design

Tucked into the trees of a steep, wooded site, a John Sugden glass house performs as a stunning statement of mid-century modernism as well as a beloved home for architect Kathryn Anderson.

Architect and homeowner Kathryn Anderson purchased the home in 1998 and immediately added a spiral staircase connecting the home’s two 900-square-foot levels.

It’s like living in a piece of art,” says architect Kathryn Anderson, as she reclines on a sleek sofa, bathed in dappled light streaming in through a lush, leafy canopy that engulfs her home. The house, a boxy glass-concrete-and-steel structure, resembles a transparent treehouse floating among the foliage of its steep canyon site located just minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” she says.

Homeowner and Architect Kathryn Anderson

Anderson came upon the small, two-story home 20 years ago after asking a realtor in jest to find her a glass house. Within days, she viewed the property and she bought it two days later. “It was a no-brainer,” says the self-proclaimed minimalist. “I love this house. It is me, by nature.”

“It’s like living in a treehouse,” says Anderson, who outfitted the interior with minimal, sleek furnishing to allow the space and views to reign. Floor-to-ceiling windows visually enlarge the tight quarters and allow the contemplation of the nature that hugs the house.

The main level features a kitchen, fireplace and bathroom at its core. Enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, the living, dining and sleeping areas occupy the outside areas of the open, light-filled space.

Anderson had a connection with the house even before seeing it. The home was designed in 1965 by architect John Sugden, one of Utah’s first modernists and Anderson’s professor at the University of Utah. Sugden grew up in Utah and attended at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, where he studied under and worked for Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a pioneer of modernist architecture.

The corrugated steel ceiling features an artfully composed grid of steel beams that crowns the main level with dimension and bold structural forms.

Armed with invaluable education and experience, Sugden returned home to Utah in 1952 and began his practice. During the next forty years, he built many celebrated projects, including schools, commercial buildings and residences. He designed the glass house with a lower-level studio for himself and a main-level residence for Charlie Griffin, his business colleague, and Griffin’s wife Judith. The two levels, a mere 900-square-feet each, were completely separate with their own entrances until Anderson connected them with an interior circular staircase shortly after buying the home in 1998.

On the lower level, Anderson removed a dropped ceiling and transformed the one-time work studio into a family room replete with a corner library and built-in storage.

The main level, a perfect square measuring 30 feet on each side, offers 360-degree views of its scenic mountain setting, thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass walls enclosing the space and a lack of interior doors and walls typical of conventional homes. The central core houses a galley kitchen, fireplace and bathroom, while the living area, dining space and sleeping alcove seamlessly flow around the perimeter. “With walls this would feel small,” Anderson says. “That’s the illusion of this space, it just continues on and on.” As the home’s second owner and dutiful steward, Anderson changed little on the main level but transformed the walk-out lower level from a work studio into a family room, bathroom and corner library. She also added built-in storage lacking upstairs. Yes, minimalists have stuff too—but not much. For Anderson, less is definitely more. “What else could I possibly need?” she asks.

A small walkway leads from the sleeping alcove, past the glass-enclosed bathroom to the dining area. Views entice the eye and encourage wandering throughout the open floor plan.

 

Just one of Sugden’s many artistically executed and surprising details, a ceiling beam ends before meeting the column it should logically join for support.

While Anderson’s needs seem few, she’s quick to acknowledge all this home gives her. Take its mountain setting, for starters. “Nature is my wallpaper,” she explains. ‘The light and colors change throughout the day, and you become so aware of the seasons. Winter is so peaceful, fall’s colors are crazy, and you’ve never seen a brighter green than when the trees leaf out during spring.” She also delights in describing Miesian-inspired architectural details that appear simple but are, in fact, very complicated. “How is this house being held up,” she rhetorically questions while marveling at ceiling beams that end before meeting the wall’s columns and welds. “Sugden did this on purpose, it’s not structural, it’s design.” She then points out walls that stop short of reaching the corrugated steel ceiling, corners detailed with precise reveals and an overhead grid created by uniquely integrated beams. “That’s the cool thing about this house,” she explains. “If you know what to look for, you see the amazing details.”

A custom light fixture by Paul Cocksedge Studio hangs above the sleek, understated dining table and chairs.

 

A galley kitchen resides at the core of the main level. Even here, views and light flood the small space.

With its sleek structural forms and artistically executed details, the Sugden-designed residence is indeed magnificent. And yet, it seems to step back—allowing its setting and place among the trees to prevail. “The architecture is so peaceful that you almost forget about it,” says Anderson. Almost.

Woven into the trees, outdoor steps lead from the bottom of the wooded site, past the home’s lower level and up to the main level’s entry.

Brad Mee
Editor-In-Chief
October 24, 2018

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