Pacific Northwest | October 5, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 5, home
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Modern Convenience
In pop-ups, paths and plenty of shelves, room to move and space for art
Light from the new high windows brightens the master bedroom, highlighting the Japanese shoji screens trimmed in bamboo. The Schuylers hired a Japanese carpenter to transform the screens into sliding closet doors.
When Bill and Barbara Schuyler arrived in Seattle from Louisville, Ky., they hadn't yet seen the extensive remodel on the home they'd purchased long before. They'd worked long-distance with architect Robin Abrahams, faxing lists and plans back and forth, also coordinating with an interior designer and the contractor. When the young driver of the moving van walked into the new, light-filled entry he declared, "This place is awesome."

The Schuylers figured the long process must have been a success to make such an instant impression; they, too, were well satisfied with the results.
The Schuylers think of the front entry, with its new pop-up roof, books, art and generously sized doors, as an announcement of who lives in the house now. The glass door frames a view of a Japanese-style fountain and a pathway that leads to the back garden.
The low-slung rambler has been updated and made accessible with pop-up roof additions, new siding and a meandering aggregate path that leads to the new entry. Instead of a carport, the house offers new plantings and a more people-oriented face to the street.
Abrahams describes the long-distance decision-making "as taking a bit of faith on everyone's part." Her firm had never worked with a client in a remote location. And renovating the low-slung modernist house ended up being more involved than the Schuylers first envisioned. "Robin produced the drawings and we were seduced," is how Bill explains the three pop-ups to the roof, the reconfigured entrance, the newly enclosed garage with a studio space above, and the built-in shelving and display space in nearly every room.

The original, 50-year-old rambler had been remodeled several times, and the owners wanted to keep what was good about it while making the house accessible for Bill, who is in a wheelchair. The architect was also charged with finding room for the couple's many collections, and bringing light into the dark, wood-ceilinged rooms.

The Schuylers, who were retiring to Seattle to be near family, liked the leafy urban street but not the steps and carport out front. The new design puts the cars in a carport out back off the alley, and presents a far more gracious, people-oriented face to the street. Aggregate steps lead from the sidewalk to a courtyard and entry on the left; equally inviting is a paved path that meanders past Japanese maples, hellebores, daylilies and hydrangeas before looping around to the front door.

The home is now wheelchair accessible, with roomy hallways and doors 36 inches wide. There's also easy access in back, where the alley is roomy enough for a van to get in and drop people off. Wide doors at both sides of the pop-up entry make coming into the house from the back garden as pleasing as it is from the front. "There's no back-doorness about the house," explains Abrahams.
The sandstone fireplace wall shows off part of Barbara's Japanese doll collection, their colorful kimonos contrasting with the creamy tones of the stone and the dark wood of the tansu.
The horizontal lines of the old rambler are made more interesting and modern with the popped-up roof lines in the master bedroom, the entry and the studio. Inside, the pop-ups create three-dimensional spaces full of light. In the entryway, the pop-up allows space for tall bookshelves, art walls and a place to hang lights high enough up to wash the walls and ceilings with light. These little spots of light showcase the couple's art, and after dark create the effect of a brightly shining lantern.

The Schuylers are collectors, and the 2,300-square-foot house is filled with books, masks, Japanese dolls and paintings. Every inch of space is fitted out with shelving and cabinetry built of warm fir. Abrahams likens it to a boat in the intricate use of space; in the bedrooms bookshelves run right up to the doors, which, when open, fold back to cover the shelves as cabinet doors. Woven wool bags from Afghanistan, strung with shells, beads and fluffs of bright yarn, hang next to abstract expressionist oil paintings. The collections are eclectic and multicultural, no doubt influenced by Bill's years as a professor of philosophy and Eastern cultures. A lacquered chest in the entry, painted in a golden-hued Venetian scene, is what started it all. It belonged to Bill's grandmother in Grand Rapids, Mich., and he's loved it since he was 4 years old. Now the glimmering little chest holds pride of place atop an ornate stand.

"I think we've conquered our tendencies toward minimalism," says Bill dryly. Figuring where and how to hang pictures and group collections has been an on ongoing challenge, despite the skillful use of space. The couple is working with Randy Thomas from Blakely Home Store to figure out how best to display their art.

The house has been a collaboration of talents, between owners and professionals, and even between architect and interior designer. Abrahams worked with Laurie Taylor of Ivy Hill Interiors to choose the color palette, which ranges from smoky blues to deep bordeaux. Long-distance design was a special challenge when it came to picking colors, because although the Schuylers couldn't quite imagine the light here in the Northwest, they knew it would be quite different than what they were used to in Louisville. "In that harsher, brighter light it was the yellows that were beautiful," says Barbara. "Here it's the blues that are so rich."

The couple sent photos of Northwest Native American masks to their designers, thinking that the blues, greens and terra-cotta colors used must be perfect for the light way out here in this corner of the country. The combination of Northwest mask-inspired colors, fir floors and trim, and the light flooding in the high windows, creates the feeling that Barbara sought when she first thought of moving to Seattle. "We wanted a unique house for here," she explains. "I wanted to know I was in a new city."

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is Steve Ringman is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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