Seattle’s View Ridge neighborhood is known for its bird’s-eye views of nearby Lake Washington and the Cascades beyond, and an impressive stock of midcentury-modern homes, many by notable Pacific Northwest architects. But until recently, this particular home in the heart of View Ridge had neither the architecture nor views of note, thanks to a series of haphazard renovations that ignored aesthetics, functionality and the picturesque surroundings.
For seven years, the homeowners and their architect, Joseph Herrin, had searched for a site on which to build a new house. “But nothing was ever really right,” Herrin says, “and in the end, it was because they loved their neighborhood and didn’t want to move.” But while the owners weren’t leaving, their existing house would have to, so Herrin, project architect Tony Salas and their team set about devising a new structure that would celebrate the views and their clients’ passion for contemporary design.
To do that, Herrin decided they had to start at the top. “We wanted to make sure that no matter what happened—even if the neighbor across the street decided to build a three-story house—we would have that view in perpetuity,” he says. “So, we created a reverse floor plan with the living spaces on the top floor, the bedrooms on the middle floor, and the garage and utility spaces on the lower floor,” with the first two levels both situated at grade to take advantage of the sloping site.
When viewed from the street, the new house would be three stories tall, and Herrin worried that a towering structure might not be the friendliest neighbor. To break down the scale, he and his team envisioned a stack of three boxes that shift horizontally as they ascended. The first is a heavy base with concrete walls; above it rests what the architect describes as a wood box clad with clear cedar; and the top floor, sheltered by a cantilevered roof, “is expressed as much as possible as a hovering horizontal plane.”
The journey to reach the living, dining and kitchen spaces is a revelation. Herrin worked with the project’s general contractor, Chad Rollins, whose firm has an in-house architectural concrete, framing, cabinetry and metalworking shop, to create a series of concrete entry stairs outside—shaded by a mature fig tree and accented by a modern steel guard rail and archway—and a dramatic staircase inside. “Like so many of the home’s details that look really simple, there was a party going on behind the scenes,” Rollins says of the latter, whose oak treads appear to float in midair. “Each tread is a U-shaped configuration that’s slipped over the top of a steel angle hidden in the wall, then capped from the bottom with wood.”
If the stairs are the teaser to entice visitors upstairs, the top floor is the payoff, and not just because of its lake, mountain and treetop views. Here, the home’s palette of glass, steel and wood merges in living spaces that feel at once airy and intimate, thanks to wide window walls, warm oak floors and angled ceilings clad with clear cedar. “It’s a very classic Northwest look,” Herrin says, “though we like to take a natural material like cedar and desaturate it with a light stain, so it’s a little quieter, so your eye is drawn to the furnishings and art.”
In this case, those furnishings are simple and streamlined. Some, like the family room’s sofas, made the cut from the previous house, while others, like the sculptural armchairs that pull up to the fireplace, were chosen for this space. And a few, to Herrin’s delight, were built right in. To save space in the main bedroom, Rollins’ team fabricated a solid walnut bed frame and headboard wall with built-in cantilevered nightstands that float above the floor. For the bathrooms, they turned sleek expanses of rift-sawn white oak into cantilevered vanities. And in the kitchen, they used the same material in two contrasting finish colors to build streamlined walls of cabinetry and an island encased in jet-black granite.
Driving each of these custom details was the common goal of creating deceptively simple design elements that come together in quiet harmony. “Our work is about riffing off one another to make sure that these details come to life while retaining the subtle moments that everybody hopes for,” Rollins says, all in service of one not-so-subtle feature—those dynamic, iconic Pacific Northwest views.