Tour a Luxury Lake House Inspired by Minecraft
A love of Danish design and modern architecture infused this lake house, which sprang from the imagination of a video game executive with sophisticated style.
Architect Ryan Stephenson has had clients come to him with plenty of dream-house visual aids. They’ve arrived with sketches, tear sheets from magazines, or Pinterest pages. But the Minecraft model that his clients Michael and Siobhán Persson presented him, with a dream house designed in the game’s blocky 3-D style, was a first.
“At the time, I didn’t even know what Minecraft was,” Stephenson says. “And I’d never had someone come to me with a computer model of any kind. It was a unique way of expressing their thoughts.”
It’s no coincidence that at the time Michael was a top creative executive for the Microsoft-owned game. He knew precisely how to replicate the terrain of their newly acquired lakefront lot near Redmond, Washington, to design a basic blueprint for a home that took full advantage of the site, which is a promontory with water views on three sides.
“I held up the game and said, ‘Can we build one of these?’ And Ryan took the challenge,” Michael says. “Of course, it wasn’t exactly how I imagined it, but the orientation is the same.”
The couple discovered the neglected lot, which was the former site of a Boy Scout camp, when they spotted a for-sale sign while kayaking. They knew the area well. Michael has two children from a previous marriage and an infant with Siobhán. The older boys grew up on the private lake, which is a 15-minute drive from the Microsoft headquarters, and also a world away. This parcel of land felt like a secret.
“We didn’t realize there was a cabin on the property,” says Michael. “I went to see it on a whim and discovered it had 150 feet of shoreline.”
Because of land conservation easements written to protect the lake and surrounding wetlands, there were building codes in place that prevented new construction. The pre-existing cabin allowed them to build a new, environmentally sensitive home.
“We worked one step at a time,” Michael says. “The first survey said that it was a trash lot. Even though it’s two acres, they reported that there was no spot for a septic system because of the wetlands. It was like a puzzle. It took us almost five years to solve it.”
The basic premise, as Stephenson remembers it, was a two-story home with bedrooms on top to take advantage of the water views and the tree cover for privacy, and a living area below with outdoor access, all centered on a courtyard. Their goal was to create some transparency, so you could stand at the front of the lot and look through the home to see the water. They wanted space for native plants and rustic pathways, and a vegetable garden for Siobhán, who recently received a master gardener’s certificate. The lush, green rural surroundings reminded Michael of his native Denmark and his family’s quiet lake house in Sweden, and Siobhán of her childhood in Canada.
“We didn’t remove a lot of trees. We just limbed existing trees so we have privacy upstairs and never feel too exposed to the lake, but [have] unobstructed views from the first floor,” Siobhán says. “We wanted windows to surround our bedroom, so you sit up in bed and you feel like you’re in nature. The house is sited 40 feet above the lake, so you feel like you’re hovering above it. It has a very calming effect.”
The Perssons refurbished the two existing docks and hired engineers to develop an intricate septic and filtration system to catch any contamination before it seeps into the lake. Protecting the beavers that are busy at work below the house, the nesting bald eagles, and the bobcats that make occasional appearances was a top priority.
“We tried not to take shortcuts, and find a smart, technically savvy way to do it,” Michael says. “The civil engineering aspect was fascinating. It was a real lesson on how to build something.”
If the Minecraft model was a guide for the structure, the couple’s impressive collection of authentic Danish modern furniture and light fixtures determined the interiors. The couple traveled to Denmark and scoured the less populated areas of the country to find rare items, and custom-ordered the newer pieces straight from the source.
“I grew up in a stuffy-feeling British household, so when Michael introduced me to Danish modern design, I fell in love,” says Siobhán.
There are Verner Panton globes over the dining table, and an authentic copper artichoke pendant from 1971 above the staircase.
The interior finishes are all natural materials, from a “monolithic wall” of blackened steel around the fireplace, to poured-form concrete, lightly finished wood, and counter tops made of granite aptly named “Nordic Winter.” The floating staircase, which has 200-pound concrete treads that are designed to float on one side near a glass wall, was an “engineering marvel” says Stephenson, who credits Nickerson Engineering for making his drawing come to life. The custom 10-foot black walnut dining table, which is on casters so they can move it outside in the summer, was a gift from their builder.
To Stephenson’s credit, he appreciated the level of detail and input the Perssons brought to the project. “Instead of coming in with broad, vague ideas, they knew that they had very specific things that they wanted for the house, inside and out,” he says. “Sometimes you create a great space and you hope that it’s well used. In this case, we knew the space would be used beautifully.”
And though Michael has moved on from Minecraft, his hope is that the game has helped spawn a new generation of architects.
“To be able to imagine those elaborate worlds, and develop that awareness of spatial relationships, it’s really inspiring for kids,” he says, “and adults.”
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