Tucked into the trees of a steep, wooded site, a John Sugden glass house performs as a stunning statement of mid-century modernism as well as a beloved home for architect Kathryn Anderson.
“It’s like living in a piece of art,” says architect Kathryn Anderson, as she reclines on a sleek sofa, bathed in dappled light streaming in through a lush, leafy canopy that engulfs her home. The house, a boxy glass-concrete-and-steel structure, resembles a transparent treehouse floating among the foliage of its steep canyon site located just minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” she says.
Anderson came upon the small, two-story home 20 years ago after asking a realtor in jest to find her a glass house. Within days, she viewed the property and she bought it two days later. “It was a no-brainer,” says the self-proclaimed minimalist. “I love this house. It is me, by nature.”
Anderson had a connection with the house even before seeing it. The home was designed in 1965 by architect John Sugden, one of Utah’s first modernists and Anderson’s professor at the University of Utah. Sugden grew up in Utah and attended at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, where he studied under and worked for Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a pioneer of modernist architecture.
Armed with invaluable education and experience, Sugden returned home to Utah in 1952 and began his practice. During the next forty years, he built many celebrated projects, including schools, commercial buildings and residences. He designed the glass house with a lower-level studio for himself and a main-level residence for Charlie Griffin, his business colleague, and Griffin’s wife Judith. The two levels, a mere 900-square-feet each, were completely separate with their own entrances until Anderson connected them with an interior circular staircase shortly after buying the home in 1998.
The main level, a perfect square measuring 30 feet on each side, offers 360-degree views of its scenic mountain setting, thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass walls enclosing the space and a lack of interior doors and walls typical of conventional homes. The central core houses a galley kitchen, fireplace and bathroom, while the living area, dining space and sleeping alcove seamlessly flow around the perimeter. “With walls this would feel small,” Anderson says. “That’s the illusion of this space, it just continues on and on.” As the home’s second owner and dutiful steward, Anderson changed little on the main level but transformed the walk-out lower level from a work studio into a family room, bathroom and corner library. She also added built-in storage lacking upstairs. Yes, minimalists have stuff too—but not much. For Anderson, less is definitely more. “What else could I possibly need?” she asks.
While Anderson’s needs seem few, she’s quick to acknowledge all this home gives her. Take its mountain setting, for starters. “Nature is my wallpaper,” she explains. ‘The light and colors change throughout the day, and you become so aware of the seasons. Winter is so peaceful, fall’s colors are crazy, and you’ve never seen a brighter green than when the trees leaf out during spring.” She also delights in describing Miesian-inspired architectural details that appear simple but are, in fact, very complicated. “How is this house being held up,” she rhetorically questions while marveling at ceiling beams that end before meeting the wall’s columns and welds. “Sugden did this on purpose, it’s not structural, it’s design.” She then points out walls that stop short of reaching the corrugated steel ceiling, corners detailed with precise reveals and an overhead grid created by uniquely integrated beams. “That’s the cool thing about this house,” she explains. “If you know what to look for, you see the amazing details.”
With its sleek structural forms and artistically executed details, the Sugden-designed residence is indeed magnificent. And yet, it seems to step back—allowing its setting and place among the trees to prevail. “The architecture is so peaceful that you almost forget about it,” says Anderson. Almost.
Photography: Scot Zimmerman