During the initial phases of a home’s design, the possibilities seem limitless. Architect Stuart Silk and his clients found that to be true as they envisioned a new dwelling for the couple. “There was a lot of dialog about what this house could be stylistically,” recalls Silk of his early meetings. The couple gravitated toward a contemporary structure but also wanted the home to fit comfortably within the more traditional vernacular of Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood. What Silk gave them is a house that blurs the lines. They have the expansive, light-infused interior spaces they desired but set within an architectural envelope of white brick and cedar siding that feels appropriate to the area. “This house was built more from the inside out than the outside in,” says Silk, explaining that it all began with the clients’ wish for a two-story, glass-walled great room that wowed.
Immediately entering the home reveals that double-height main room and, moving deeper, its 30-foot glass window wall framing panoramic views of Mt. Rainier to the south and the Olympic Mountains to the west. Making it all possible is steel—“lots of steel,” says general contractor Klaus Toth, who worked closely with superintendent Rick Werden on the project. “Most residences have wood frames, but this house is built like a little high-rise.” To keep the focus on the view, Silk and senior associate Amanda Cavassa chose a subtle palette of materials. “We really feel that the design of a home should be consistent throughout,” says Cavassa. To her point, the Indiana limestone used for the front walk continues right into the entryway, and the great room’s wood ceilings extend out to shelter the rear terrace. “There’s also an architectural language that repeats inside and out with the interior and exterior columns,” she notes.
For Cavassa, “The joy in this kind of contemporary home comes in creating a beautiful formal composition and keeping that rigor as we work through each detail,” she explains. “I love whittling traditional elements down to their essence. For example, the living room fireplace has the fire, hearth and mantle, but it’s pared down into a simple composition.” Furnishings, initially conceived by Danielle Krieg, a former designer at the firm, follow a similar precision. “Careful attention was paid to materiality and how the furnishings took the color palette of the finishes—earthy tones recalling beach sand and the forest floor—and expanded on so that they complemented the architecture in every space,” continues Cavassa.
To counter the stately nature of the great room (it was designed to accommodate parties of 50), the owners also needed spaces for everyday living. The result is a secondary great room that houses the family room, kitchen and casual dining areas. “It’s where everyone can hang out,” Cavassa adds, pointing to the island’s leather barstools and a custom sectional built for lounging. The main suite—its sanctuary-like bathroom dramatically illuminated by a cone-shaped oculus—and the sons’ bedrooms and shared study are on the second floor, accessed by ribbon-like central stairs. The stairs also spiral down to the home’s lower-level entertainment areas, which spill out onto a large terrace with the swimming pool and spa. “The whole house sits on a geothermal system,” notes Toth. “The pool can be steaming in winter, but no fossil fuels are used.”
In the garden just beyond, landscape designer Richard Hartlage created a series of terraces that offer just enough lawn to kick a soccer ball and stairways lined with flowering grasses that encourage guests to meander down to the waterfront. There, Hartlage and project manager Lindsey Heller replaced the old bulkhead with a beach. Not only does it now allow the family a safer place for water sports, but the pebbly cove is also the preferred habitat of the endangered sockeye salmon who live there too. “They come through on their way to Puget Sound,” explains Hartlage, who used native plants, including a mock orange shrub for shade, at the water’s edge.
Silk and Cavassa suggest this house challenges typical preconceptions about modern architecture. “This house is comfortable and accommodating in an everyday kind of way,” Silk observes. “People have the impression that modern means cold or hard, but this home really shows that doesn’t have to be the case. Contemporary homes can be inviting,” echoes Cavassa. Just ask the salmon.