With its picturesque views of Puget Sound and Vashon Island, a hillside site in west Seattle offered architect Tim Hossner and his colleagues the chance to design what felt like a secluded retreat without leaving the metropolis. But environmental restrictions (most of the trees needed to be preserved due to steep slopes) and a desire to maintain views for the neighbors left this sizable parcel with just a small footprint on which to build. Fortunately, that seemed to only serve the evolving design, which became a kind of modern tree house, extending upward and outward to capture and frame the vistas.
The house rises from a modest concrete base, where two levels of bedrooms are situated, before giving way to a wider, glass-ensconced main floor with a combined living area, dining room and kitchen draped in natural wood tones. From a desire “to get the best views and not have them obscured by trees came this idea of a reversed floor plan where the main living areas are at the top,” says Hossner, who collaborated on key issues with partners Jim Replinger and Christopher Osolin. “The drama of how that top level cantilevers beyond a column of private spaces below it is a result of needing to keep the footprint very small and trying to get up in the air.” The stairway leading there is also a kind of space unto itself, like a three-story atrium that gets brighter as one moves upward.
Though its clean lines and palette of concrete, glass and steel give the house a contemporary feel, the interior is designed to feel warm and inviting, and to blend with the owner’s collection of vintage midcentury modern furniture. In the living room, for example, the wood of a gondola-style B.P. John sofa from the 1960s and a jellybean-shaped early-’60s Lane coffee table seem to perfectly complement the hue of the quarter-sawn white-oak floor. “We spent a whole afternoon just trying out different stains,” says the owner, who not only selected the furniture but also worked closely with builder Steven Ross on the construction. “To me, it distills this midcentury modern look that always caught my eye growing up.” Sprinkled throughout the home is an eclectic mix of art, be it a family-heirloom tapestry in the kitchen or a strikingly colorful Piet Mondrian-like mixed-media artwork in the living room created by the owner.
The kitchen, too, is all about natural tones and materials. The cabinetry and kitchen island are all vertical-grain Douglas fir. “They wanted to book-match them, so they had to cut the doors and the drawer fronts out of one slab so you can get the whole grain pattern,” Ross explains. The cabinets are topped with a simple and durable yet elegant black PaperStone countertop that the owner sourced locally.
The client wanted wide-open views, but he also wanted privacy from adjacent houses. So Hossner and his team designed a series of wood screens that extend past the north and south façades, giving the architecture a subtle sense of motion. “It shoots out about 6 feet and gives you some privacy, and keeps the wind from whipping there,” Ross says. “You don’t see the neighbor’s house, but you do see the water and the sky.” The house’s floor-to-ceiling western vistas notwithstanding, its best view upward may be from the powder room, with its ceiling consisting almost entirely of a skylight. “It’s like there is no ceiling at all,” Hossner says.
Indeed, though it’s a relatively short drive from this house to downtown Seattle, the design and the setting make this home feel like another world, or one floating above our own. “It’s like being up high in a patch of woods,” the homeowner says. “The house just fits me perfectly.”