At Home

Minecraft Motivation

Couple uses video game for renovation inspiration

By Sean Meyers January 19, 2024

The upper level cantilevers 16 feet over its surroundings in the way a camp cabin sits above its site.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Siobhan and Michael Persson had zero interest in commissioning a cut-and-paste house to nurture their growing family. The Redmond couple wanted a home as unique as the site they had spied through the trees while paddling on a peaceful lake just a few minutes from town.

“You go on the real estate market and buy a house that someone else lived in, it never really quite fits,” Siobhan says.

They had a hard time visualizing what their new home might look like, so they turned to Minecraft, a hugely popular video game Microsoft markets as a tool for creative types to “battle mobs, construct shelter, and explore the landscape.” They had been playing the game for years, and didn’t need to consult the box for instructions. Michael served as Minecraft’s chief creative officer for seven years before moving on to Fortnite.

“Minecraft is a great way for a layman to plot things out and visualize the contour of the land, the lake, and the sidelines,” Michael says. “It was an excellent medium for Siobhan and me to playfully interact and figure out what our new home should look like.”

Expansive windows and sliding glass doors blend indoors and outdoors.

Kevin Scott

They presented their work to Ryan Stephenson of Stephenson Design Collective, which simultaneously grounded the program and gave it wings. “They took the essence of what we proposed and made into the house it is today,” Michael adds.

The home is located on the site of a one-room former Boy Scout cabin that had become dilapidated. The Perssons accordingly sought to retain some youthful wonderment in their new construction.

Foliage hides much of the ground floor from visitors to the lake, leaving a second story that seems to float among the trees.

Twin cantilevered wings jut into the forest, suspended by the miracle of steel. One wing hosts the master suite, sewing room, and office, while the other houses the children’s bedrooms, library, and storage.

The home features classic midcentury modern furnishings.

Kevin Scott

“When you go into the master bedroom, you don’t know that you’re hovering, but it feels like you’re hovering,” Michael says. “It has the feeling of a treehouse. It’s pretty magical.”

An elevated walkway above the ground floor living space joins the wings. “What this achieves, obviously, is privacy for the parents, but it also allows you to move between the spaces, look to one side and see two stories of glass looking to the trees, and look to the other side and see two stories of glass looking to the lake, so you really feel like you’re floating,” Stephenson says.

The outdoor patio protected by the cantilever has become their favorite space. “We watch the birds and bees and otters and whatever else comes by,” Michael says.

A floating stairway is another astonishing accomplishment, made possible by an ingenious large concrete form devised by the general contractor, Dovetail General Contractors. Peering through the stair treads is the favorite occupation of the Persson’s 2-year-old daughter.

The floating stairway adds complexity.

Kevin Scott

The most remarkable engineering achievement is hidden underground. The best prospective homesite was a promontory surrounded on three sides by water — a nightmare scenario for anyone seeking a new septic permit. The home essentially sits on a trench that funnels all effluent to a treatment plant and gradient system away from the lake. It took five years to complete.

“It’s the most complex engineering project that I’ve ever been around,” Michael notes. “You would never know that all these arrangements are underground. No untreated water ever reaches the lake, even in a 100-year storm — that’s the criteria.”

Decorating the home has taken even longer, but happily so. A native of Denmark, Michael is a collector of high-end Danish and other classic midcentury modern furnishings. Although she was raised in Canada in a traditional British household, Siobhan has come to appreciate the look, which includes a Thomas Pedersen Stingray rocking chair, an Arco floor lamp, a Ligne Roset sofa, a Noguchi table, and a Corbusier lounge chair. The soft, colorful furniture collection drove the design of the home, notes Stephenson.

“I didn’t want to compete with the beautiful stuff they had,” Stephenson says. “Creating a calm, muted palette, a very neutral backdrop, was important.”

The Perssons challenged Stephenson to create a natural, rich, stone-like texture in the master bath. His solution was dark, broken slate tile, cut in tiny strips, and stacked. As another luxurious aside, the door to the water closet in the master bath is hidden. Michael describes the design as “a blend of Scandinavian simplicity and Japanese austerity.”

When not in use, the toaster is whisked to join gangly cohorts in an “appliance garage.” It’s not that the Perssons dislike heated bread; they’re just unwilling to memorialize a toaster’s fleeting domestic contributions by awarding it a permanent land grant on a countertop.

The ground level houses the kitchen, office and guest room.

Kevin Scott

“There are a lot of special features that make the home much more livable — the way that we would live in it,” Siobhan says. “I am a highly organized individual who enjoys everything having its place. I have mom friends who are like, ‘Your house is a museum.’”

Efficiency can also be playful. The mudroom is divided into individual cubbies in the style of an old-school baseball wooden locker room, a reflection on the family’s consuming passion for the sport.

Passion is in evidence in the garden as well. In the beginning, since the lot had been denuded of native plants long before their arrival, Siobhan planted whatever caught her fancy.

But fancy plants often lust for water, and that wasn’t OK. To better understand native plants, she obtained her master gardener certification. Those native plantings have brought back the two hummingbird species native to the region.

The Perssons are leisurely filling the home with art, much of it from the Pacific Northwest, to honor their adopted homeland.

Their best advice to other would-be custom homebuilders?

“Don’t sell the house you’re in until you absolutely have the other one finished,” Siobhan says. “We had four different residences, one a fifth wheel that we stupidly bought, thinking we would live on the property while the house was being completed. We’re so glad we ditched that plan and rented a place. With a highly customized project, every week brought a new crisis. It was a long build, a hard build, but it all makes it even more worthwhile now.”

“Hold onto the thing that you really want,” Michael adds. “They did an awesome job of creating something that, from all angles, was exactly what we asked for.”

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