Castle's Castle
By Dana DuGan
Photos by Thia Konig

Some dream homes come into being through an architect's vision, while some are rigidly controlled by a client’s needs. Both ways work.

For Joe Castle, 49, a sculptor from Philadelphia, and his wife, Michelle Feldman Castle, it was a timely combination of their united desires, a cooperative architect and a helpful builder that transformed a humble structure into their personal paradise on the prairie.

Designed by Joe, the original house was a simple working abode set at the mouth of Bellevue’s Muldoon Canyon. "It was meat and potatoes," Joe said. Almost wholly comprised of a kitchen and a working art studio, the structure was framed by huge Quaker-meeting-house-style doors. His family thought he was crazy, but there at the very end of a dirt road, he had found a place to be creative and a way of life that suited him.

When he fell in love with Michelle, 43, a graphic designer from Los Angeles, it quickly became apparent that he needed to expand.

Using clips from magazines, the couple created a one-page pictorial of their vision for architects Williams & Partners, adding images of homes they admired to a photo of the original house, as well as incorporating different elements that appealed to them—wood, steel, metal, concrete and rebar.

The finished structure closely resembles the one they laid out in that picture. Now expanded to 2,300 square feet, the home’s exterior is a striking contrast of wood and corrugated metal. This backdrop enhances the setting of Joe’s sculptures in the natural grasses around the house, many of which are inspired by and incorporate objects he finds in the surrounding sage-filled hills. The home's greatest charm is in this natural cooperation with the environment.

Inside, this artist couple’s sensibility and similar aesthetic are apparent in everything from furnishings to an industrial fireplace. The lines are clean and open, with high ceilings and views of Muldoon Canyon through enormous windows.

"It's a reflection of our environment," Michelle said of the home they created. "It's not unique. We love the elements that are already here. Even though the home is contemporary, it's in the style of farms one has seen in Idaho for a hundred years."

The clean lines and muted colors provide an engaging pallet for displaying a diverse array of simple, graphic and contemporary artwork. Concrete floors in the great room and master bedroom continue the theme of a simple, modern connection to the environment. "That's our aesthetic,” said Joe. "We're responsive to the environment. The large windows create a sense of indoor/outdoor living, especially in summer. In the winter, it's a whole other feel."

A balcony within the house overlooks the great room, its rebar railing extending from inside to out, encircling the house and ending at a balcony in front of the master bedroom. The sparse bedroom absorbs its atmosphere from the sweeping views into the often elk-filled canyon. Completing the union of indoors and out, a steel stairway leads down from their balcony into the garden (where they were married in 2008), perfect for a quick escape into the wild lands surrounding them. Only the library veers from the modern, organic theme. Filled with family photos tracing their history back one hundred years, it has its own kind of spare coziness.

During the remodel, the Castles’ opted for durable materials. "We have dogs and cats, and were on a limited budget, so we wanted durability," Michelle said. "We weren't trying to make a green house, but it came out that way. We wanted minimal upkeep." Scott Scifres of Powder River Enterprises in Bellevue built the house and was willing to work with new products. He advised the couple, though, that the most important aspects would be the windows, heating system and roof, and that these shouldn’t be scrimped on.

Scifres also suggested removing the large, barn-like front entry. It was headed to the scrap yard until the Castles realized it was big enough to be a shed. When added to the separate studio and garage Joe had built five years earlier, it completed the couple’s very own artists’ compound, a place they can create in and live a way of life that suits them both, right at the very end of a dirt road.

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“Even though it’s contemporary, it’s in the style of farms one has seen in Idaho for a hundred years.”
Michelle Castle

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