FAIRBANKS — Have you ever driven by a house and found yourself captured by an unusual architectural detail or a particularly lovely garden? Did you wish you could walk the grounds and go inside and have a look? If so, then the American Association of University Women’s Annual House Tour was the place to be Saturday afternoon.
The tour, in its 45th year, is a fundraiser sponsored by the Fairbanks branch of the AAUW, a national organization that offers a variety of programs to benefit women. The Fairbanks group uses proceeds from the annual House Tour to create scholarships for local women, longtime member and former chairwoman Margaret Soden said.
“It’s not for high school gals going off to college, because there are quite a few scholarships for that group, but for the woman that’s trying to go back to school to upgrade or change career paths,” Soden said.
The AAUW doesn’t have a specific set of criteria on which homes are showcased or how they’re chosen.
Sometimes the homeowners approach them and other times an AAUW member will hear of or see an interesting house and ask the homeowner to participate. Members also check the borough database for contact information, and some even have been known to simply go knock on front doors and ask in person, Soden said.
“We try to find a variety. Some have interesting designs, or they’re unique, or energy efficient or off the grid. Sometimes the big palatial homes are lovely, but some of the small homes are interesting, too. Sometimes it’s the furnishings or beautiful gardens,” Soden said. “Over the 45 years we’ve been doing this, it would seem like we’d run out of places, but we never do.”
The three homes on this year’s tour perfectly illustrated the wide variety in the Fairbanks area. The first home, owned by Sandy and Melody Jamieson, is a sprawling, multilevel log masterpiece on 12 acres off the Old Nenana Highway, high in the hills near Ester. Sandy, a log home builder, built the first part of the house in 1971, prefabbing it in the Goldstream Valley before assembling it on its current site in 1972. The home grew as Sandy added rooms as needed. A wide deck adorned with multiple pots of colorful flowers fronts the original part of the home, which features a bedroom, a small living room with a wood stove, and a quaint kitchen with low counter tops, which Sandy installed to accommodate his wife’s short stature. A short flight of stairs leads up to the first addition, which holds a bedroom and bathroom, and another short flight of steps leads down from there to a large family room that started out as a workshop. A garage was added later, and the original sod roof was replaced with metal roofing to reduce the fire risk during wildfire season.
Melody Jamieson said the home is easy to heat and stays cool in the summer, and the only downside is the need to regularly clean the logs.
“I dust and wash the logs a couple of times a year,” she said. “The glacier dust from the valley is very fine and really gets into the wood.”
The second home on the tour belongs to interior designer Gabriel Cross, who bought the house, stripped it to the studs and rebuilt it with the help of his carpenter son. Though rather unremarkable on the outside, the interior is a riot of color that reflects Cross’ obvious talents and flamboyant personal style. Each room is done in a different color, with dual themes of lions and fleur-de-lis used as unifying elements. Visitors exclaimed in delight as they moved through the green living and dining area into the tasteful white and gray kitchen and down a gold-painted stairway to the basement, which holds a purple master bedroom and bath, a mini-bar, a media viewing area and even a small, elaborately decorated wine cellar constructed of red-painted cinder block. Outside, a deck offers seating for 20 and a barbecue grill under a wooden pergola. The deck overlooks the spacious backyard, which features a fire pit and more seating.
Leigh Cox said she used to take the tour every year but this was the first time in seven years she’s been able to attend.
“You know, summers get busy, but I just happened to be available this summer. I always enjoy it, because a house reflects who you are. It’s fun to see the different approaches to living. And they’re all so different, too,” Cox said as she gestured to a nearby tray holding 18 multicolored mason jars with straws. “I was just saying, ‘Who has that many friends to come over and use these?’”
Cindy and Wes Potter’s home on Hobbit Hill Drive was the last home on the tour. The split level, wood-sided house, which is also a bed and breakfast, is surrounded by a large, gently sloping yard adorned with flower pots and vegetables growing inside old tires. Inside, the home is decorated with a dazzling assortment of art objects and furniture Cindy collected as the family traveled the world for her husband’s military and civil servant careers. Asian art, such as a finely carved wall hanging and a collection of wooden dolls, dominated, with items from Germany and Poland interspersed throughout.
“We were really lucky to live in Japan for 10 years and Korea for three. We were in Germany just before we moved here, so I got quite a few things at the flea markets there,” Cindy Potter said as she showed off a large, intricately painted wood chest. “Germans don’t really like this because it’s kind of old-style and they like modern. But I love it.”
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.