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Startin' Spartan

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When Jay Atherton and Cy Keener met in grad school at the University of California, Berkeley, they discovered in each other a rare constellation of common interests: minimalist architecture, rock climbing, and “not talking.” After graduation, Atherton moved back to his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, and purchased a downtown lot. Wanting to build a house, he asked Keener—–a pro carpenter, then living in Colorado—–to help with design and construction. Six months later, “His house became our house,” says Keener. “It became obvious the only way it would get built was if I shared the mortgage.” Atherton cackles: “I suckered him down here.” The roommates are now business partners: They founded a design firm, Atherton Keener, in 2007. On a 110-degree day, they invited us in for a tour. 
 

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  For the duo of young architects behind the firm Atherton Keener, the harsh, ever-changing light of Phoenix, Arizona, desert served as inspiration for their minimal and malleable home.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    For the duo of young architects behind the firm Atherton Keener, the harsh, ever-changing light of Phoenix, Arizona, desert served as inspiration for their minimal and malleable home.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  The Meadowbrook house is an anomaly in downtown Phoenix, nestled in a downtrodden neighborhood amid lush oleander bushes.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    The Meadowbrook house is an anomaly in downtown Phoenix, nestled in a downtrodden neighborhood amid lush oleander bushes.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  The exterior of the house consists of sandblasted masonry and Ferrari shade sails stretched on a steel frame.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    The exterior of the house consists of sandblasted masonry and Ferrari shade sails stretched on a steel frame.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Here's a wider view of the exterior.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Here's a wider view of the exterior.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Atherton and Keener review architectural drawings in their “living room,” which also serves as a work studio and performance space.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Atherton and Keener review architectural drawings in their “living room,” which also serves as a work studio and performance space.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Another view of the pair, with pup Pip underfoot.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Another view of the pair, with pup Pip underfoot.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  The screen shifts between being opaque and semitransparent.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    The screen shifts between being opaque and semitransparent.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  In an effort to keep the rooms as pure and spare as possible, Atherton and Keener forewent traditional moldings in favor of a subtle reveal at the top and bottom of the wall. They sprayed the ceiling with silver Ralph Lauren metallic paint, selected to tonally match the concrete floors and reflect light deeper into the room. As a result, says Keener, “the walls feel more sculptural.”  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    In an effort to keep the rooms as pure and spare as possible, Atherton and Keener forewent traditional moldings in favor of a subtle reveal at the top and bottom of the wall. They sprayed the ceiling with silver Ralph Lauren metallic paint, selected to tonally match the concrete floors and reflect light deeper into the room. As a result, says Keener, “the walls feel more sculptural.”

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  The curving white wall in Atherton’s bedroom is optimally sited to capture shadows from the redbud tree outside his window. Pip, the dog, will have to content himself with concrete floors—–at least until his housemates buy a couch. Or a rug.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    The curving white wall in Atherton’s bedroom is optimally sited to capture shadows from the redbud tree outside his window. Pip, the dog, will have to content himself with concrete floors—–at least until his housemates buy a couch. Or a rug.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Atherton's bedroom also contains a miniature piano; outside is a red bud tree, an appealing spot for mellow contemplation.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Atherton's bedroom also contains a miniature piano; outside is a red bud tree, an appealing spot for mellow contemplation.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Keener's bedroom contains a bed, a pair of boots, and a selection of books—and nothing else.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Keener's bedroom contains a bed, a pair of boots, and a selection of books—and nothing else.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Since their house is intentionally short on furniture (not to mention a couch) Keener often sits on the floor when others might seek out a chair.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Since their house is intentionally short on furniture (not to mention a couch) Keener often sits on the floor when others might seek out a chair.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Keener demonstrates how the translucent glass doors in the hallway pivot to create larger private spaces, like an expanded bathroom.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Keener demonstrates how the translucent glass doors in the hallway pivot to create larger private spaces, like an expanded bathroom.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Atherton made the bathtub and sinks by hand, out of marine-grade plywood held together with aluminum spline joints and dyed with Behlen Solar Lux in jet black. To make them waterproof, he coated every surface in a thick layer of West System marine epoxy, popular with builders of wooden boats. The components are inexpensive, but the process is time consuming: Each piece took five days to make.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Atherton made the bathtub and sinks by hand, out of marine-grade plywood held together with aluminum spline joints and dyed with Behlen Solar Lux in jet black. To make them waterproof, he coated every surface in a thick layer of West System marine epoxy, popular with builders of wooden boats. The components are inexpensive, but the process is time consuming: Each piece took five days to make.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  A detail of the basin Atherton made for the kitchen.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    A detail of the basin Atherton made for the kitchen.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  “Neither of us were too keen on the idea of having handles on the closets or cabinets,” says Atherton. So they cut narrow slots at the edge of the kitchen cabinet fronts to serve as hand pulls.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    “Neither of us were too keen on the idea of having handles on the closets or cabinets,” says Atherton. So they cut narrow slots at the edge of the kitchen cabinet fronts to serve as hand pulls.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Anticipating that casting a single concrete countertop would be difficult and unwieldy, the pair poured a rough rectangular sheet of concrete on their living-room floor. When it set, they carved it up into chunks with a diamond blade skill saw and fit the pieces in around their appliances. Keener recommends Cohills Pro Series or Buddy Rhodes’s countertop mixes.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Anticipating that casting a single concrete countertop would be difficult and unwieldy, the pair poured a rough rectangular sheet of concrete on their living-room floor. When it set, they carved it up into chunks with a diamond blade skill saw and fit the pieces in around their appliances. Keener recommends Cohills Pro Series or Buddy Rhodes’s countertop mixes.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  The kitchen has many custom touches, like this inset knife holder built into the countertop.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    The kitchen has many custom touches, like this inset knife holder built into the countertop.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  Seeking streamlined, unobtrusive switch plates, Atherton and Keener sent AutoCAD files of the four different styles they needed throughout the house to MarZee, a local water-jet cutting company, which cut 30 custom plates from one-eighth-inch aluminum for just $104—less than they would have cost off-the-shelf. The plates are inset and attached to the sandblasted masonry wall with Velcro.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    Seeking streamlined, unobtrusive switch plates, Atherton and Keener sent AutoCAD files of the four different styles they needed throughout the house to MarZee, a local water-jet cutting company, which cut 30 custom plates from one-eighth-inch aluminum for just $104—less than they would have cost off-the-shelf. The plates are inset and attached to the sandblasted masonry wall with Velcro.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  The front door is accessed by a 'floating' concrete bridge that bisects the two wings of the house.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    The front door is accessed by a 'floating' concrete bridge that bisects the two wings of the house.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  A view from the kitchen back into Atherton's wing of the house, separated by the front door and walkway.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    A view from the kitchen back into Atherton's wing of the house, separated by the front door and walkway.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  The secret to keeping their minimalist interiors spare? Lots of hidden storage in the hallway, where they stash their books, their clothes, their tools, and their climbing gear.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    The secret to keeping their minimalist interiors spare? Lots of hidden storage in the hallway, where they stash their books, their clothes, their tools, and their climbing gear.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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  That said, even their closet clutter is minimal and well-organized.  Photo by: Ye Rin Mok
    That said, even their closet clutter is minimal and well-organized.

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

    Photo by: Ye Rin Mok

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