Maybe next year.” That was a Seattle family’s refrain for seven years after moving into their 1950s ranch-style house overlooking Elliott Bay. Although the home cried out for a substantial makeover–to blow open the dark, low-ceilinged living spaces, bring in the light, and reveal the vistas of Mount Rainier–life, says the wife, kept getting in the way. The span of years did have an upside, though: By the time the couple took action, they knew exactly what they wanted, and so they turned to architect David Coleman and designer Elizabeth Stretch to realize the property’s potential.
“We basically tore the house down to the first-floor deck and rebuilt from there up,” Coleman says. The only elements to survive were a front bedroom and the exterior sandstone cladding quarried in nearby Wilkeson. And after a 16-month renovation, what began as a “relatively ordinary house,” in Coleman’s words, is now extraordinary: a deceptively light structure of concrete, glass and steel centered around a tower of in blackened cedar known as shou sugi ban. (“It just has a life to it that is very rich,” Coleman says of the material.) As a final flourish, he covered the new facÌ§ade in the reserved sandstone. “We loved that Wilkeson stone; it’s very special to the Northwest,” he notes. “I like when we have a chance to include some elements that were part of the original building. It lends a sense of timelessness to the design.”
Coleman’s concept for the home incorporates many components that blur the lines between interior and exterior space. That central tower, for example, exists in part to provide huge, west-facing clerestory windows that flood the main level with afternoon light, while the rising sun flows in through 12-foot walls of glass on the other side. “Instead of being a dark house, it’s now very light,” he says, due in no small part to all that glazing–seemingly weightless yet held together by sturdy steel framing. “There were a lot of big, heavy pieces of steel that had to be mounted to get as much glass and as little structure as possible,” general contractor Mark Schilperoot says.
Defying gravity is a motif that recurs again and again in the house, as Coleman played with the dichotomy of weighty materials that appear to have minimal support. They include a concrete bench that flows from the front porch into the foyer; a steel bench that emanates from one side of the living room fireplace; and, most dramatically, floating stairs that lead to a new second-floor study–which stretches outside to a cantilevered balcony. Coleman then designed a desk with a built-in sofa for the room so both could be oriented toward the water. “It really solved their spatial needs,” notes Stretch, adding that she covered the seating in felted wool to bring some texture to the glass tower. “It’s a material I’m drawn to in the Northwest. It’s warm, tactile and inviting,” she says. This cozy study in the sky has become a draw for the whole family. “It’s probably had the single biggest impact of anything that we did,” the wife says. “It’s connected to the house but apart.”
Stretch’s other selections respond similarly to Coleman’s work. She centered the main living area on a deep burgundy rug and incorporated fuchsia upholstery. “It’s got this depth to it,” she says, yet it works with and balances the architect’s materials palette of blackened steel, white-oak flooring and pale-gray concrete. “It’s a color you can really imagine in nature,” she adds, though more in the realm of tropical gardens than Pacific shorelines. Outside, Stretch chose furnishings with a more understated presence. Because of the glass walls, she says, “the outdoor furniture is part of the landscape. I wanted it to recede so your focus was on the view beyond.”
Landscape architect Bruce D. Hinckley and his associate, landscape designer Mario S. Laky, fashioned a different type of view in the front garden. When a plan to place seating in the middle of a water feature proved unworkable, the pair aimed for the next best thing. “We wanted to evoke the ambience of water,” Hinckley says, so they surrounded the patio with Algerian ivy that will grow into a “sea” upon which the patio will float. Then, they surrounded the space with yew hedges to create a private outdoor room. “It provided a more intimate family gathering space in this garden. There’s not the distant view as in the rear, but it’s nice to change scale,” he adds.
Once “next year” finally arrived, and the team worked their magic on the house, it became a knockout that continues to dazzle its owners. “It absolutely thrills me every single day to wake up in that house,” the wife says. “It never gets old. I still stop and stare.”