Startin' Spartan

written by:
photos by:
November 22, 2010
Originally published in Young Americans

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.
    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.
  • 
  The Meadowbrook house is an anomaly in downtown Phoenix, nestled in a downtrodden neighborhood amid lush oleander bushes.
    The Meadowbrook house is an anomaly in downtown Phoenix, nestled in a downtrodden neighborhood amid lush oleander bushes.
  • 
  The exterior of the house consists of sandblasted masonry and Ferrari shade sails stretched on a steel frame.
    The exterior of the house consists of sandblasted masonry and Ferrari shade sails stretched on a steel frame.
  • 
  Here's a wider view of the exterior.
    Here's a wider view of the exterior.
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  Atherton and Keener review architectural drawings in their “living room,” which also serves as a work studio and performance space.
    Atherton and Keener review architectural drawings in their “living room,” which also serves as a work studio and performance space.
  • 
  Another view of the pair, with pup Pip underfoot.
    Another view of the pair, with pup Pip underfoot.
  • 
  The screen shifts between being opaque and semitransparent.
    The screen shifts between being opaque and semitransparent.
  • 
  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.”
    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.”
  • 
  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.
    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.
  • 
  Atherton's bedroom also contains a miniature piano; outside is a red bud tree, an appealing spot for mellow contemplation.
    Atherton's bedroom also contains a miniature piano; outside is a red bud tree, an appealing spot for mellow contemplation.
  • 
  Keener's bedroom contains a bed, a pair of boots, and a selection of books—and nothing else.
    Keener's bedroom contains a bed, a pair of boots, and a selection of books—and nothing else.
  • 
  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.
    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.
  • 
  Keener demonstrates how the translucent glass doors in the hallway pivot to create larger private spaces, like an expanded bathroom.
    Keener demonstrates how the translucent glass doors in the hallway pivot to create larger private spaces, like an expanded bathroom.
  • 
  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.
    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.
  • 
  A detail of the basin Atherton made for the kitchen.
    A detail of the basin Atherton made for the kitchen.
  • 
  “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.
    “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.
  • 
  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.
    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.
  • 
  The kitchen has many custom touches, like this inset knife holder built into the countertop.
    The kitchen has many custom touches, like this inset knife holder built into the countertop.
  • 
  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.
    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.
  • 
  The front door is accessed by a 'floating' concrete bridge that bisects the two wings of the house.
    The front door is accessed by a 'floating' concrete bridge that bisects the two wings of the house.
  • 
  A view from the kitchen back into Atherton's wing of the house, separated by the front door and walkway.
    A view from the kitchen back into Atherton's wing of the house, separated by the front door and walkway.
  • 
  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.
    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.
  • 
  That said, even their closet clutter is minimal and well-organized.
    That said, even their closet clutter is minimal and well-organized.
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