Alaska: The Final (Architectural) Frontier

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photos by:
March 16, 2009
Originally published in America Goes Modern

“I always wanted to live in a glass house,” explains Valerie Phelps, as she stands surrounded by the 40 feet of floor-to-ceiling windows that are the only walls of her living room. Laid out in a 270-degree panorama in front of her is the frosty expanse of Cook Inlet, cascading rocky mountains, and a white sun as big as a dinner plate. It’s 10:30 at night and the sun is stuck in high-noon position. “I mean,” Phelps pauses, her wineglass refracting specks of light throughout the room, “how could you not want look at this view all day?”

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  Laid out in a 270-degree panorama in front of the house is the frosty expanse of Cook Inlet, cascading rocky mountains, and a white sun as big as a dinner plate.
    Laid out in a 270-degree panorama in front of the house is the frosty expanse of Cook Inlet, cascading rocky mountains, and a white sun as big as a dinner plate.
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  The whole house opens up to its surroundings with floor-to-ceiling windows that are perfect for nature gazing.
    The whole house opens up to its surroundings with floor-to-ceiling windows that are perfect for nature gazing.
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  Valerie Phelps and Peter Burke’s immediate backyard frequently plays host to moose and other wildlife in search of an afternoon snack.
    Valerie Phelps and Peter Burke’s immediate backyard frequently plays host to moose and other wildlife in search of an afternoon snack.
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  Though the Cook Inlet is nearby, from the street, the house’s simple facade gives little indication of the sights that await a visitor.
    Though the Cook Inlet is nearby, from the street, the house’s simple facade gives little indication of the sights that await a visitor.
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  The floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room give the impression of being outside even while cozily enjoying a cup of tea inside. All the windows in the house are double-paned and filled with argon gas. Petra Sattler-Smith says that “even when it’s 10 below you can put your hand on them and they are still warm.” Hydronic radiant heating embedded within the concrete floors not only enables barefoot walking during the coldest months but also warms the furniture and everything else in the room.
    The floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room give the impression of being outside even while cozily enjoying a cup of tea inside. All the windows in the house are double-paned and filled with argon gas. Petra Sattler-Smith says that “even when it’s 10 below you can put your hand on them and they are still warm.” Hydronic radiant heating embedded within the concrete floors not only enables barefoot walking during the coldest months but also warms the furniture and everything else in the room.
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  Sattler-Smith explains that “the north side of the house is covered with corrugated galvanized steel and pierced with only a few very small windows; this protects from the 100-mile-per-hour north winds.”
    Sattler-Smith explains that “the north side of the house is covered with corrugated galvanized steel and pierced with only a few very small windows; this protects from the 100-mile-per-hour north winds.”
  • 
  Burke demonstrates the sliding doors that open to the couple’s garage.
    Burke demonstrates the sliding doors that open to the couple’s garage.
  • 
  Phelps enjoys the master bedroom.
    Phelps enjoys the master bedroom.
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  Burke and Phelps requested that they each have their own private workspace. While Phelps’s office is on the first floor at the north end of the house, Burke’s office is a seperate two-story space at the south end.
    Burke and Phelps requested that they each have their own private workspace. While Phelps’s office is on the first floor at the north end of the house, Burke’s office is a seperate two-story space at the south end.
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