Pacific Northwest | October 19, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 19, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
ON FITNESS
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY ROBIN FOGEL AVNI
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER

Big Enough
Going smaller leaves plenty of room for great things
 
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The grandchildren have plenty of lawn to play on while adults can watch from either the deck or inside the house. Windows all along the western wall also capture views of the bay and the mountains. The arbor-like feel of the deck is a nod to more traditional homes the Sundbergs have had in the past.
ONE OF THE MORE interesting transitions in the cycle of family life is when parents stop storing the basement-boxed memories of their grown children — the yearbooks, the journals, the prom dresses — and begin to make space for new memories with their grandchildren. When Joan and Steve Sundberg found their West Seattle property, Steve knew this was the place for creating those special times, and Joan figured they could get rid of a few boxes to boot.

"Our whole goal was to build a house that was smaller — to have a master suite on the main floor, and enough room to have our kids and grandchildren gather," says Steve. "I remember going to my grandmother's house, and there were always great things to do there. I wanted to have great things for our grandchildren to do at our house."
 
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Steve and Joan Sundberg enjoy a late-summer afternoon on the deck outside their living room. "It was a big change, but we love it," says Steve.
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"The kitchen was my important item," says Joan — the one place where neither she nor Steve wanted to compromise on space and amenities to handle frequent gatherings of family and friends. The space-saving flat-panel TV is one of many the Sundbergs have scattered throughout the house.
Once they'd found the property, buying it happened rather quickly, as the Sundbergs were headed out of town for a vacation. They made a deposit and signed papers so they wouldn't miss out on the rare opportunity to purchase an in-city lot with 80 feet of waterfront on Elliott Bay.

Back from vacation, they sold their 3,500-square-foot home on West Seattle's Beach Drive to help finance the two-year project. Through the construction, they lived in a small townhouse. The Beach Drive house had simply been too big for them, says Steve. "It was just the two of us living there, and we didn't have that much (overnight) company. And, I'd always had a desire since I was a kid to have waterfront property."

"Call it an obsession," adds Steve's brother, architect Rick Sundberg, principal at Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, whom they hired to design their new home. Yes, hired. Working with family is not an unusual concept for Steve and Joan, who run International Parking Management Inc., a family business that oversees the parking for Seahawks Stadium, Union Station and many other properties in the Seattle area.

So, the two brothers who had spent their childhood summers on the waters of Whidbey Island building "funky kid boats" set out to design a house that would gracefully embrace the comings and goings of family and friends on the beaches of West Seattle.
 
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When she gets the chance, Joan Sundberg likes to spend afternoons in the living room reading, looking at the view and listening to music piped throughout the house. The living room is part of the great room that also includes dining space and the kitchen.
"We actually had a pretty good time going back and forth," says Rick. And, he teases, as only a brother can, "I got irritated with him only once." Steve counters that this is probably one of the smallest homes his nationally known brother has ever designed.

The design and planning of their new place turned out to be a family gathering that included not only Steve, Joan and Rick but Rick's wife, Sharon. "We had breakfast every Sunday morning for four months. We fell right into the design. It was such a perfect site," says Rick.

There were many discussions about how to create the lifestyle they envisioned. "While other houses have specific rooms for every function, we really needed to condense it down. When you downsize, you have to think of your rooms as having a lot of different uses," notes Rick.
 
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The master bedroom captures the view of the shore but also affords prime viewing room for the large, flat-panel TV over the fireplace. Dividing the master suite from the living room, the TV wall also has storage for books, family photos and the like. The Sundbergs have planned that as they get older, they'll live entirely on the first floor.
"I wanted a feeling of largeness because I knew it wouldn't be a large space. I wanted lots of light, and I wanted to be able to see through the house," says Joan. "Rick started sketching, and it was what we wanted."

The original house design started at 3,000 square feet, but eventually was scaled back to 2,340. Studying the plans Rick had created, Joan and Steve sat down with a pair of scissors and began to literally cut out features in order to meet their budget. "We needed to diminish the size so we could do the nice finishes and the landscaping that we wanted," Steve says.

For Joan, the most important space to preserve was the kitchen/dining area because she wanted to be able to comfortably entertain their extended family and ever-increasing circle of friends. "The garage and the third bedroom were gone, and the entry became smaller," she says. "Then, Rick took the design back and finessed it."
 
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True to a small home's need for spaces that serve many functions, the upstairs loft area acts as library, TV room, home office and storage for Steve's toy collection.
"What they wanted to do made a huge amount of sense," says Rick. "But from an architectural point of view if was difficult to fit it all back together again," he adds with a smile.

Joan admits "we didn't understand all the nuances. It looked very simple to us."

During the design process, they began demolishing the existing building on the property. Once the knock-down was completed they began to build, contracting the project themselves. Architect John Mrozek, from Rick's firm, followed through with them while the project was being built. To help, they hired Marci Bryant, Bryant & Co., a freelance project manager.

"One of the commitments we made was we weren't going to screw up the design," Steve says. "And, it helped that Marci had a good relationship with Rick and his office."

It all worked out, he adds. "And when you see the angles and lines that Rick has designed, it's more than just a house. It's art. It's beauty. It's tranquil. It feels good, it feels comfortable."

The waterfront dock greets the many visitors who arrive for sunset viewing, and there's plenty of lawn for the children of their two grown children to romp. A camp-size fire pit sits on the shore, and the kitchen island is big enough to seat six and easily accommodate booster chairs.

It's just as Steve and Joan had hoped. "We have everything you can think of for children, plus the beach," Steve says.

"And, for the bigger kids, we have kayaks and boats!"

Robin Fogel Avni is a free-lance writer specializing in lifestyle issues and trends affected by technology. Her e-mail is robinavni@msn.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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