Immersed in the concrete, steel and glass of a city, a person can feel disconnected from nature. However, in this family’s Seattle high-rise vacation home, the elements never seem far away. Their dwelling peels open wide toward panoramic views overlooking Puget Sound, and when the early morning fog rolls in, the interiors seem plunged into the clouds. “You feel like you’re floating on top of the water,” says designer Kenna Stout, to whom the family turned to create their ultimate Emerald City retreat.
Built in 2008, the space had “a sharp, rectangular atmosphere,” notes the designer, recalling severe finishes like the bright red glass kitchen countertops. Stout aimed to soften hard angles with a more delicate, organic perspective, subtly echoing the surrounding vistas. “We wanted to honor that overall sense of nature enveloping the space, even though it’s in the middle of the city,” she explains of her approach.
Collaborating with general contractors (and brothers) David Burr Girvan and Ryan O’Keefe Girvan, Stout replaced an oversized media closet with a sleek walnut built-in unit, which helps establish a lighter footprint in the main living area. Overall, however, the task of mellowing the interior features was less wrecking ball and “more surgical,” notes David, who focused on integrating new materials while preserving features Stout wanted to retain. For example, his team carefully worked to replace the kitchen’s counters and backsplash without marring the original cabinetry. In areas where alterations were unavoidable, his team refinished new additions to match the existing sections. The process of achieving this seamless transformation involved “taking the kitchen down to a certain place and building it back up to look brand new,” says David.
Subtlety also guided Stout’s approach to reimagining the great room, where she pivoted the layout’s focus toward the windows. Restrained in her approach to furnishings, the designer selected only a few key pieces to ground these gathering areas without overcrowding them. “We maintained a sense of openness,” explains Stout. “In this case, having less is more.”
Contemporary in style, the furniture pieces favor gentle, curved silhouettes counteracting the home’s inherent angularity, from the living room’s shapely velvet green chaise to the dining area’s waterfall-edge table. Wood surfaces are lightly stained to preserve the natural grains. To cultivate a relaxed ease suitable for family living, all upholstery had to pass Stout’s signature “cheek test.” “When we’re examining the hand of a fabric, we’re always touching it to our faces to see if this is going to be nap-able,” laughs the designer, who composed layers of velvet and chenille throughout the space. She also incorporated textiles with subtle two-tone patterns to emphasize their lush tactility.
Color was essential for saturating the interiors with a sense of Seattle’s water and sky. Stout favored hues in “gradients of blues, greens and grays, like the natural surroundings,” she says. These oceanic notes are infused into the newly added finishes, like the kitchen’s backsplash tile, featuring motifs that resemble rippling water. Tucked away from the main living area, the couple’s bedroom “has skyscrapers surrounding it,” notes the designer. So, she selected a custom mural wallpaper depicting gentle waves crashing onto the shore, which helps “to visually bring the water back into focus,” she explains.
As far as new decorative details, the most spectacular addition could be the dining room’s light installation. Inspired by fashion designer Coco Chanel’s iconic pearl necklaces, the fixture’s string of globes drape across the ceiling. Installing the piece required great care, as David can attest. “Each part is fragile and very heavy,” he recalls. “We placed pillows underneath it. I had several people there, one holding each sphere.” The result justifies all their efforts, as the light became “this beautiful, sculptural piece of jewelry for the room,” notes Stout. “We love that it takes center stage, suspended in the air.”
Like an aerie perched high, the final design is a decisive testament that urban living need not be limited to sleek minimalism. Now the family enjoys being in the bustling heart of the city while still maintaining an intimate connection to the changing environment, watching the sun and ocean wax and wane. “It’s so peaceful all the way up there,” muses Stout. “I just imagine them as having so many wonderful spots to relax and take in the natural world.”