Inspired by a winged butterfly, a vibrant St. George residence proves contemporary design has a home in Utah’s southern desert.
By Brad Mee, Photos by Scot Zimmerman
At first glance, the house appears to be floating above scenic St. George. It’s as if the structure’s angular white forms inset with broad panes of glass hover above the surrounding red rocks and high desert landscape. Overlooking these vistas and the eighth hole of the Green Springs golf course, the home is a statement of daring contemporary architecture driven by its site and its owners’ creativity.
“When I stood on the lot overlooking the enormous panorama, I envisioned a giant butterfly-like footprint for the home with a left wing looking toward Pine Valley mountain and a right wing to Zion,” says homeowner Ashley Johnson who, along with husband Markay, designed and built the dynamic, 4,000-square-foot residence.
Teaming with architects Rob McQuay and Todd Benson as well as interior designer Gregory Abbott, the Johnsons—owners of Markay Johnson Construction—created a dwelling that differs dramatically from the pueblo and Tuscan-style homes common to St. George. They sought something different, something unapologetically contemporary.
“The house is like building blocks with glass filling in the blanks,” says McQuay, describing grouped geometric forms joined by soaring cantilevered roofs and spacious decks beneath. Inside and out, the home resembles a piece of modern sculpture.
Inside the front door, a glass paned entry opens to an airy interior filled with gleaming white surfaces, bright daylight and breathtaking views. Floor-to-ceiling, 13-foot-tall windows frame the main level’s vistas and appear to shoulder the ceiling, making it look and feel as if floating above. A luminous white Thassos marble floor expands in every direction below. “The effect is heavenly,” Abbott says.
The entry acts as a connecting bridge to the butterfly’s two wings: A triangular master suite and deck at one end of the main level and a rectilinear great room and large triangular deck at the other. Angled ceiling forms, linear architectural elements and streamlined furnishings delineate the great room areas.
A broad fireplace anchors the living space, a chandelier centers the dining area and a triangle-shaped, waterfall-style island sets off the kitchen. Behind the island, a solid wall of walnut cabinetry conceals major appliances and a door that opens into a roomy butlers pantry. “We put this dark wood on a back wall, so it doesn’t detract from the views,” says Ashley, who selected all of the home’s surface materials and finishes creating a compelling mix of glossy and matte, sleek and heavily textured.
She also collaborated with Abbott to choose the streamlined furnishings and exuberantly colored accents that warm the décor, preventing it from appearing cold or austere. “The punches of color played against the white-on-white backdrop are so uplifting and comforting,” Ashley says.
Leading downstairs from the entry, a staircase formed by glass-panel balustrades and open, white oak treads leads to the lower level where color plays a more dominant role in the décor. “We wanted to warm up the family room,” says Ashley, who flowed wood floors throughout the open space and worked with Abbott to incorporate color and a mix of contemporary and rustic furnishings anchored by textured rugs in view-laden room.
Two bedroom suites, Markay’s office nook and an intimate lounge located beneath the sculptural staircase compose the lower level. Outside, covered patios overlook a large pool filled with a sheath of water cascading from an upper deck above.
“This home reflects a growing trend,” says McQuay. “People want simplicity, they want to be outside, and they want a home that is clean-lined and easy to maintain.” For the Johnsons, the house is much more than that. It is their sanctuary. “This is a culmination of all the homes we built during the past 40 years,” Markay says. Ashley agrees. “We love everything about this house,” she says. “We couldn’t ask for anything more.”