With its natural beauty and tranquil Lake Washington setting, Mercer Island can feel like a retreat from city life even though it’s just a short ride from Seattle. So for a new home along the lake’s shore, it made sense to create a kind of urban beach house, nestled into the landscape and constructed from natural materials, yet with clean-lined elegance and precision.
The site, which combines two parcels of land, slopes steeply down to the water 295 feet from the road above, which prompted residential designer Kyle C. Gaffney and his team to situate the house closely to the bank. Because of the unstable soil, though, 160 stabilizing pin piles had to first be driven into the ground below the foundation, the most that builder Ren Chandler (who has built many lakeside houses) has ever used. But now the clients can enjoy an up-close view of the lake, be it inside or from an outdoor room on the home’s wide ipe deck. The design includes large overhangs equipped with space heaters that allow the owners to make the most of the outdoor living space nearly year-round, even in the rain. “The deck transitions right to the plane of the lake,” says Kyle, senior principal at his firm, who headed the project with co-senior principal (and wife) Shannon Gaffney and project manager Russell Blazier. “When you’re sitting in the chairs, it’s almost like you’re in a boat on the water.”
An expansive lawn spills down from the deck and features a series of concrete steps, giving the owners’ boys a space to play while their parents look on. “The connection between the house, deck and lawn was about creating a space you can flow through easily rather than following narrow paths,” explains Brian Gregory, who designed the landscape alongside landscape architect Randy Allworth. “There’s that sense that the lake is right there, and the grass helps blend those two spaces together.”
The home’s form is slightly angled like a boomerang to create privacy from two neighboring houses while orienting views toward picturesque Mount Rainier. Undertaking the interiors as well as the architecture, Kyle and his team favored a muted color palette based on the tones from the home’s concrete floors (equipped with radiant heating) and Douglas fir ceilings and beams. The team used a custom stain on the wood that muted its orange tone to produce a more whitewashed look. “The beams are these 3-by-10s that are just perfect. Wood like that can easily check and twist,” Chandler says, but he and project manager Andy Mroczek expect them to last. “We took a lot of time hand-selecting these woods and allowed plenty of time for them to acclimate.”
The interiors get pops of color not only from art such as a vibrant abstract painting hanging over the living room fireplace, or from area rugs and accent pillows, but especially from the watery blues and leafy greens of the landscape outside—visible through floor-to-ceiling glass running along the perimeter of the kitchen, dining and living room, which adjoin in a linear procession. In the sunken living room, the glass doors lift and slide back to reveal an expansive wide-open space that brings the outdoors in. The team also drew from its portfolio of retail designs to create a subtle, atmospheric lighting scheme that transforms the home in the evening hours via upward-facing fixtures that bathe the ceilings with pools of soft light. “It sort of envelops you,” Kyle says of the ambience. “The home can comfortably entertain large gatherings but can also be intimate enough for two on a stormy day.”
Upstairs, the master bedroom acts as a cozy oasis while offering generous views of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier. “The owners can sit in bed and see the mountain,” Kyle explains. “This home is all about connecting with the outdoors and creating an experience.”