There are moments when you don’t know exactly where the inside and the outside of the house start and stop,” says residential designer Eric Walter of a glass-ensconced home he renovated for a Seattle family.
“You’re enclosed, but the traditional trappings of a house just kind of fall away.” Although his clients had recently completed a remodel of a craftsman-style home and were in no hurry to move, the modernist 1961 home—designed by famed Seattle architect Ibsen Nelsen—proved too tempting to pass up. “It felt very secluded because it’s set back from the street,” says the wife. “But from nearly every room, there’s a view of Lake Washington.” However, the home was still in need of some sensitive updates, so the couple turned to Walter, who is known for building designs that display extraordinary restraint and clarity. “We opened up the divided rooms and enlarged the openings to the landscape to their fullest extent, where possible, framing the views with the walls, roof and floor rather than just a window opening,” he says.
Because the house already had much to offer, the work Walter—along with the team of Campie Ellis, Suzanne Stefan and Drew Shawver—did consisted of stripping away dated details and materials and expanding upon Ibsen’s original concepts. “In a lot of ways the house was very successful before the remodel,” Walter says. The team began by removing carpeting, brown floor tile and brick replace cladding. They then opened up the rooms to one another and wove the interior and the exterior together. “The kitchen was originally pretty closed in,” he explains. “Fifty years ago, kitchens didn’t have strong views or a connection to the landscape.” Walter changed that in this home by removing solid walls between the kitchen and the dining room, and adding a wall of windows along one side that ties it to the backyard and the lake beyond.
Walter rewrapped the house in materials that blend with the natural environment, cladding the exterior with cedar. He then employed Arkansas limestone, using it to face the massive replace and continuing it on walls both inside and out. Additionally, he selected walnut for the kitchen cabinetry and oak and polished concrete for the flooring. The builders on the project, Dave Boone and his superintendent, Joe White, are experts at working with steel and built an intricate and sculptural screen— fabricated in conjunction with the firm Westeel—that supports the treads of the staircase. Composed of thin steel bars organized in a geometric pattern, the structure is as artful as it is functional. “Often, the best results happen when a design is allowed to remain fluid during the construction process,” Boone says. “Joe’s response to changes on the fly was heroic.”
For the interiors, the owners envisioned their new home with furnishings that—like the architecture—have a relationship to the outdoors. “I wanted it to feel organic,” explains the wife. “And I found a woman in South Africa, Ronel Jordaan, who makes wool-covered boulders for seating.” These she placed in the living room, and for the dining room, she selected a table made of live-edge Peruvian walnut crafted by an artisan in Quebec. “I also worked with Eric to do a few custom light fixtures,” adds the wife. “We sat there and put metal tubing together so nothing looked too symmetrical. I like that they look handmade and not like we bought them at a store.”
The outdoor living areas were just as important to the couple as indoor ones, so landscape designers Matt Wittman and Jody Estes created three prominent spaces for the yard. “The garden courtyard at the entrance is a focal point,” says Wittman, who imagined a modernist reflecting pool and a fountain made of concrete for
the area, where Estes planted Japanese sedge and a Japanese maple tree. “We wanted the landscape to have a calming woodland forest feel that’s of the Northwest,” Wittman explains, “but with a hint of Japanese style.”
In the rear of the home, concrete steps are set into the hillside and descend toward the lake. Wittman and Estes also created a green terrace that serves as a roof garden o the master suite. “There, Jody added a carpet of sedums,” Wittman says. “It’s now a private retreat for the husband and wife.”
As for the results, the owners couldn’t be happier. “The remodel took some time, but the details of the house just blew my mind and made it all worth it,” says the husband. “Every corner has three or four materials that come together in the most impressive way.” An observation like this lets the design team know they achieved their goals. “The house is readable,” Walter explains. “You see layers of materials and the way each one came before the next. I find spaces more interesting when they’re simplifled: when you strip away the typical things that tell you where you are in a building.” Walter’s use of simple textured materials in combination with a pared down selection of architectural elements means the family is always focused on the cinematic landscape that envelops them. “Our bedroom has a corner that’s completely glass,” the wife says. “You look out towards the lake and the Olympic Mountain range and feel like you’re floating.”