A Seattle Residence Blurs The Lines Between Inside and Outside


Designing and building a home is, by nature, collaborative. Often, design professionals play their own distinct roles, and all of the moving parts come together to form one unified project. But when you have clients with a confident vision and an experimental, trial-and-error approach, divisions of labor quickly evaporate and collaboration takes on an entirely new meaning.

To wit: a determined couple with three children looking to build a home in Seattle’s Eastside. “I’ve built a number of homes, restaurants and retail operations, and I’ve probably become that person who knows too much,” admits the owner, a chef and culinary entrepreneur. “We had the basic spacial relation and architecture in our heads.” But they needed someone to interpret their vision and bring it to fruition, which is how architects Dennis Marsh and Mark Elster entered the picture.

They immediately understood, says Elster, that the client “lives and breathes gastronomy.” What was most stressed, Marsh adds, “was the blurring of the lines between inside and outside, and involving guests in the preparation and enjoyment of food.”

Addressing the first half of that objective, Elster recalls having to interpret “the clients’ unusually specific distinctions between spaces that were inside-outside (a glass-enclosed solarium), outside-inside (a loggia with outdoor kitchen), inside (an open-plan great room) and outside (unroofed terraces).” In order to fulfill the second goal, however, the architects managed to persuade the owners to reorient the kitchen to face the dining and living room, rather than outside.

To achieve a roughed-up aesthetic the owner likens to “a repurposed building, like a factory or old firehouse you’ve renovated to live in,” the equation welcomed Sergio Chin-Ley, whose architecture and design firm had created many of the owner’s restaurants. Chin-Ley designed the lighting and interior architecture, and worked closely with the owner, who became very involved in selecting materials and furnishings. Moving in and out of the whole process was Barbara Hyde Evans of Hyde Evans Design, who, as the couple’s designer on a former house, could give trusted sound bites on the home’s interior architectural details, as well.

The owner’s own hands-on approach was also thrown into the mix, as shown by the staining of the concrete floors. When the subcontractor initially executed the job, the owner wanted to join in on the fun, pouring water on the still-wet floor and personally spreading the charcoal dyes. Builder Klaus Toth also recalls the challenging construction of 14 tapered concrete columns, which the owner wanted to appear distressed. “We told the guy to do an ‘imperfect’ job pouring the concrete so it had nooks, crannies, cracks and rock pockets,” explains Toth, who helmed construction with superintendent Craig Borgman and project manager Chris Harris. “We were nervous about the client’s reaction, but he came in and loved it.” It then fell to Toth to reproduce a deceptively flawed pour 13 more times.

But that wasn’t the only element of surprise. Chin-Ley would suggest specific furnishings, and the owner would usually, “buy what was next to it in the showroom,” he jokes goodnaturedly, or consult with outside design professionals like Kelly Forslund and Leslie Ferrell on some selections. Fabrics were chosen for durability because the owners entertain often, and for their texture and traditional detailing to soften the industrial envelope. And it was the owner, Chin-Ley recalls, who discovered the wood used on some of the floors—dead-standing Douglas fir harvested from Montana.

Abstract requests by the owner, such as “a chandelier that looks like a fireplace in the sky,” were fulfilled masterfully, like when Chin-Ley designed a custom hand-blown amber glass fixture for the dining room. And tricky technical obstacles were successfully overcome, seen for example in the specially tailored mechanisms for lifting said chandelier to allow a glass garage-style door to pivot from vertical to horizontal position over the table.

Despite all the cooks in the kitchen, the owner maintains that the results prove the method to their madness. “There are fingerprints of everyone left on this building,” he says, fingerprints of which everyone can be proud.