Seattle Homes+Lifestyles

Downtown Deco

Seattle Homes & Lifestyles

September, 2001

A penthouse pied-a-terra exudes streamlined sophistication

If it weren’t for the views of the Space Needle and Elliott Bay you might mistake Mark and Maggie-Hitch’s Belltown penthouse for an apartment in London, Paris or New York. Having raised two children in the suburbs, the Hitches were ready for something a bit more sophisticated. “It just seemed like this would be a chance to have our own place-our own little ‘adult’ house,” says Maggie. She envisioned a downtown pied-a-terre where she and Mark could retire after a night at the opera-or retire for good when Mark leaves his job as a software engineer. Unfortunately, soon after they signed the closing papers on the 1,740-square-foot shell, Mark was transferred-to Sweden. Their dream home would have to be completed long distance. Consulting via e-mail and occasional visits, the Hitches and their designers, Robert M. Ledingham and Garret Cord Werner of Ledingham Design Consultants, fleshed out the unit’s floor plan, finishes and furnishings, completing the project just in time for the owners return 14 months later.

Much of the inspiration for the design came from Maggie. A native of Los Angeles, she grew up surrounded by vestiges of old Hollywood, from its grand movie stars (Loretta Young was known around her house as “Aunt Loretta”) to its grand movie houses.” I’ve always loved art deco and that kind of look: streamlined and sophisticated, with built-ins and exotic woods,” she says. The art deco ambience is established in the entry, where a bronze node by Kevin Pettelle stands in front of a semicircular wall covered in scalloped maple paneling. A round, recessed ceiling sheathed in white gold leaf bathes the foyer in flaxen light.

An open floor plan wouldn’t have been conducive to the formality of art deco, but the Hitches still wanted an easy circulation flow. So Ledingham and Werner devised a circular floor plan punctuated by diffused-glass pocket doors, allowing the owners to close off rooms when they entertain without sacrificing light transmission. To add architectural interest to the space, the designers (working with contractors from Schultz Miller Inc.) squeezed utilities into narrow soffits, creating stair-stepped ceilings ringed by recessed lights. Walls of satiny bird’s-eye maple conceal a bounty of built-ins accessed through flush doors fitted with recessed marine hardware. Base-boards are defined by incised lines and doors extend all the way up to the ceiling, reducing visual clutter. The passageway to the den even conceals a pair of hinged doors that fold out from the walls, closing off the room when guests sleep over. My other home is much more cluttered and eclectic;’ admits Maggie. My vision of being in the city was just cleaner, with less fuss and fewer objects around, because that’s a little more soothing if you’re right in the heart of things” Although the interior is spare, it’s hardly simple. True to the art deco tradition, Ledingham and Werner employed a sumptuous array of materials and finishes. Creamy honed-marble floors dissolve into off-white walls. In the living room, art deco staples such as burl walnut, Macassar ebony and gleaming black lacquer adorn a custom buffet set against a backdrop of luminous silver leaf. Swoopy leather lounge chairs from William Switzer are outlined with traces of silver leaf, while ever-so-proper dining chairs from J. Robert Scott get flirty when treated with white-gold trim. Icy fronds of Murano glass spill from a chandelier hanging over the lemon-wood table. Since neither Mark nor Maggie likes to cook, the kitchen was treated like an extension of the other living spaces.

“We designed the kitchen to be really architectural, so when you’re in there you don’t necessarily feel like you’re in a kitchen’ says Werner. Flush, rift-cut oak cabinets and sleek granite counters form a sublimely unobtrusive background. Even the ubiquitous stainless-steel refrigerator is camouflaged within a field of matching stainless laminate. A banquette built into the neighboring window bay provides a perfect perch for savoring coffee and the paper-or watching the news on the swing-out LCD TV. The master bedroom is anchored by an imposing bed made from Macassar ebony (modeled after an art deco original). Werner covered the wall behind it with squares of French papyrus, providing an enigmatic foil to the bed’s bold lines. A flight of marble steps lead to a rooftop deck equipped with a wet bar and hot tub (the apartment’s only concession to suburban convention). From their aerie atop the 13th floor, the Hitches can survey traffic conditions on I-5 or watch the KOMO hell-copter as it takes to the sky “You always know there’s breaking news when the helicopter takes off,” muses Maggie.” Or else someone’s going to lunch”.
By Fred Albert  Photography by Nic Lehoux