When Maren and Matt Mullin decided to build their first house two years ago, it was destined to become a one-of-a-kind work of art. As two people surrounded by original artwork and cutting-edge design every day, their combined talents on a major project were sure to produce something powerful. Maren is deeply involved with the local art scene as the owner of Gallery MAR, known for its vibrant, contemporary artwork, stylish art events, and expertise at incorporating art into local interiors. A well-known realtor and developer with a keen interest in modern architecture, Matt has served for years on the Kimball Art Center board and is currently involved with planning their new building. This dynamic duo, both strikingly tall and blonde, came to Park City 16 years ago after meeting on a study abroad program in Denmark and living for a while in Los Angeles.
Wanting to live within walking distance of Main Street, the Mullins first had to find a vacant lot close to town. Matt discovered a quirky piece of property deemed undesirable because of its steep grade, the lot’s tight orientation between a road and a dense condo project, and—zoned as part of a previous development—very restrictive land-use requirements. “We circled around this lot for a long time, and finally decided after several months that this was our final chance to build on an open lot in Old Town,” says Maren. “We both love a challenge.”
To deliver on what they knew would have to be an out-of-the-box design, the Mullins hired Axis Architects (see Sources, pg 100), the firm whose “H-House” in Salt Lake City rocked modern design in Utah and received worldwide acclaim in 2003. Architect Pierre Langue realized early on he was working with a challenging situation and an extremely creative couple. “They were very progressive clients,” he says. “They understood a lot more than typical clients and had aspirations for innovative solutions. They embraced our concepts, giving us a lot of freedom and flexibility.” Maren comments, “We like working with artistic people and giving them full range to create. That way we get the best of what they do.” As the project began, ideas were bounced back and forth, and Matt focused on the exterior and site planning while Maren brought ideas for the finishes and interiors. “No decision was made without both of us being on board,” she says.
The stunning end product is simple, modern, and energy efficient. The 2,114-square-foot, passive-solar house spans three compact levels topped with an angular roof that dramatically turns and cuts through the entire length of the house, becoming a leaning wall with a 4 percent tilt. “The wall is the roof sliding down, wrapping around, and protecting and enveloping you,” explains Langue. “We paid close attention to the views, closing the house to the street and the neighbors and opening it to the mountains on both sides—west toward town, Iron Mountain, and sunsets and east toward Deer Valley and the sunrise.” Access to the house was created farther down the slope where a long driveway approaches a generous garage and a third bedroom and bath tucked under the main level.
Although modern, the house uses traditional, warm materials. The smoky exterior is vertical cedar siding with a shou sugi ban finish. This ancient Japanese technique of charring wood creates a protective layer rendering it virtually maintenance free. “Because the north and south sides of the house are flat, the exterior finish had to be interesting,” says Matt. “It is the first house in Utah to have this finish.” A contrasting red-cedar soffit is embedded with sliver-like light fixtures as it slices from the exterior into the home in one continuous movement and runs the length of the first floor. The house opens up at either end with large expanses of glass and cantilevered balconies. “We had to take advantage of every opportunity to make the house seem as large as possible,” Langue says.
Inside, the home is serene, filled with light, and completely open from one end to the other. “I always knew I wanted everything white,” says Maren, “and more living space and less bedroom space.” Walls, surfaces, and finishes display the couple’s personal gallery of bold and joyful art. Even factory markings retained on the steel trusses contribute to the artistic ambience. The Mullins’ desire for ample wall space to display their eclectic collection conflicted with their request for an open floor plan, so a partial wall was added parallel to the staircase that does not cut the sightlines.
A New York artist crafted the fanciful bell-shaped web of bulbs that illuminates the glass-surrounded two-story main living area, referred to by Maren as “the fishbowl.” The space is furnished with a pair of modern Chesterfield sofas in cobalt blue facing one another across a large, faceted coffee table of walnut with gold leaf. Glass doors at the corner of the room slide away at both angles allowing the space to open completely to the outside. Finished with the same concrete flooring and railings as the interior, the deck becomes an extension of the living area and doubles its size for summer entertaining.
The high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail is apparent everywhere, especially in the custom cabinet wall running along the entire north wall of the main floor. It creates a visual clean sweep, replacing separate closets, kitchen cabinets, a fireplace, an entertainment center, and a dining buffet. “It is a functional thing that turns into art,” says Langue. “None of the doors match up, which caused the cabinetmaker fits,” recalls Matt. Strategically placed insets in the wall, some lined with brass, display artwork and photos. In the living room, the wall houses an EcoSmart fireplace and a television; in the kitchen, an inset holds the cooktop, counter space, and irresistible backsplash: a glass-covered painting of travelling bears by Luis Garcia-Nerey and Anke Schofield, known collectively as Kollabs.
The bathrooms have surprising overhead windows, filling them with natural light and illuminating unexpected works of art. “Bathrooms are a place where you naturally stop and pause,” Maren says, “so it’s a perfect location for artwork that takes you outside of your bubble and makes you think.”
Unlike the white serenity of the rest of the house, the main floor bath is wallpapered with an outrageous pattern and vivid color. “We thought the powder room was an excellent area to add some spice to our home,” explains Maren. “It’s a small, contained area, and we wanted our guests to have a unique experience—and maybe a bit of a laugh.”
Upstairs, floating shelves on the landing are arranged with art and architecture books. In the children’s room, the playful corner light fixture is a cascade of colorful antlers painted by children from the Kimball Art Center’s Young Artist Academy. The need for additional closet space in the master suite resulted in an artful solution: a translucent resin shadow box built into the leaning wall with shelves to display Maren’s collection of designer handbags and shoes like art objects. Mercury glass pendants hang on either side of the built-in bed, crafted by local artist Nikos Sawyer. And thin slices of windows frame intimate views. “When you are sitting in bed,” Matt says, “you can see the stars.”
Maren says what they love most about the house is “the calm effect that the architecture has on us. In our daily lives, we live with chaos and are constantly problem solving. At home, it’s a welcomed respite to see clean design and fine art that both relaxes us and rejuvenates our spirits; coming home to what we have created is like a deep exhale. We love to surround ourselves with beauty.”
- Architect: Axis Architects, 927 State St, SLC, 801.355.3003
- Art: Gallery MAR, 436 Main St, 435.649.3001
- Builder: Benchmark Modern, Salt Lake City, 801.301.5124, benchmarkmodern.com
- Cabinets: Blue Spruce Cabinet Company, 174 W 4800 South, SLC, 801.268.4598,
- Staircase and railings: Metalmorphic, 3345 S 300 West, SLC, 801.815.1750
- Kitchen appliances: Orson H. Gygi, 3500 S 300 West, SLC, 801.268.3316
- Kitchen Counters: Accent Interiors, 4103 S 500 West, SLC, 801.783.4143
- Floors: Benchmark Modern
- Solar: Sunus, SLC, 801.921.6995
- Landscape installation: Eschenfelder Landscaping, Holladay, 801.912.0077