Architect Michael Upwall and his wife Tammy transform an abandoned Marmalade home into an urban retreat.
By Natalie Taylor, Photos by Scot Zimmerman
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Architect Michael Upwall has worked his magic designing some of Utah’s most distinctive homes from Salt Lake to Park City, but it may be the 131 year-old Capitol Hill-area abode that he recently remodeled with his wife Tammy that best demonstrates his creative wizardry. Located next door to the couple’s 1905 Victorian home nestled in the Marmalade District, the once decrepit haunted house now serves as the couple’s urban retreat.

One of the first dwellings to be built in the historic neighborhood, this abandoned home was originally constructed in 1883 by LDS prophet John Taylor for his wife Sarah, and was a simple two-story rectangular structure, positioned lengthwise to the street. In 1906, an addition extended the original footprint to the back adding a kitchen and bedroom. When the Upwalls moved into their Victorian home next door in 2008, the run-down structure had been vacant for almost 20 years.

“I was in love with the old house,” Tammy says. Soon after moving into their home, they discovered the vacant property next door was scheduled for auction. Michael attended the auction with no intention of bidding. But when he overheard potential buyers discussing plans to tear down what was left of the structure and put up apartments, he made an offer, won the bid and gave the old house to Tammy for her birthday.

“Although it was the best birthday present ever, we were initially unsure what to do with it,” says Tammy, owner of Got Beauty shop and salon in Sugar House. “We needed a garage, not more living space,” Michael explains. After considering many possibilities, they decided to design a space dedicated to creativity. “My wife is an amazing photographer and does the promotional imagery for her store and website, and I really needed a private studio for my work,” says Michael. “Now, when inspiration strikes at odd hours, I am only a few steps away from my drawing table.”

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The airy second floor serves as Mike’s drawing studio, awash in natural light that accentuates the rift and quarter-sawn white oak floors.

Over the course of 18 months, the house went through a major transformation. The internal space was entirely gutted and the addition, which was structurally unsound, was removed and replaced by a smartly finished garage, complete with a stamped tin ceiling and broad, glass doors. Michael created an easement, which allowed for a driveway between the two homes and access to the garage.

“I wanted to preserve the street-front integrity of the original pioneer home,” he says. The garage is separated from the historic structure by a glass stair tower. This obvious change in materials from brick to glass is recessed in from the outside corner, helping to maintain the distinct geometry of the structure.

Extraordinary staircases are among the celebrated architectural elements that differentiate Michael’s award-winning designs. “I believe stairways are the perfect opportunity to create sculpture within a home,” he says. His studio reflects this idea. Inside the glass stair tower, solid white oak treads cantilever off a central steel I-beam spine and appear to float in front of a floor-to-ceiling window wall. This stairway leads to Michael’s upper-level studio and provides access to the rooftop deck and garden above the garage.

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Bricks carefully salvaged from the old addition now adorn the two-car garage inside and out. The corners of the garage extend upward to brick planter boxes housing four Japanese maple trees that help shade the rooftop deck. A raised vegetable garden completes the deck’s urban landscape.

The couple worked with several landscape companies to source and import mature trees from Oregon. Michael, who jokes that he has a healthy but expensive addiction to trees, didn’t want to wait for young trees to grow, so he had two 50-foot high Lebanese cedar trees transported on semi trucks and strategically installed to create privacy while concealing an existing power pole and transformer.

A series of 30-foot high Hornbeam poplars border the southern edge of the yard, aligning the two-story brick rear wall of the Salt Lake Acting Company. A large tiered fountain fosters a European courtyard look and feel.

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The swim-jet pool is designed to match the curve of an existing path and narrows to increase perspective. Iridescent inlaid glass tiles shimmer in the sun. Whimsical spiral trees wrap around the pool area while visually screening it from the Upwall’s primary home.

The Upwalls connected the backyards of their Victorian home and remodeled oasis to form one large private retreat. “We removed the old cedar fence that used to separate the two homes and then repurposed it as exterior siding,” says Michael. Then they added a luxe  swim-jet pool. “The iridescent tiles look like a mermaid’s fin. They shimmer and change color with the sun,” Tammy says. Swimmers rinse off in an outdoor shower before and after they take the plunge.

The couple furnished the new pad with some favorite vintage and old family pieces. “We’re surrounded by the things we love—photographs, books, pencils, art and music,” Michael says. “The only downside is that we rarely vacation nowadays.” Instead, they stay home and enjoy the urban oasis they created.

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