Before he was hired by a Mercer Island couple to design their new home, architect Rick Sundberg was already sketching. In an interview, he listened to the potential clients’ desires for privacy from adjoining houses, to better capture the view of Lake Washington, and to balance her preference for raw, edgy architecture with his favoring of refined sophistication. Sundberg’s sketchpad quickly became filled with the outlines of what would become the residence, which today seems to effortlessly unite all of the above.
The site’s gently sloping hillside prompted Sundberg to place the combined living, dining and kitchen areas on the second floor along with the master suite. The home’s L-shaped design, with the master wing cantilevering over the ground on stilts, also screens off the nearby next-door house, so that public and private spaces look out at the water and at each other instead of onto the neighbors. “In the master bedroom, as one looks back through the windows into the great room, it’s a gorgeous perspective,” the wife says, “especially at night.”
Inside and out, materials define the home. Cedar siding clads the exterior of private areas such as the master suite, while the main two-story portion is adorned with copper panels, selected for their natural patina. “It’s an organic material that will age into the look of an old penny,” says builder Thom Schultz. “It will be stunning.” Inside, Sundberg’s design creates a wide-volume main space flanked by a band of clerestory windows that bathe the interiors in light. But the design also carves cozier, more intimate spaces within the larger whole, such as a fireplace-wrapped corner of the living room that forms an inglenook, or partial lower ceiling. “Maybe this is Frank Lloyd Wright whispering you need a small place to retreat to, even within a large public space,” Sundberg says.
The team made sure the concrete floors, which run throughout the public areas, were immaculate. “The concrete looks like glass,” Schultz adds. “I’ve never seen anything done so well.” They also used blackened-steel panels on elements such as the living room fireplace, balanced throughout the interior with wood, from the Douglas fir ceiling to the walnut kitchen cabinetry. In the entry, a set of aged-wood panels is inscribed with Chinese characters telling the story of a son’s reverence for his father; the panels sit in a custom blackened-steel frame whose fabrication was overseen by Schultz and his son, superintendent Jeff Wenzel; working together, the pair seemed to embody the story written on the panels. Sundberg also conceived numerous custom furnishings, such as a wood-and-steel dining table and a glass-topped coffee table in the living area. The interiors get pops of color from the clients’ extensive art collection—mostly paintings and sculptures by Pacific Northwest artists, especially the husband’s mother, who was an acclaimed sculptor.
The master suite—which includes the bedroom and adjoining office bathed in walnut wood and the spa-like bathroom encased in limestone and eucalyptus cabinetry—provides a softer retreat. “The wing lends a soothing feeling in contrast to the black concrete and granite of the public spaces,” the architect explains. “It’s about thinking about where you are during the course of the day and how we can make you feel more calm or comfortable.”
Although it’s hard to top the beauty of the picturesque waterside view, the couple sees the home itself as a work of art worth admiring. “Rick was able to take our two personalities and make this work,” the husband says. “There is that cutting edge, but it’s elegant and warm. As it turns out, Rick is very much an artist.”