The exterior has been recovered in distinctive silver shakes from Reinke Shakes. The aluminum is 99 percent recycled, radiates heat and serves for 50-plus years.
IF YOU’VE EVER headed out of town on Interstate 90, you’ve seen it. That contemporary box of a house, shiny bright with silver shingles sitting right next to the freeway. Some, and you might be one of them, call it “the Lego House.”
Let’s go inside.
“We used to live in the flight path in the Des Moines area, so I-90 is nothing,” says Jeremy Jensen, quite cheerful about the whole thing. But, he adds, “I guess there are drawbacks. One thing is, you can’t have a party in the backyard.”
Jeremy is packed onto the living-room sofa with his family, wife Carmen and their daughters Aja, Anna and Liv. The girls squiggle as their parents share their passion for the modern home they found in 2006 built upon an “orphan lot,” a home architect Frank Lawhead built for himself. (Lawhead reports that in 1988 it was one of the least expensive lots in King County.) A home defined and pierced by a two-story lightwell rendering freeway-side windows needless. It warms and brightens almost the entire home, particularly the kitchen, which appears to always have the lights on.
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“This isn’t like a tech type of house,” Jeremy says of his family’s efforts here. “This is the family pitching in.” (They made the concrete kitchen counters in the garage. A floor-sanding effort, however, ended with a call to a professional.)
Jeremy is a committed fan of contemporary architecture. It’s his baseball. Years ago, in fact, he wanted to find a lot and build a prefabricated home (now all the rage). “But we would have had to do a teardown or be in a swamp. And we wanted to be in kidville.” Carmen appreciates her husband’s passion for modern design: “It’s all about functionality, about making things work,” she says. “I like functionality. I like not having too much space.”
Kidville, meanwhile, is what you don’t see from the freeway. Lake Sammamish is down the street. “The schools are awesome,” Jeremy says. “The kids can ride their bikes in the park. It’s such a cool neighborhood.”
The way he looks at it, the whole thing is win-win.
Meanwhile, what you can see from the freeway is the latest work on the house: the reflective aluminum shingles.
“Every modern home has to become new again. Ours was tired,” Jeremy says of the original water-damaged cedar. He wanted to replace it with something different, really different.
Flipping through a magazine, Jeremy found Reinke Shakes. Made in Hebron, Neb., the website announces that “proud owners of geodesic dome homes have called them the ‘Cadillac’ of dome roofing.” The aluminum is 99 percent recycled, radiates heat (Energy Star approved) and serves for 50-plus years. The Jensens’ contractor, the folks at WestCoast Contracting, had never seen such a thing. They worked out a pattern on the ground before affixing them to the home. “It was like piecing a quilt together,” says Carmen. “They totally figured it out. It was awesome.”
In the future, Jeremy sees a shipping container put to use in the backyard (“I think it’d be fun!”), a new fence, “definitely horizontal.” The Jensens like to mix it up like that.
“Anything can be changed and made better. Every once in a while we say, ‘What’s working and what’s not working?’ ” says Carmen.
“When people don’t like what you’ve done they don’t say anything,” adds Jeremy. “But they say to us, ‘I don’t like your house, but I really like what you’ve done with it. Let us know if you’re going to sell it.’ ”
They are not. The girls, in fact, want it for their own: “They debate who gets it when we die,” Jeremy says.