In the shadows of Salt Lake’s Mount Olympus, a once-hidden modernist gem gets a new life sixty years after renowned architect John Sugden pioneered its design. 

“The fact that we have this landmark piece of American architecture in our backyard, and we don’t know about it, is crazy,” says photographer Scot Zimmerman, who has documented more than his fair share of architecturally significant buildings during the past 40 years. The 1964 Seigel House—named for its original owner and built into Salt Lake’s Mount Olympus hillside—ranks high among them.

The crew restored all entryway finishes—walnut paneling, terrazzo flooring, modular storage closets and circular staircase railing—to their original state. The decor includes an Indonesian sculpture, Godfrey Hirst rug, a CB2 console and artwork by Doug Smith and Danny Setjo.

Recently, a few discerning eyes have taken note of the glass-and-steel home’s pedigree, designer and artist Doug Smith, in particular. “It is a rare architectural gem of midcentury and International Style that had been hidden for 25 years,” he says. 

Modernist design dictated new rules of residential living with an open layout, a far departure from the Victorian and Craftsman era that preceded it. Restoring the main living room with original 1964 photos in hand, the crew removed fluorescent lighting, window coverings and a dropped acoustical ceiling added after the initial construction. New ceiling height and LED track lighting now showcase clean lines and maximize window exposure to the site, exposing the white steel skeleton of the structure. Anchored by original terrazzo flooring, the dining, fireplace lounge and living room areas make the open space ideal for entertaining large groups.

Forest overgrowth and a weather-worn fence shrouded the home and site until late 2023, when Doug Smith and his team of designers, builder Alan Cottle and talented landscapers painstakingly renovated the property to reflect its origin—one with a thoroughbred lineage.

“St. Charles was the Rolls Royce of cabinets in the 1960s,” says Doug Smith, describing two rows of upper cabinets the team preserved in the kitchen. They also saved the glazed tile flooring. Everything else? Gone. To soften the stainless steel, the team installed custom, oil-rubbed, flat-panel walnut cabinetry from Timber Mill to fill in the rest of the kitchen. The polished space houses built-in Thermador and Bosch appliances, Black Granite Co. countertops and a Daltile stone backsplash.
True to modernist philosophy, mass-produced cabinets, storage units and bookshelves divide the single open spaces instead of a wall, as shown here from the living room looking into the kitchen.

The boxy residence owes its pedigree to architect John W. Sugden (1922-2003), one of the “last disciples of Mies [van der Rohe] and the Bauhaus-inspired modernist,” according to his Salt Lake Tribune obituary. Midcentury architecture academics and aficionados revere Sugden for pioneering modernist design in Utah.

The modernist, flat-roofed structure overlooks its lushly wooded property beneath Mt. Olympus.

In 1952, Sugden moved to Utah from Chicago where he studied under famed German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Van der Rohe launched the “less is more” concept of International Style in the U.S.—flat-roofed structures with minimal ornamentation, asymmetrical composition, emphasis on volume and bands of windows set into a rectangular form—making him one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. Sugden also assisted Mies on the Farnsworth House—the famous 1951 modernist residence in Plano, Ill.—that changed how Americans thought about residential living. 

A sculpture by artist David Holz centers the entry doors and is positioned to be seen from the street. Due to the linear nature of the house, Doug Smith chose the curvaceous sculpture as a complimentary juxtaposition. Pimento red pops against the stark white. The landscape retained local clump maple, pine and scrub oak trees, but the designer added sweet sumac and various ground covers and grasses.

Jack Smith already knew of Sugden’s illustrious portfolio when he—a young architecture student at the University of Utah—first ran into the established architect in the 1950s. “I met him at the Sport House, [a] kind of club for skiers and ski racers,” recalls Jack Smith, now 91. “I asked him for a job, but he said he didn’t have one.” Eventually, Sugden hired his fellow ski enthusiast.

Downstairs, the team removed walls and old window coverings to create a large, open entertaining area with walkout access to the patio, creating an easy indoor-outdoor flow. The existing drop ceiling houses the home’s utilities, so it was cleaned and updated to maintain access to electrical, plumbing, HVAC and lighting. Designers Doug Smith and Danny Setjo sourced furnishing from CB2, Crate and Barrel, Keeksdesign and Eternity Modern.

Jack Smith became a draftsman under Sugden on the Siegel House, one of the few homes on the Mount Olympus hillside in 1964. “I know the house inside and out,” he says. “It was kind of a design-build with [Sugden] as the general contractor. Basically, [another draftsman] and I also built the house as construction managers and managed the subcontractors.” Thanks to his time with Sugden, Jack Smith went on to design his own landmark and award-winning projects—including Snowbird Resort’s iconic concrete-and-glass buildings constructed in the 1970s. Today, the lively retired professor still practices in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Glass plays a pivotal role in the home, as it embodies the architect’s principle of transparency and blurs the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces.

