Longtime inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest learn to embrace lengthy stretches of fog, drizzle and rain. Though there are spectacular tradeoffs, such as the magnificent natural scenery and mild winters, the gray skies can take a toll. So when a young couple began thinking about expanding their 1920s brick home in the leafy Broadmoor neighborhood of Seattle, their mandate to the design team was light—and lots of it. “They said, ‘make this house really light and bright,’ ” designer Doug Rasar recalls. “we did that not only with finishes, materials and lighting, but also with the architecture.”
The site was impressive: a lushly planted 39,000-square- foot lot that had grown to include a neighboring property. but when the original classical revival dwelling couldn’t be redesigned to suit the clients’ wish for traditional yet open spaces conducive to entertaining, architect Stephen Sullivan went back to the drawing board. starting from scratch, he came up with an l-shaped plan that maximizes natural light and puts the focus on the landscape, which includes a 70-year-old blue atlas cedar tree. for Sullivan, Pacific Northwest architecture is all about light, but here he looked to Europe for precedents. “a similar kind of architecture exists in Amsterdam, where old brick buildings have huge windows relative to their mass,” notes Sullivan, who worked with project architect Jim Romano of Conard Romano architects as the two were part of the same firm at the onset of the endeavor.
The plan took an interesting turn when the husband sent Sullivan an article about glass technology and asked if they could incorporate a more contemporary use of glass into the design. “it was a completely conflicting programmatic element,” says Sullivan, “but also an opportunity to embrace both neoclassical and modernist principles and derive a language that could hold them together in a coherent whole.”
After Rasar suggested they take a trip to southern California to look at examples of indoor-outdoor spaces marked by high ceilings, weathered wood floors and ample glazing, Sullivan pondered bringing the windows all the way up to the ceiling plane, so that the rooms could become, as he puts it, “reflectors of light.” the couple jumped at the idea.
Concealing the headers of the French doors located on the main level, as well as the lift-and-slide panels, was no small task for builder Klaus Toth, who oversaw the construction with project manager Danica Holmlund and superintendent Rick Werden. “everybody looks at the window design and sees it as quiet and beautiful,” remarks Toth. “creating a seamless detail that appears very simple required a lot of consideration.”
Another challenge was applying a slurry coat to the bricks on the structure’s main block, which softened its formality while layering on color and patina. “this is common in southern states, but not here, and none of our stonework contractors had done it before,” says Toth; he ultimately worked with a masonry supplier to come up with just the right mix for the Pacific Northwest climate.
As with the exterior, rather than veering completely into either traditional or modern territory, the interiors nimbly bridge both, and Rasar came up with a fresh palette to reflect its youthful, active residents. to give the rooms the feeling of having been furnished over time, he and assistant designer Christopher Martinez-Luna combined existing family furnishings—like the antique French settee in the entrance hall and a tansu chest from Japan cleverly tucked beneath the powder room’s vanity—with custom pieces such as the contemporary dining table that expands to seat 16 against an aged teal wallcovering taken from an old showroom sample.
Throughout, architectural detailing tends to the lean and spare. the family room features built-in shelving and a stone fireplace, but without the heavy molding found in a traditional Georgian design. the kitchen, meanwhile, balances lacquered-white cabinetry and a tempered-and- diffused-mirror backsplash with hand-planed, wide-plank oak floors. “when you do a new house, it’s easy to lose what was great about the old one,” he says. “but there is enough tradition in this house that one can wonder if it’s brand-new.”
Pristine white walls became a backdrop for a growing collection of paintings by prominent northwest artists such as Kenneth Callahan, Michael Dailey, Margaret Tomkins and William Ivey. in the tradition of old is new again, Rasar explains: “the art by northwest masters that is represented in the house has a clean and refreshing vibe.”
Before construction even began, landscape architect Randy Allworth reconceived and expanded on the design he had developed with the couple for their original home. With the property reconfigured, the main house, pool house and garage converge on a large lawn and gathering space, and tall plantings and hedges on the perimeter provide privacy while bringing distant mature trees into view. “It feels like a large country garden even though it’s in the city,” says Allworth, who worked with project manager Nanda Patel.
The couple is delighted that they now have the kind of home where get-togethers can spill from the elegant rooms to the outdoors, where food trucks are set up for informal dining, and guests can linger around the fire pit or dance under lights on the terrace. It’s a house built on tradition without being fussy. “That describes the clients as well,” says Sullivan. “They’re formal, but they’re just as comfortable reading the newspaper in jeans on the living room sofa. This is a house where every single room gets used all the time.”