Location, location, location” is the real estate world’s most time-honored adage. And those words have never been more apropos, perhaps, than in the daring renovation of Chris and Nicole Niederman’s Mercer Island home. Helmed by architect Suzanne Zahr and designer Kat Lawton, the Washington project took the existing home on the site, a 1974 cottage of a smidge less than 1,900 square feet, and more than doubled its size thanks to a savvy remodel and addition. Not only did the endeavor preserve the stellar views, but the undertaking made them even more prominent.
Over 16 months, general contractor Tom Gallagher, project manager Jay Nygard and superintendent Dan Garman battled topographical realities—a steep hillside and unstable soil—to create the updated residence. Zahr’s plan features a stunning sky bridge (replacing steep stairs) that opens on to the home’s new third level and to a glass elevator that whisks guests down to the first floor and the main living areas. Working with design consultant Gary Henderson, the architect maximized usable space by cutting out hallways, allowing rooms to flow into one another and capture the views. To capitalize on the vistas towards Lake Washington and Mount Rainier, a two-story steel moment frame runs along the east elevation. “This steel frame design includes a clear-span header beam above the folding glass doors beside the dining area,” she explains. “It’s so pretty when it’s open.” To further highlight the views and take advantage of natural light, Zahr had the windows “turn the corners,” she says, “allowing for a more panoramic vibe.”
Thanks to Lawton, the interior of the house is just as stunning as the landscape outside. The designer opted for an East Coast aesthetic, filtered through a Pacific Northwest lens. “We always wanted what I call clean-lined Cape Cod,” says Nicole. While the couple had lived in a more traditional home in Chicago before their move west, their evolving tastes and the locale’s natural environment took them in a more modern direction. Lawton was in lockstep. “We’re very casual here, so anything too formal, like really ornate millwork and fussy detailing and cabinetry, doesn’t feel as comfortable, especially for living on the water,” she says.
It’s not just the layout, but Lawton’s well-considered color scheme that unites the space. “The palette lends itself to the water backdrop. It would feel strange to come into vibrant colors, like orange or red, when you have this beautiful blue, green, gray backdrop,” notes the designer, who thoughtfully coordinated her materials throughout the home. When she laid out tiles, for instance, in the master bathroom, she carried the blue-gray undertones of the marble through the rest of the room. Those pale shades are echoed in the living and dining areas—through the furnishings and rugs—and accented with “really deep, charcoal blue-gray in areas where a little more drama felt appropriate.”
A holistic approach also guided Lawton’s furnishing decisions. She reused some of the family’s own pieces and added fresh finds. For instance, the living room’s wing chair was existing, but the white lounge chairs and coffee table are new. The latter’s streamlined shape plays off the more traditional profile of the casework found throughout. Painted white, it provides an elegant yet unfussy backdrop.
No detail was too small for Lawton to consider. She relied on an assortment of finishes to bring visual dimension rather than sticking to just one. “You’ll see that a lot throughout where we mix polished nickel with matte black or oil-rubbed bronze,” she says. Even the family dog was considered in relation to the interiors plan. “That was a conversation, too,” laughs the designer. When she went to pick hardwood flooring with the clients, they were leaning toward a dark gray-espresso shade. “I really wanted to steer them in a different direction to hide dog hair, and again, just to feel more appropriate on the lake,” she says. That decision became a building block for another: To pull in texture and complement the lighter floor color, Lawton settled on grass Roman shades, unlined, so that natural light filters in throughout the day.
In the end, the revamped space feels just right for an active, and aesthetically attuned, family. “It was all about family living,” acknowledges Lawton. “Having that big, sprawling sectional in the living room was definitely something they fought for because they wanted something to curl up on as a unit and watch TV together.” From the many cozy new hangout spaces to the tailored offices, and, of course, the wrap-around decking, the Niederman clan couldn’t be happier with the results. Says Chris, “It might sound corny, but we turned that old, small house into what we truly consider to be our home.”