Pacific Northwest | October 12, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 12, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
Hood Canal
West Seattle
Lopez Island
Central Seattle
Vashon Island
TASTE
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER
Fall Home Design

Harmonious  contradictions: Distinction in a mix of materials and styles
 
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The tall, narrow Miller-Hull-designed house was inspired by fire lookouts, and arranged around a strong central axis of arbors that extend into the garden. The little wire-haired fox terrier Stella stands guard in the meadow.

 
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The little house reads large because of its outdoor living spaces, including this sheltered terrace with comfy chairs and outdoor fireplace, built back-to-back with the living-room fireplace and constructed of the same gray cement block.
DRESSED IN BLACK and metal, the structure looks as if it could lift off and hover above the earth. Yet David Pfeiffer and his partner's new house on Vashon Island is firmly rooted in the garden and meadows around it. The inspiration came from early designs of the Miller-Hull Partnership, which were reminiscent of old fire lookouts. But as they went along, "it became more of an industrial farmhouse," says architect Bob Hull, noting both the farmhouse kitchen so central to the design and the house's close relationship to its sloping five-acre site.

The kitchen, though, isn't merely farmhouse. Like the rest of the house, it is a mix of materials and styles, and these harmonious contradictions give the home its distinctive character. Copper-colored fir floors, hand-blown-glass hanging lamps and oversized windows and a glass door leading out to the herb garden give the kitchen its farmhouse feel. But the counters are ebony soapstone, the appliances stainless steel, and the lights over the sink are galvanized metal. This interplay of sleekly sophisticated industrial and warm romanticism is repeated throughout the house in the contrast of buttery-yellow beadboard and cement-block fireplace, the sparsity of the home's design and its setting in a voluptuous garden, the interplay of minimalism and comfort.
 
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The main entry to the house is off the courtyard through a concrete-paved mud room with oversize sliding barn doors. At the far side of the dining room are triple folding-glass doors, by Quantum, leading out to the dining arbor and the garden.
Hull describes the exterior of the house as "kind of somber" with its metal base and large, protective overhangs. "These guys put their souls into the interior," he says. Pfeiffer explains the warm, relaxed interiors by saying, "We asked them to design us a year-round beach house, like a vacation home we decided to live in."

While many Miller-Hull-designed houses are built on naturalistic sites like woodlands or steep slopes, the challenge here was to "pull the garden right into the house," says Hull. He explains that Pfeiffer, a landscape architect, "created the site; it wasn't there to begin with."

Because the home's volume is vertical, it is mostly just one room deep, which allows views and ventilation on all sides. The house opens out to patios, terraces and courtyard on all sides. Three paneled-glass doors swing open to let in the sunshine as well as two dogs and a cat. On the opposite side of the house, in lieu of a formal entry, barn doors slide open to the concrete-paved mud room. "This is a country house," says Pfeiffer of the wood-sided mud room with coat hooks and wooden benches. "Vashon is all about mud."
 
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All the floors and ceilings in the house are made of richly colored fir called "Buckskin," which is a harder wood that has been exposed to the elements. The living room has five generous armchairs instead of a couch, plenty of books, tables and lamps, and views out to the garden on three sides. "There aren't many art walls in the house," says Pfeiffer. "We chose the view."
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The kitchen ran the program because the couple knew they wanted a central island and room enough for them both to cook at the same time, which is how they determined the overall width of the one-room-deep house.
Glass doors line the walls of the living and dining rooms. Upstairs, the bedroom and study have generous windows that open out to the view of the water in the distance and the garden below. How is such verticality achieved, so that an upper-floor bedroom can have casement windows on three sides, and the living room feel a part of the garden? "You have to control the square footage," explains Hull. "If you have sprawl you can't get the verticality."

The main house is 2,100 square feet, but the guest-room popout with its own tent-like roof, along with the separate carport and studio across the gravel courtyard, create the feel of a compound. The narrowness of the spaces lends a sense of intimacy, while the 11-foot-high beamed ceilings and openness to the outdoors make it seem, as Pfeiffer describes, "a big little house." One reason the pair chose Miller-Hull was because it was the only architecture firm they interviewed that showed them small houses.

All is arranged around the strong axis of an arbor that extends out on one side of the house into the garden and on the other side defines a courtyard and leads to the barn-like carport topped with Pfieffer's studio. The house faces southwest to capture as much sunshine as possible. It overlooks a series of landscapes that flow from highly cultivated to wild. Terraces are right outside the doors, then the garden rich in perennials, fruit, vegetables and herbs. Beyond is an expanse of mown lawn, leading to a rough, highly textural meadow, then to a view of sparkling salt water. An outdoor fireplace, chaises, tables and chairs, and a bubbling pond draw you out into the garden, and the hammock strung between two trees in the meadow coaxes you to venture beyond the terraces.
 
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The couple collects green and aqua pottery and also antique dog doorstops, displayed on beadboard-backed shelves just inside the entryway.
The interiors flow visually from one room to the next because materials and colors are repeated throughout the house. Countertops in bathrooms and the kitchen are dark-gray soapstone; white subway tile is in each bathroom; beadboard painted glossy white or soft yellow evokes the built-in cabinetry of the couple's previous home in Mount Baker.

The pale-blue master bedroom evokes the sleeping porch we all imagine from childhood, with French casement windows on three sides opening wide to the view and the treetops. Also upstairs is a study with built-in bookshelves and bed with a ship-like feel, master bath, generous closet and a little deck opening off both study and bedroom, completing the circular floor plan.

The home is already taking on a patina of age and comfort. This, too, was carefully planned; the couple wanted the home's materials to age gracefully. The warm fir floors show scratches from the dogs' nails, and knife marks mar the kitchen island's wooden top. Grape vines are growing up to cover the fat, concrete pillars that form the long dining arbor. Soon guests will be able to reach out and pick grapes as they dine in the leafy green shade. The five armchairs in the living room are snugly slipcovered, and tables hold an overflow of books and magazines. "We chose comfort over aesthetics every time — we want people to put their feet up," says Pfeiffer.
 
 Photo The master bedroom feels like an old-fashioned screened porch. With no central dividing pieces in the French casement windows that line three walls of the room, all is open to the view and the breezes off the water.
"This is our transition house," he adds. "Bob (Hull) really made us appreciate modern." Pfeiffer and his partner are already indulging in fantasies about the next house, which they plan as yet another step removed from the classicism of their old home in the city.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is vjeaston@aol.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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