The late, great Seattle architect Ralph D. Anderson loved wood. And this Clyde Hill, Washington, residence, with its striking wall-to-ceiling cedar, is a sort of livable shrine to the object of his affection. The visual effect is akin to a modern cabin crossed with a cathedral, thanks to the striking ecclesiastical-feeling front doors and the vaulted ceilings. Its verticality, expansive windows, frequently exposed framing and T-shaped plan, along with a focus on natural materials and the touch of a clean, Asian-influenced aesthetic, all speak to the Northwest regional style Anderson helped popularize.
It’s an unquestionably stunning and architecturally significant dwelling. But when Steve and Gail Kaneko first glimpsed it, they were as overwhelmed as they were impressed. “My first thought was, ‘What are we going to do with all that wood?’ ” recalls Gail. Steve, however, felt a sense of connection instantly: The cedar walls reminded him of his childhood home in Hawaii. Ultimately, the couple realized some tweaks would be necessary to make the house work for them. In tandem with architect Leann Crist and general contractor Ashley Sullivan, they opted to take a delicate, disciplined approach toward modernizing it for a 21st-century lifestyle. “It was a challenge to largely keep the interiors but find a way to make the place ours,” says Steve. “We set out to create something that feels timeless.”
The couple found a kindred spirit in Crist. “Walk in the door and you immediately understand that this house has gravity and history,” she avers. “It’s a language of wood. The Kanekos had seen other homes of a similar era where people had come through and put drywall over everything. They knew that wasn’t the path they wanted to take.”
To brighten and update the house, the Kanekos and Crist walked a fine line to retain its character—and make a home built in 1977 livable for 21st-century inhabitants. The open kitchen-family room area received the biggest overhaul, with a down-to-the-studs renovation of everything below the soffit ceiling. Calacatta marble countertops now run up the full backsplash to white-oak cabinets in lighter hues that neatly play off the cedar-paneled ceilings and bounce light around. While the space’s wood-lined walls were removed and replaced with drywall, “It feels incredibly natural,” says Crist, who also used the material selectively in the main bedroom, den/office and powder room. “The paint colors chosen are super harmonious with the flooring and the existing wood.” Adds Steve, “The colors complement the cedar and oak; it feels almost like they’re pulling from them. And the palette has been lightened up by 30 percent, easily.”
Working within a limited neutral palette became a labor of love as the project progressed. “It’s basically monochromatic, and there’s a real sereneness to it,” says Steve. But to maintain that carved-from-one-mold cohesiveness, every paint color and bulb had to be meticulously reviewed within the structure’s walls. “A lot of thought went into the light quality and the tone, as there was this concern about the cedar—if a bulb was too warm, it would go a kind of pink color,” says Sullivan. Getting the lighting exactly right became a particular passion project for Steve, a director of design and recent Microsoft retiree, who conceived the two pendants that hang in the entry. “I spent 48 hours straight in the house when it was empty, then designed and built prototypes,” he says. “The side-slat ‘drips,’ as I call them, were angled to mimic the pitch of the ceiling.”
The Kanekos, who describe themselves as fans of all styles if the pieces are well-designed, brought more than half of their furnishings from their previous residence and made some new purchases to fully outfit the larger abode. And then a surprising thing happened: The artwork they’d long collected seemed even better suited for this new environment—leading the clients to conclude their new digs were meant to be. “The cedar walls make the artwork we bought 15 or 20 years ago seem richer, like each piece is part of the architecture,” says Steve. “People have already been asking, ‘Did you just get that?’ ” adds Gail with a laugh. It’s another example of why this house suits them perfectly.