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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest

Northwest Living Rebecca Teagarden

Nautical And Nice

Suggestive of a ship at sea, this polished house is nonetheless well-grounded

THE FIRST GLANCE inside the front door of Barbara and Peter Bradfield's tucked-away Magnolia home tells you everything is going to be shipshape.

Aye, aye. It most certainly is. The Bradfields are ocean-going types. Peter spent his career as a merchant seaman and then as a stevedore. They raised their three daughters on the water just off the Brown's Point lighthouse in Tacoma. The sea still calls to them often aboard their 60-foot wooden boat Capella.

But this is where the bad sailing puns must stop. The Bradfield home is no cliché. There is no life ring with S.S. Anything written on it here, no ship's wheel leaned against a wall. This is a house so subtly designed with ship and sea in mind that a new architectural term is called for: nautical contemporary.

"Colin wanted to lay this out as a landship," Barbara says of their architect, Colin Brandt of the Brandt Design Group. "His idea was to walk in the door and be on the gangway. The living room is the mother ship."

By that she means just two steps inside the front door stands a bridge between entryway and living space with floor-to-ceiling glass to the southwest, facing water, and to the northeast, facing forested hillside. "So you feel like you're hovering," Brandt says. The exterior paint, Benjamin Moore's sky-and-sea blue-gray "Kitty Hawk," also carries through to the interior, blurring the line between in and out.

After buying the lot in 2003 the Bradfields were looking around for an architect. But how to find the right one?

"We were leaving on our boat for Alaska, trying to figure out what to do, and I bumped into Colin on the street," Peter says.

A quiet place for active people

Barbara and Peter Bradfield are energetic retirees. For them, getting their perfect home involved "looking for something that was tranquil and quiet," Peter Bradfield says. "And we were fortunate to find that on a dead-end street.

"Our requirement was to have our view back. We got the Sound back (they had a home near Brown's Point for many years) and the marine activity and the tides. We've got this beautiful exposed sandbar out here that goes out about half a mile.

"I suppose an ideal retirement home is one story, but we figure this will keep us young by hiking up and down the stairs. We get plenty of exercise that way."

"I think you were actually looking over the fence" at the home of Brandt's client across the street, Brandt says. "He said he'd call. I thought, yeah, OK."

But Peter did. And then Brandt put the couple to work — homework.

"We had to write Colin essays on our life and why we wanted to do this," Barbara says. Brandt also had them cut pictures from magazines and instructed them to read "A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander, the bible of why we build what we build.

Then the architect got to work melding the Bradfields' dreams and desires into two bedrooms, a music room, full bath, ¾ bath and two powder rooms. Construction by Scott Engler and Heartwood Builders began in December 2004. The couple moved in the following November.

What they've got is one house of two minds: sea and forest. Brandt designed a home that is their link, a convergence zone of water and wood. And the energy is good and strong, yet peaceful.

The whole house looks across deep blue Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. Looks become gazes become trance-inducing stares.

The couple says they're retired. Oh yeah? Barbara helps her daughter, Anne, with her Seattle floral-design business. Peter built exterior steps out back of their new home and plans to put in the front flagstone pavilion. Barbara plays the piano, and not too long ago took up the violin. She is also doing battle with every tendril of ivy on their property, replanting with natives. Oh, and they painted the interior of the entire 2,800-square-foot home themselves.

"Two reasons," says Peter. "One: It was a lot of money to paint the house. Two: It gave us a reason to be here for the detail work and the final construction. We thought, well hell, we've painted houses before. We could do that and be here for a reason besides just being the snoopy owners."

There is, by the way, one sea-going relic subtly worked into the home: the elegant mahogany and black-metal railing with the gold-leafed rosettes near the entry is from the old S.S. Catala marooned off Ocean Shores. The Bradfields bought it at auction some 30 years ago.

Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest staff photographer.