Homeowners Nick and Michelle Luekenga enlist a talented team to design a Fruit Heights family home that mixes contemporary and classic styles with comfort and ease.
By Brad Mee | Photos by Lindsay Salazar
When Nick and Michelle Luekenga were looking for a spot to build their new family home in Fruit Heights, they only needed to look up. Set high on the east bench, the steep lot offered spectacular views and was located in their desired neighborhood. The couple bought the property and then enlisted architect Stephen Howard, a new principal at GSBS Architects, to design a house that is decidedly modern but also respects the enclave’s traditional bent. “The design suits both me and Michelle,” Nick explains. “I would have gone even more contemporary and she a little less.”
The Luekengas didn’t need to look far to find their interior designer, either. Nick’s sister is Jessica Bennett, co-owner and principal designer at Alice Lane Home Collection. Bennett is renowned for creating freshly styled traditional decors for A-list clients, so when the couple hired her to satisfy Nick’s modern cravings as well as Michelle’s appetite for warmth and comfort, Bennett and lead designer Stacie Graves were excited to get started. “This project allowed us to flex a different design muscle,” Bennett says enthusiastically.
The duo set to work conjuring a décor that combines clean lines, modern forms, organic elements and notable nods to the Mid-Century design. “Sometimes contemporary can be too hard-edged but we were committed to making it warm and inviting,” Bennett says. The designers’ devotion to surprising treatments—a trademark of their work—is also evident. Case in point: a 20-foot-tall tower of offset marble framing an asymmetrical fireplace that anchors the great room with heroic proportions and head-turning style. “It’s the home’s big wow moment, second only to the views,” Nick says.
The home’s stairway is equally impressive. To befit Howard’s striking open staircase, Graves dressed the stairwell’s wall with a twist on traditional paneling. Rather than creating a conventional grid of panels using molding that stands out from the wall, she reversed it and made a “deconstructed plaid” pattern from panels that protrude instead. “Stacie’s work as a graphic artist translated spectacularly on this project,” Bennett explains.
Graves’ play on patterns and angles hit the kitchen as well. There, she ran the diagonal white-oak flooring to the base of the stool-fronted island and then changed its angle as the planks continued to run up the island’s face. “It’s as if the planks ricochet off the island and go a different direction,” Bennett observes. Nearby, a colorful blurred wall mural also packs a bold visual punch. “I wanted a big Banksy graffiti-type thing on the wall,“ Nick says.
The kitchen’s mural also prevents the wall-mounted TV from becoming a focal point. “They wanted the TV to all but disappear,” Graves explains. The room’s gleaming backsplash also tricks the eye: What appears to be a slab of onyx is actually a thin sheet of porcelain that spans the area below an impressively large hood. “We stretched the hood over the entire counter to add mass and weight,” Bennett explains.
Despite its one-of-a kind treatments and daring details, the interior remains calm and cohesive. A neutral palette of light, putty-toned walls paired with white oak and limestone floors creates a quiet backdrop for modern forms, pops of color and refined walnut beams, furniture and cabinetry. “Walnut is primary,” Bennett explains. “It is strong, sophisticated and adds depth.” The walnut is also used to encompass windows with thin, shadow-like frames. “It’s a hybrid,” Graves says of the window treatment. “Walnut makes it Mid-Century, the application makes it modern and the wood makes it traditional.”
This compelling combination of styles repeats throughout. In the great room, for example, an Eames chair pairs with a contemporary abstract canvas and gold floor lamp. In the guest bath, a hardware-free walnut vanity sits below channeled walls faced with a large 48-inch mirror. And in the entry, a graphically composed walnut door juxtaposes with limestone floors and a ‘50’s-inspired credenza. Room-to-room, this smartly curated mix shapes the interior’s fresh and seamless design.
When they were finished, the team succeeded in creating the modern, inviting home the Luekenga family desired. “We wanted to hit the sweet spot between really contemporary ideas and traditional comfort and graciousness,” Graves explains. From the architecture down to the accents, mission accomplished.