The Tomorrow House
Written by Christy Marshall
Photography by Alise O’Brien
The homeowner glances over to a speaker sitting on a countertop and says, “Alexa, close the shades.” Immediately blinds lower without a whisper over 9-foot tall windows.
This house is smart; the owner is smarter.
While still a student at Carnegie Mellon, he was recruited to work at PayPal. Then he moved on to Facebook. “They were still expanding,” he says. “Before that if you didn’t have an account at the right college, you had no idea what [Facebook] was. I had an opportunity to cash out my stock and take a break. I retired or took a fun-cation, I’m not sure. I stopped working.”
Still in their 30s, he and his wife decided to move from California to Missouri and to buy a house in Wildwood, across the street from her brother.
“We wanted our kids to be near their cousins,” she says. “We wanted them to be able to run back and forth between the houses and explore and have a little more freedom than they could have in California.”
After initial plans to update the existing structure were abandoned, they started working with architect Susan Bower of Mitchell Wall & Associates and designer Julie Abner of Julie Abner Interiors to create an entirely new home. Several renditions of the plan were created before settling on the home they built. “It took a while to get everything to fit,” Bower says.
“They wanted a modernist vibe, a lot of space,” Abner says. The finished house is approximately 11,000 square feet on a nearly 10-acre parcel of land replete with pond and sand area.
From the bridge crossing the moat over a wall of water that connects to a lazy river that flows into the pool, the house—inside and out—abounds with architectural and design details.
“[The homeowner] has a zen quality about what he likes in houses,” Abner says. “I think he was especially drawn to that moat and how it worked with the entrance and how it also works with the lower level. It needed to be continuous from the main floor to the lower level.”
“The house is steel and wood and most of the wood framing was done off site and brought in and erected,” says Vince Mannino, president of R.G. Ross Construction Co. The interior walls are framed by a tiny groove, a flush-reveal trim. “It’s a simple looking detail that is extremely difficult,” he adds. “Most of the trim has to go in before the house is finished.”
Jim Howard, designer at Glen Alspaugh Custom Kitchens & Baths, took that same reveal detail and repeated it in the cabinetry and around the countertops. The fumed European larch veneer on the cabinets has a slight undulation in its surface.
“Texture is the underlying theme with the whole house,” Abner says. “Everything has a layered quality, there is always some sort of textural contrast. That was what we were trying to do to warm up the space so it wasn’t too cold. We relied on those textures to really enliven it and make it feel warm and comfortable to the family.”
The front door opens to face the kitchen with the dining room on the immediate left. Designed by Howard, the shelving units work as dividers between the two areas. A dramatic two-sided fireplace in black crocodile stone delineates the dining room from the family room.
The family of four—with four resident felines—brought no furniture with them, so Abner started with a clean slate.
“They leaned toward that California relaxed-but-tailored, clean-line aesthetic, contemporary look,” she says. “It was important to them to have cleanable surfaces. We did a lot of high-end faux leathers, some nice finishes that you wouldn’t know were maintenance free.”
The house consists of three levels: a lower level with a full-kitchen, office, home theatre, large play area, bathroom and pool access. The main floor is the kitchen, dining and breakfast room areas, family room, craft room, and two guest rooms. On the top floor are the master bedroom and the children’s bedrooms as well as an outside area.
The house also has 120 solar panels and thermal wells for the heating and cooling. And naturally enough for this smart house, there is a server room and 10 miles of low-voltage cable.
“Based on the level of technology I would throw into the house, I always assumed I would be able to automate and control most things,” the homeowner says. “It’s custom one-off bespoke programming. All these different pieces to get them to talk to each other—talk to TV, talk to the doorbell, which is not just a doorbell, but it’s a phone call system. I just wanted to automate the simple things in life.”
“Starting from the existing driveway we had a journey or path to the guest parking to get into the house,” Bower says. “That is along the water course and you really don’t know that the pool is at the end of that until you get to the bridge. When you cross the bridge you get a glimpse of the rock spillway and the slide.”
“We had the pool design but then we had that really hot summer two summers ago and I said, ‘This is not enough. We need more. So, what about if we add a lazy river?’” the homeowner says. “So we added a half lazy river feature. And a sand feature where the kids like to play. The rocks go up the hill and the slide comes down.”
“The kitchen is the core of the house,” Howard says “All rooms lead through or to there.” The veneers are all book matched and mirror each other perfectly. Howard added a hidden door to the pantry, right next to the refrigerator. The open staircase, the sole staircase in the house, was designed early on by Susan Bower.
“[The homeowner] wanted an unobstructed view of the lake and land,” Abner says. “That is why the furniture in the family room is lower and the color palette is neutral. And that silk-and-wool area rug is one of my very favorites.”
Simple but dramatic, Abner had the bed custom-made by Altura Furniture in Portland, Oregon. The same company made the Claro walnut dining room table.
“The combination of the soaking tub’s water line flush to the top of the white marble stone bench gives the whole set-up an outdoor reflecting pool quality,” Howard says. The size of the tub required the building to be bumped out so it could fit.