"When you’re inside, you feel like you’re outdoors,” says architect Regan McClellan of the modern home he designed along the shore of Lake Washington. For many years, McClellan’s clients lived in a traditional 1950s rambler that originally stood on the steep sloping lot. While they appreciated its scenic locale and large terrace overlooking the lake, they dreamed of a contemporary home with a stronger connection to its surroundings. So, they joined forces with McClellan to realize their vision—a steel, stone, cedar and stucco structure. “We used steel because it has the strong, substantial feel that the owners wanted,” says McClellan. “But at the same time, it gave us the structural freedom to open up the views.”
To make the most of the spectacular views, McClellan conceived a multilevel structure with a garage and guest apartment at the top of the site and the home’s main levels situated along the lakefront—all connected via an elevator. However, “the challenge of this site was a 40-foot-tall bank that we had to negotiate,” McClellan says. To get around this obstacle, builder Tom Jergens brought in materials and equipment using barges and cranes. “It was almost like a cliff,” he says. “Most people would take one look at that site and look the other way.” After building a retaining wall, Jergens and his crew used jackhammers to create the elevator shaft and shoveled the loose clay into a container to be hauled up by crane and off-site.
The lot presented as much of an opportunity as it did a challenge for landscape architect Kenneth Philp. “The key was developing a sense of procession down through the site,” Philp says. “We created unique transitional spaces and arrival points that feel gracious and inviting”—from the auto court in front of the garage at the top of the hill, to a winding path that leads down past a grove of Japanese maples, to a living garden wall with flowers selected for their fragrance as well as their aesthetic. “There’s a moment of arrival at the front door, and then the path turns and continues,” Philp adds. “It’s a beautifully designed building that feels wonderfully connected to the landscape and the view.”
Indeed, rather then taking up the whole lakefront with the footprint of the home, McClellan carved out ample space for a spacious outdoor living area. “We gave the outdoor room a front row seat to that lake view,” he explains. “At the same time, we really engaged the interior spaces with it.” The centrally situated kitchen, for example, is adjacent to both the outdoor living area and the home’s great room. A 4-foot-wide implied circulation path defined by steel columns divides the kitchen and living areas and extends outside where it becomes a planting bed that separates the outdoor spaces.
Floor-to-ceiling and clerestory windows flood the interior with natural daylight and celebrate the lofty ceiling heights, while an intermediary 8-foot-high horizontal steel beam around the perimeter creates a smaller sense of scale within the larger space; likewise, the warm palette of natural materials and colors makes for a feeling of coziness. In contrast to the large windows looking out to the lake, the back of the home built into the hill includes blank, windowless walls that were designed with the owners’ art collection in mind. “There’s a funny tension there,” McClellan says. “We have this great art, so we needed walls to hang it on, but at the same time we still wanted to take advantage of these views.”
Striking a similar balance are the interiors conceived by designer Betty Blount, who came on early in the project to consult on the finishes and select the furnishings. “The clients weren’t looking for trendy pieces,” Blount explains. “They wanted a very clean aesthetic, and they also had a few art pieces and furnishings that they wanted to showcase.” Tailored yet unstuffy furnishings in neutral fabrics complement both the wood floors and ceilings in the great room, as well as the stone, steel and stucco elements that have been carried into the interior. “Even though some of the materials feel cool, the owners wanted a sense of warmth,” adds Blount.
Though the house presented a fresh chapter for the clients, they requested a few elements to be retained in the new design. So, McClellan made sure they still had a spacious outdoor terrace, and a massive existing boulder was repositioned near the steps leading to the lake. Says McClellan, “That was a wonderful way to memorialize an original object from the landscape that they absolutely loved.”
— Tate Gunnerson