“The Siegel House is an advanced technical structural innovation, every bit as important as the Farnsworth House,” Jack Smith professes. Like the Farnsworth House in Illinois, the Utah home bucked the traditional notion of residential living at the time.

The fireplace retains its original walnut casing and smoked-black glass, but a new gas-burning stove with concrete fireballs replaces the old wood-burning one.

Modernist philosophy showcased simple forms: a flat roof, a steel box structure hovering over the landscape, industrial materials including steel and glass and a single open space separated into rooms divided by furnishings and mass-produced cabinets, storage units and bookshelves. 

The primary bedroom retains Sugden’s original walnut closet modules but loses drab curtains and shag carpeting. Rove Concepts walnut night tables, a Keeksdesign chair and Uttermost lamps reflect the midcentury ideology of simplicity and allow unfettered views of the creek bed that runs beneath the room.

But the building is more than what the average eye sees. “Architecture isn’t architecture until it becomes art,” Jack Smith says. “When you walk into the Seigel House, there’s a different level of understanding. It takes you—like music does—to a higher realm of happiness. It’s pure joy.”

The team replaced a dark, 1980s patchwork of bathroom trends with a freestanding tub, large master shower, walnut and Carrara Marble vanity, 60s-style Lumen lighting and Brizo hardware.

It’s that scale of emotion the renovation team targeted. And they achieved it. “Doug restored it beautifully, in a very honest and truthful way,” says Jack Smith, who argues that much of today’s interior design doesn’t honor the architecture of a space. “Doug furnished it in an appropriate way. It isn’t decorated. If something is already perfect, you don’t need to decorate it.”

Scaling back 60 years of wear and tear on any home is no easy task. “At first, it seemed daunting, but it became an education and delight as layers were peeled back to reveal its 1964 simplicity,” says Doug Smith, principal of Smith Setjo Group.

This Siegel House once hid behind an overgrown forest of scrub oaks, aspens and pines. House guests entered through a back door because the front entryway was lost at the end of a haphazard paver trail. The pool (added in 1974) leaked and its travertine tiles lay broken by Utah’s harsh winters. 

Downstairs, the team removed walls and old window coverings to create a large, open entertaining area with walkout access to the patio area, creating an easy indoor-outdoor flow. The existing drop ceiling houses the home’s utilities, so it was cleaned and updated to maintain access to electrical, plumbing, HVAC and lighting. Designers Doug Smith and Danny Setjo sourced furnishing from CB2, Crate and Barrel, Keeksdesign and Eternity Modern.

The interior felt just as bleak. “When we got the house, it had this nasty chrome-suspended ceiling with fluorescent lights. It was like you were sitting in an IBM office in the 80s,” says Doug Smith. A former event designer, he leaned into this renovation, wielding expertise in space design, crowd flow and visual surprise.

The renovation became a tightrope walk of restoring a historic build and updating the home for life in 2024, all on a strict deadline. After removing six dump-truck loads of debris, Doug Smith and his team injected the midcentury home with modern amenities, a warm aesthetic and glamorous details. “It is rare in a design career to be able to work on a historic project of this nature,” he says. “We were committed to architectural preservation and purity in restoring the structure to a new life for a new generation.” 

Not all renovators become stewards of notable architecture, but in this case, they did.

Jack Smith gives his nod of approval. “When you go into a really beautiful chapel or church, don’t you sometimes get goosebumps? An excellent piece of architecture should make you do that. It can be a residence or even a shed. A shed can be as noble as a cathedral if it’s done right. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. It just has to achieve the art form. The Siegel House does that.” 

The original vintage circular steel staircase—now with fresh paint and new carpet treads—leads guests to a fresh indoor-outdoor entertainment space. “This area was imagined to be a vertical gallery to feature artwork reminiscent of the 60s—largely white with pops of color,” says Doug Smith.

Making of a Modernist Marvel

Architect Jack Smith weighs in on the Seigel House’s most innovative features 

The Steel: “Sugden makes an art form out of steel. It’s in the connection made between steel beams and columns.” 

The Eyebrow: “Mies’s buildings had no overhangs. Sugden added the eyebrow, an overhang to protect you from the sun and rain. The eyebrow John came up with requires the [steel] detailing to be completely different. The column must be internal to the beam across the top.”

The Glass: “Glass is what we call a noble material. It’s a miracle because it never changes with age. It lasts indefinitely. That’s a miracle.”

The Relationship to Nature: “Glass allows you to live in nature. It can rain. It can snow. The wind can blow. It can do all kinds of things and here you are with just this little thin piece of glass between you and nature. Talk about a connection to nature—it’s just one step away from being in it.” 

The Truth: “The steel frame of the ceiling is exposed. If a beam is made of steel, it needs to show that it’s a steel beam. That becomes an honesty or a truth, if you will. It’s a philosophical positioning. There’s nothing fake or false about architecture. Nothing. So, truth is probably the most important principle in architecture. It’s probably the most important principle in life, isn’t it?”

Doug Smith (right) and Danny Setjo, principals of Smith Setjo Group.

Photos by Scot Zimmerman

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