Beautiful Homes

In A New Light

Beautiful Homes

Winter, 2004

Tonal contrasts in wood, steel and glass make this Washington haven a warm fit for its wooded setting and family’s lifestyle.

Interior designer Garret Cord Werner brought punches of color into the living room via artwork but let most of the space’s definition come from the light and dark tones of the wood- and- steel structure.

The dining room is a simple space with wood floors stained ebony and glass doors that fold and slide open.

For 30 years, a Colonial-style home stood on a lush lot near Seattle’s Lake Washington, but it was a functional misfit that took little advantage of the light, the land, and the view. When faced with the realities of remodeling to take advantage of the incredible site, the owners opted instead to build something new. They asked architect Rex Hohlbein to plan another traditional home because they liked the coziness of their Colonial. Hohlbein did as they asked, but also presented the couple with a contemporary plan. They Colonial lost. “The contemporary adapted itself to the site better,” Hohlbein says. To harness natural light and integrate interior and exterior spaces, he created a long, thin building with all rooms opening to the outside. Front and back courtyards define the home’s main entryways and blur the lines between indoors and out; the one facing the front greets visitors and creates an open-air entertainment area complete with a two- story concrete fireplace. Hohlbein then devised a plan with three free-flowing zones: an open living/ dining/kitchen area, a bedroom wing for the teens, and an upstairs master suite and study. The owners didn’t want to sacrifice coziness for the contemporary plan, however, so Hohlbein balanced the openness with little nooks. Anterooms and varied ceiling heights create warm and inviting spots, such as a reading corner in the living room and a work niche in the kitchen. A balance also exists between industrial- style and natural building materials. “We introduce very strong materials, like concrete and steel, to the building environment to create almost a primal shelter, strong and protected,” Hohlbein says. Expanding on that sense of comfort are natural materials, such as Douglas-fir, oak, and concrete floors; countertops of soapstone in the kitchen and granite in the master bath; and vertical cedar siding on the exterior. Besides adding warmth, such elements further the Pacific Northwest vernacular. The soapstone will take on a beautiful patina with time and use, whereas the concrete colors that run through much of the home’s main level are waxed and sealed, and fitted with in-floor heating/ the wood unifies the home with the lot, which has a stand of fir and cedar trees on the northern boundary.

Open shelving replaces the standard upper cabinets in the kitchen. The low ceiling above the work area creates coziness. Steel beams and fir joists define the kitchen and family room as separate spaces. The overall look is serene because warm fabrics, woodwork, and art pieces mute the hard edges.


Perhaps the most warmth comes from a generous window arrangement that floods every room with natural light. In the dining room, a bank of glass crates a virtually seamless connection to nature: the accordion-style doors fold and slide back, completely opening to the outside. The home’s loftiest and most lived-in space is the kitchen, which sits the center of the main floor and opens to the living room, family room, and courtyards. Hohlbein refrained from using upper cabinets, opting to leave room for shelves and windows. To provide adequate storage space, he designed a pantry alleyway between the kitchen and family room, with a built-in hutch on one side and floor-to-ceiling storage on the other. Interior designer Garret Cord Werner saw his job as adding yet another layer of softness to the contemporary design, so he worked closely with Hohlbien from the project’s inception to select materials and colors. “We built a juxtaposition of light and dark, which gives the home a sense of ease and calm,” Werner says. He used linens, wools, and cottons as upholstery and window coverings to balance the hard architectural materials. As with the public spaces, the home’s bedrooms are thoughtfully designed. When the owner’s children go to college, for instance, their bedroom wing can be shut down- or reworked to serve as office and guest spaces. And the master suite, which sits on the upper level along with a study, a window- wrapped tub, and a private deck, provides the ultimate escape. They’re further examples of the practicality, ease, and understated sophistication that permeate the home’s design. “Buildings should be quiet, not stand- up and showy,” Hohlbein sys. “A house should be a backdrop to your life. You, your art, your family, your life , should be the focus.” The master bath uses traditional elements, such as working radiators, a freestanding tub, and sheer wool draperies.