Living large in a cozy cube
Photography by david j swift
Measuring only a little more than four hundred square feet, Katherine Liatsos’ house is beyond snug. Yet step inside, and a combination of white walls and glass gives the cube she calls home a surprisingly open, airy feel. Accents of bright, Granny Smith apple-green give the interior a hip, cheerful appeal. In sum, it hardly feels like living in a box.
“The challenge is how to build a box, and not have it be a box,” says Jackson architect Nona Yehia, of E/Ye Design, who designed Liatsos’ home. “How can you make four walls into something special?”
Why build so small? Practically speaking, this is the size Liatsos’ budget could handle in the pricey Jackson Hole market, and the square footage that fit town guidelines for where it sits on her lot. And it’s convenient. Liatsos owns Katherine, a women’s wear store on Pearl Avenue, where she sells high-end New York designs; outfits for mothers of the bride and more affordable, urban casual wear. Business has taken a hit since the economy nose-dived in 2008, and retail has been slow to recover, Liatsos says. Not only does her cozy cube require minimal utilities to heat and light, its locale also places her near the store so she can bike to work.
Budget aside, it’s just right for the petite Liatsos. “All the homes I have always liked were these tiny, little cabins,” she says. “I like small spaces. I don’t need that much space, I’m a small person. I don’t understand a 10,000-square-foot house.”
Start looking around the home, and one finds that it’s not a quick tour despite its pint size. Instead, it takes time to appreciate the many clever touches that make this place, dubbed the “Ice House” by E/Ye Design, more than simply livable.
A long wooden deck and a wall of glass make up the east-facing entrance, which takes in a generously sized yard where Liatsos may someday choose to build a bigger home. The combination of the yard’s expansive greenery, the house’s orientation toward Snow King Mountain, and the abundance of glass make it feel like you’re standing outside when you’re in the middle of the living room.
Like American architect Philip Johnson’s famous Glass House, built in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut, Liatsos’ cube embraces both its surroundings and modern materials.
White, versatile tile fabricated by Windsor Fiberglass of North Carolina unfurls along the exterior, giving the impression of waves, breaking up an otherwise monotonous, boxy shape. (Concerns about snow loads scuttled plans for an equally funky, wave-like roofline, Liatsos says.) Yehia and her partner, Jefferson Ellinger, worked with Windsor Fiberglass to design the sleek, modern white tiles, which can be installed in various orientations to create different patterns.
During construction, the funky cube drew so much attention along Snow King Avenue that strangers stopped daily to ask builder Mike Hodes, of Three-Sixty Building Contractors, what it was.
“I’ve never had so many people stop at one of my projects,” Hodes says. Folks would want to know if it was a garage, or an art studio, or if somebody was actually going to live in something so small. He entertained their curiosity, providing quick tours of the space-saving layout.
“Katherine, luckily she’s pretty small,” Hodes says; “she just can live efficiently”—suggesting this design is not for everyone.
When company arrives, Liatsos invites them to pull up a chair at a tiny round, wooden table just wide enough for two cups of tea (or her laptop—she’s studying for a master’s degree in psychology). No need for a bigger dining space, she says, confiding “the dirty little secret of single people” is that they eat many meals at their coffee table. If she wants to have a dinner party, she simply invites friends for a night out.
It’s all quite functional. College-dorm-sized appliances tuck underneath the modern apple-green kitchen counter. One person doesn’t require a dishwasher, Liatsos says. Walnut-stained bamboo floors give the room a clean finish.
A wall-mounted television hides at the end of the counter when not in use. To the right is a wall of Ikea closets where Liatsos stores just about everything except her five bikes and her seasonally sorted wardrobe, which go outside in an old sauna converted into a shed. (Storage was a challenge, Hodes acknowledges.)
A touch of luxury can be found in the soaking tub framed by white vertical subway tile. It’s not a long tub, but it is very deep. Liatsos worked closely with Hodes to find such non-standard items to fit within her home’s tight dimensions.
Other touches include a contemporary metal fan Liatsos found online, and the Midsummer Shade Light, a lacelike chandelier made of paper-like material that you bend around a lightbulb into the form you desire. The chandelier is sold through the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Liatsos also borrowed ideas from local interiors. Taking a cue from the Jackson bistro Trio, she chose to use a heavy FilzFelt® divider to create a pocket door for her bathroom, at a fraction of the width of a regular door. Instead of a door handle, a simple hole has been cut into the felt to pull it back and forth.
Fitting a life into such a small space has induced a few moments of panic, Liatsos confesses. But focusing on the benefits of her tiny interior keeps her grounded. As her brother likes to point out, you can clean the whole thing with one paper towel in ten minutes.
And with no room for a guest bed, “You can’t have houseguests that overstay their welcome,” Liatsos says.
The concept, if not the size, could be catching. “I think that so many people are trying to live this way now,” says architect Yehia, “trying to understand what they can build that is something for themselves, but that has a uniqueness to it.”