“The house makes us feel like we’re floating above Lake Washington,” Lynn Slaughter says of her modern home that also overlooks the Cascade Mountains. For years, Lynn and her partner, Ginny Gilder, had lived in a larger home on a nearby property just down the hill. But with the last of their five children off to college, the couple decided to trade both size and familiarity for natural daylight on a site with a better view.
To design their new home, they turned to architect Tom Lenchek, who had designed the couple’s vacation retreat in the San Juan Islands. “The property has spectacular views to one side, but it is located at one end of a narrow street and is partially surrounded by houses,” says Lenchek, who collaborated on the design with architects Lauren Crocco and Kelby Riegsecker.
The challenge for the architects was to design a structure that would take advantage of the vistas despite the lot limitations, which also included a steep incline and strict residential zoning regulations. “It was one of those postage stamp sites,” says John Ellertson, project manager for the construction with builder Peter Saladino and superintendent Ed Coke. “The house has extreme technical components, so it required thoughtful process and layout coordination by Ed to maximize onsite efficiencies.”
To allow them to build at the top of the steep incline, Lenchek used augercast piles to provide a structural base with a flat surface. “We set the building on it, so it kind of hovers,” he says, pointing out that the foundation sits within the footprint of the previous house, and the upper floors cantilever above the front entry and surrounding scenery. Landscape architect Randy Allworth collaborated with the architects on the design of the paving and courtyard walls for that entry sequence. Groves of crapemyrtle and native plantings blend into the hillside, and sculptures by Lynn’s father nestle within the landscape.
Because the house was so close to the neighbors, the architects needed to find a way to let light into the interiors without sacrificing privacy. The solution was to arrange everything along a double-loaded corridor beneath a series of skylights. “The central hall does a really great job of illuminating the entire house during the day,” Crocco says. Thanks to the stairway’s acrylic treads, echoes Riegsecker, “the light goes all the way down through the center of the house and filters into the basement.”
During one of the early design meetings, Lynn told Lenchek about the model airplanes her father had made by stretching tissue paper across balsa wood, and she wondered if Lenchek could design a similar concept for the windows. Inspired by her suggestion, the architect incorporated a translucent fiberglass material into the design of the home’s central foyer and as privacy windows on the sides of the house. “When I walked inside and looked at the skylight area for the first time, I started laughing, because it was an almost identical replica of the front door in the house I grew up in,” Lynn remembers. “I had actually been describing my parents’ entry without even realizing it.”
Floor-to-ceiling windows face the unobstructed private park-like setting to the east of the house. A fin wall extends past the interior shell, concealing the exterior balcony and private interior spaces from those neighbors to the south and creating a seamless transition between the exterior and interior. “It looks as if the sheet rock continues through that wall of glass, and the ceiling in the upstairs master bedroom does the same,” Lenchek says. This backdrop of modern materials allows for a palette of minimalist furnishings that lets the architecture shine.
Orienting the house toward the unobstructed east view required the use of exterior Venetian blinds to help passively temper the space. It’s one of the many environmentally conscious features that were incorporated into the design. Solar panels on the roof convert sunlight into energy, while geothermal heat wells tap into the earth’s consistent temperature to heat and cool the radiant concrete floors throughout the house. A rainwater system, which was required by code, funnels excess water into channels that became a water feature alongside the residence.
Although the house is smaller than their first home on the other side of the hill, Lynn says the architecture, daylight and views more than make up for it. “This home is like a piece of art,” she says. “I still wake up in the morning and pinch myself.”