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A new house helps a young widow and her three sons move forward.
By Dina Mishev ∙ Photography by David Agnello
There is a beautiful dining room table in Kathy Lynch’s home in the Gill Addition. Natural light spills onto it; if you sit at it, you can see Snow King in the distance through south-facing windows. Between the table and the windows is an open living area anchored by a freestanding, glass-fronted Tulikivi soapstone wood-burning stove. A wall of glass on the north side of the table looks onto an outdoor patio where colorful Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the wind. Lynch’s dining table is about as perfectly situated as can be. But the family rarely uses it.
The table they do use is an extension of the kitchen island and made of the same light-colored ash as the home’s floors. Five chairs surround it. “I’m proud to say this table was my idea,” Lynch says. It is here that Lynch and her three sons—ages seven, five, and three—spend most of their time. “We eat almost every meal here. This is the homework spot, where we do art projects, and where I have meetings,” she says. (It is at this table that I’m interviewing Lynch about the home.) “If this table could talk, well, that’d be cool.” The family has only been in the house since August 2015, but it is already full of memories and stories.
Lynch’s husband, Luke, died in an avalanche in May 2015, a couple of months before the house was supposed to be finished. Kathy and Luke designed the home together, but, “There was one thing that he really wanted to have: a Tulikivi. I teased him about it, that he had this unhealthy relationship with the fireplace. But they are so beautiful and efficient.” Lynch has a fire going most winter days. One of her favorite spots is on the chartreuse sofa (salvaged from a home belonging to a friend’s parents) in front of the fireplace. “The fireplace is a piece of Luke in this house,” she says.
“We had suggested some [energy] efficiencies to prior clients, but this was the first instance where the clients were pushing us on it.”
[ Nathan Gray, Architect, kt814 ]
After Luke’s death, “I was sure I was never going to move into that house,” Lynch says. “I had to re-evaluate everything.” Eventually, several months after Luke’s death and one month after the house was finished, Lynch began to think she could move in: “Enough time had to pass for me to accept and readjust. I needed time to get to a point where I could see a path forward. When tragedy hits, you don’t see that path right away. I came to see that this house was part of that path, though.”
While it is only pieces of the house like the Tulikivi that remind her of Luke, the entire space reminds Lynch of Jackson. That was one of the ideas she and Luke took to architectural firm kt814, founded by Rich Assenberg and Nathan Gray. “We live in this beautiful, natural place and we wanted the house to reflect that,” Lynch says. In the kitchen, the Douglas fir used on the home’s exterior wraps inside as paneling above the sink and counter. The hemlock used on the area inside the front entrance extends outside. A nineteen-foot-wide lift-and-slide door off the kitchen is open much of the summer, and, “When it’s open, the indoors and outdoors are one,” Lynch says. She worked with local design firm Matterhouse to select drapery fabric with a texture that reminds her of flowing water.
In addition to the home feeling natural, it was also important to the Lynches that it be energy-efficient. Gray says this is the most efficient project kt814 has done to date. “We had suggested some efficiencies to prior clients, but this was the first instance where the clients were pushing us on it,” he says. The home has an exterior 9 1/2-inch TJI wall and an interior 2×6 structural wall. “It’s like it was framed twice,” Lynch says. Between these two layers, dense-pack cellulose insulation was blown in; the resulting R-value, a measure of how well insulated the home is, is fifty-eight—two and a half times that required by current building code. The three boys’ bedrooms look out on a green roof. A solar evacuated tube collector on the roof heats hot water. (In the summer, it heats enough to cover 90 percent of the home’s water usage; it also helps with the hydronic in-floor heat.) Lynch says the home could be LEED-certified, but, “We chose not to pursue that; we put money into the house instead. We’re not building to get certification, we just want it to be efficient—as efficient as a new build can be.”
Kt814 calls Lynch’s home the SoFa house, which is short for “south-facing.” All of the bedrooms, the kitchen, and the dining/living room have access to southern light. “I wanted as much natural light as possible,” says Lynch, who, in the summer, hangs out in a hammock on the private, south-facing deck off the master bedroom. To do this, Gray and Assenberg broke the home into three masses: the living/dining space; the kitchen (ground level)/master bedroom (upstairs); and the boys’ bedrooms. “They nailed it,” Lynch says of the design.
Sitting at the kitchen table she envisioned, with Spot and Shiny the goldfish swimming around their tank in a corner of the kitchen counter, Lynch explains the garland of fish and birds hanging above the sink. “A good girlfriend made that for us,” she says. “For a good year, every night at dinner we would go around and talk about what we were grateful for.” Lynch would write what she and her sons said on a fish or bird shape, and add it to the garland. The garland is now dense with fish and birds. “This house is a material thing and it doesn’t matter, but it’s a nice home—a place of safety and shelter. I’m beyond grateful for it.”