Hidden away in a bucolic area of the North Valley, Mike and Alexa Knight’s award-winning home takes a cue from midcentury and Craftsman-style architecture.
Image by Kirk Gittings
The kitchen is warmly appointed with dark cabinetry, granite countertops, and nautical pendant lighting. From the prep island juts a bar-height dining island for informal meals. The “cabinet” beneath the rack of cookbooks is a cleverly hidden pantry.
Image by Kirk Gittings
The Knights appreciate Asian art for its elegance and simplicity, and it can be found throughout their home. In the great room, a Japanese folding panel depicting falcons is a favorite piece.
Image by Kirk Gittings
A striking mosaic tile is used as the backsplash to his-and-hers vanities, and in an eye-bending stripe running across the floor and up the shower.
Image by Kirk Gittings
The Knights make good use of their covered outdoor areas in all weather. A grassy patch makes a great impromptu bocce court.
nature and art inspire a North Valley retreat
by Ben Ikenson
photographs by Kirk Gittings
Over the course of more than two decades, Mike and Alexa Knight of Lee Michael Homes have designed and built more than 300 custom homes in the Albuquerque area. Recently, the couple took the briefest of pauses from creating custom homes for clients in order to create a dream home of their own. The result—a 2,600-square-foot soft contemporary home with an adjoining 1,000-square-foot casita on an acre in the bucolic North Valley—racked up a slew of honors for Lee Michael Homes in the 2017 Fall Parade of Homes, showcasing the kind of detailed work for which the company is reputed. More importantly, it is every much the home the Knights wanted for themselves.
“As builders, we typically would build and move every few years,” says Alexa, “but we’d reached a point in our lives where we finally wanted to settle into more of a ‘forever’ home, like what we seem to design and build for our clients.”
Additionally, adds Mike, he and Alexa wanted to downsize from their 4,200-square-foot home on two acres in the East Mountains to “a single-level, easier-to-care-for property in the North Valley,” closer to their daughter and three grandchildren.
The Knights commenced the new project about two years ago, first prioritizing the completion of the guest quarters, where they would live with Harry Houdini, their 120-pound Alaskan malamute, while waiting for their East Mountains home to sell.
“It was definitely a lesson in how much space you really need to live, and a testament to our marriage, especially after coming from such a large home,” laughs Alexa. “We were living in the 500-square-foot portion of the casita with a Murphy bed to pull down in the living room and running our business in the front 500 square feet.” Through the duration of the new home project, the couple assumed their respective business roles. Mike took charge of construction and engineering logistics; Alexa handled design and interior decorating. “I make it strong; she makes it pretty,” Mike quips.
Inspired by Craftsman Bungalow and midcentury modern architectural influences, the home is a contrast of contemporary and rustic design elements, featuring an abundance of clean lines, geometric angles, high ceilings and windows, exposed beams, and an organic flow from interior to exterior spaces that produces a graceful yet informal feel. And, it is a very personalized manifestation of the Knights’ deep appreciation of natural and artistic beauty.
“We wanted to eat in an informal space but not have our backs to the great room, so we created a T-shaped island instead of the typical rectangular shape, with a taller walnut slab infinity top to allow for cozy seating and an easy serving surface.”—Mike Knight
“A lot of the ideas and room relationships . . . were a culmination of the many years of designing and building for other families,” says Alexa. “But we really wanted the focus of our home to be on the simple elements of nature, and blending those with the artwork we’ve accumulated over the years. Our favorite pastime is traveling and collecting things along the way, so we were going for a no-fuss approach to the home that wouldn’t detract from our personal pieces.”
Indeed, focal pieces of art adorn the home quite spectacularly. In the entry foyer, for instance, a 20th-century Chinese cloisonné cabinet is displayed against a backdrop of floor-to-ceiling brick-veneer for a dramatic welcome to the home. A large wall in the great room was configured to accommodate an ornate Japanese six-panel folding screen depicting watercolor illustrations of falcons. Other favorite pieces that the Knights designed the home around: a porcelain bird collection; a set of Japanese warrior paintings; carved wood king and queen corbel statues; and a collection of plates—keepsakes representing many of the countries the Knights have visited.
“We find that Asian art is art in its simplest of forms, celebrating nature and form, which is why it lends itself well to warm modern architecture, and suited the style of this home perfectly,” says Alexa.
“We really wanted the focus of our home to be on the simple elements of nature, and blending those with the artwork we’ve accumulated over the years.”—Alexa Knight
If not objects d’art themselves, many of the home’s details are indeed thoughtful artistic statements. Rustic cherry cabinets detailed with a gray wash compliment the distressed tongue-and-groove beamed ceiling that draws the eye from the great room outside to the large covered patio and the commanding views of the Sandia Mountains in the distance. Custom-built black box beams for the ceilings, the fireplace mantel, and shelving in the hallway create a symmetry of angle, depth, and proportion. Working in unison, a set of great room tables made with slabs of live walnut, and thick, exposed wooden structural elements bring nature into the home, while gorgeous quartzite stone slab countertops in the kitchen and bath inspire the color palette for much of the rest of the home.
The Knights, who enjoy cooking and entertaining, wanted the kitchen—with its Thermador appliances, three refrigeration systems, and custom island—to dictate the flow for the adjoining spaces. Speaking of that island, “It’s different than most of the islands we’ve built,” says Mike. “We combined stone and wood surfaces together for a more social gathering place in the heart of the kitchen. We wanted to eat in an informal space but not have our backs to the great room, so we created a T-shaped island instead of the typical rectangular shape, with a taller walnut slab infinity top to allow for cozy seating and an easy serving surface.”
For larger gatherings around a meal, the octagonal-shaped dining room was configured specifically for a large octagonal table, where, in Arthurian fashion, “there’s no bad seat and everyone can see each other very easily,” says Mike.
After having lived in the new home now for the better part of a year, the Knights only have positive feedback, reporting that they feel right at home, which is especially good for people who’ve spent their careers making others feel at home.
“It’s all about comfort and nesting,” says Alexa, “and just feeling like we can put our feet up at the end of a busy day.”
Builder/Contractor Lee Michael Homes
Home Design Lee Michael Homes & Pistols Drafting
Interior Design & Custom Painting Alexa Knight (Lee Michael Homes)