By Alli Schuchman
Meet island-native-returned-home architect Michael Loverich, or as he’s known by his friends, Mikeylove. Loverich came home to Bainbridge just over a year ago, something he knew he’d always do but wasn’t sure how or when. He’s quintessentially Bainbridge. Birkenstocks with socks. A scooter. He bakes. In addition to being an architect, Loverich is an artist in the purest sense. He says his ideas and creations are designed to push people to reexamine how they see, asking them to become aware of the act of their own perception, to mindfully consume his art, to inspire a double take. Unashamedly playful, Loverich punctuates even his most straightforward home designs with cargo nets strung between walls, ledges for campouts, swings and legions of toys scattered about. He clearly hasn’t forgotten the joy of childhood. He lives in his grandmother’s house (she’s now in a retirement home) and has left every last mid-century detail intact—from the ceramic figurines (which she glued to the shelves) to the hand-knit afghans thrown over the back of her floral furniture. “It reflects a belief that I have in maintaining the qualities of a space,” said Loverich. He loves the details where his late grandfather—a shipbuilder who dealt with challenges in unexpected ways—cobbled together awkward improvements or fixes.
When he’s not working, Loverich putters around the yard tending the landscaping. After graduating BHS in 1997, he headed to the University of Washington to earn his degree in architecture. Then it was on to UCLA for graduate school. California suited Loverich—its art, design vibe and people—but he was wooed away to a six-week project in New York City. That stint turned into three months, then into six months. Eight years later Loverich was still a New Yorker. While in NYC he worked for architecture firms Reiser + Umemoto and Snøhetta, where some of his most notable work includes helping design the entry pavilion to the World Trade Center memorial, and designing a library and performing arts center.
While Loverich was busy building a sleek portfolio of architectural work, he also pursued independent design with his graduate school friend, Antonio Torres. The duo formed Bittertang Farm, an exploratory architectural practice that has won jobs in the United States, Israel, Germany, China and Mexico. “When you work for most firms, they don’t like when you have side projects,” said Loverich, “but for whatever reason Snøhetta was really supportive and encouraging of my Bittertang work.” Getting started, Loverich and Torres entered a design contest for an aquaculture farm, which they claim was somewhat a joke. Their design called for floating gelatinous reefs, bioengineered ecosystems that would attract and nourish sea life before naturally biodegrading. They won. The complexity and beauty of their vision began to stir interest in and buzz around the duo’s talent and potential. One of Bittertang’s most striking creations is its 2010 hanging sculpture, Romulus & Remus, a Succulent Piñata (left). It is a bird’s wing of sorts—colored like a peacock with fringe and specs of gold—which overlays cross-sectioned organs.
The description of its “soft fur coat with tender and moist underbelly” demands we question the cost of getting to the candy. Loverich doesn’t shy away from his sentimentality around the sculpture’s creation, an homage of sorts to his childhood. “I was always the kid who was gathering up the battered remains of a piñata because I felt terrible for it.” Pushing other boundaries, the duo envisioned the body of a blowfish when they entered a challenge to design a sukkah (a temporary shelter constructed for use during the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot). They wrote, “Our sukkah’s bloated body and furry innards acoustically, visually and olfactorily separates the sukkah interior from New York’s exuberance.” They won that contest too and ultimately took their entry to Israel.
As Bittertang was racking up awards and assignments for its challenging, sometimes controversial and suggestive, mind-bending, occasionally funny, occasionally sad, prolific designs, Loverich continued to garner praise for his work with Snøhetta. In 2014 he formed Michael Loverich Buildings (MLB). “It was a side project of Bittertang,” said Loverich, “a way of addressing more typical work without scaring people away.” His MLB architectural work included redesigning residential brownstones on Union Street and Sterling Place in Brooklyn. At long last the right opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest crossed his path: to design a series of three residential buildings—a main home, guest house and home office—on Bainbridge’s north end. With this project, Loverich sank his teeth firmly back into his hometown rock, bringing MLB and Bittertang along.
Designed for its family of six, the traditional white farmhouse is deceptively simple. A trio of interlocking interior volumes, within its two exterior volumes, creates an efficient home. On the main floor are a media room, family room, the owner’s suite, mudroom and a powder bath, as well as a central kitchen and a raised recreation room. Loverich said that foremost in the home’s conceptualization was accommodating the family’s four children. He was able to give them each their own room by branching off dual staircases from the double-height rec room. Atop each set of stairways are two bedrooms (girls up one staircase and boys up the other), each side with a full bath. The rec space adjoins the kitchen and living room but is set several steps higher to create separation.
A modest 2,800 square feet, something that was important to its owners, the home lives big. Two-story volume, generous windows and thoughtful sightlines “take advantage of the Japanese garden technique of borrowed scenery,” said Loverich. Built-in bookcases and cabinetry make virtually all of its areas usable. Repeating, wooden horizontal slats throughout the home lend space definition while casting texture-rich shadows. Finish materials like concrete, white oak and fir add to its interest, as do touches like the octagonal birdsmouth columns—hand-built by Loverich and his father—inspired by the lightweight, yet incredibly strong masts on sailboats. The kitchen’s massive island is painted a striking cobalt blue.
He designed the guest home, known as the Pond House, with two distinct sides—hexagonal pods, one for sleeping and bathing and the other for cooking and entertaining—bridged by an enclosed walkway with an exposed gable with rafters. The residence’s geometry, Loverich said, was inspired by Shingle style, which was popularized on the East Coast in the 1880s. “The client really let me express myself here,” said Loverich. Backing to a manmade fishpond surrounded by tall grasses and trees, the secluded house is just 800 square feet. Rich in textural elements, the interior is finished in stained plywood, fir and ground concrete floors as well as hexagonal tile work in the kitchen and bath. Every inch is functional with signature Loverich ideas, like cabinetry that flows into shelving or loft areas where he envisioned “grandkids sleeping over for the weekend.” It’s playful and creative but not at the expense of being relevant or livable.
Finally, the Barn serves as an office and workshop. Two square pods, bridged by a breezeway, are designed as a “temple in the woods,” said Loverich. Timber from the site creates its colonnade, and translucent cellular plastic material covers parts of the ceiling and walls, giving it a mysterious glow at night. After seeing the home through completion— which was spearheaded by Bill Corbin of W.M. Corbin Construction Corp.—Loverich in July pivoted back to Bittertang, designing a temporary obstacle course for children that debuted at Marymoor Park in Redmond. “I realize I create best when I have something to counterbalance my work,” said Loverich. So far, so good. Welcome home, Mikeylove.