Pacific Northwest | November 9, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineNovember 9, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
ON FITNESS
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
SUNDAY PUNCH
LETTERS
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY ROBIN FOGEL AVNI
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER

Best-Laid Plans
From strict attention to detail, an easy-living home rises
 
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The 17-foot-high ceiling is made of clear fir treated with a light stain; the frames of the windows are also a clear fir painted black. In the evening the window frames disappear into the night and the ceiling appears to float above the living room. When the weather is a bit warmer, many of the windows open to the deck.
OVER THE YEARS, industrial designer Carl Ledbetter kept a detailed journal that captured his musings and ideas for the dream home he hoped to build someday. When he and his wife, Tiffany, were finally ready to turn years of notes into a blueprint for their future, they took off for Port Ludlow — flip charts, markers and all — to create a plan.

"We compared our old house to what we wanted in our new house," says Tiffany. "Carl brought in a big white board, a few bottles of wine — and there was a beautiful view of the water for inspiration." By the end of the day, they knew exactly what they were after on the vacant lot they owned along Mercer Island's east side.
 
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A peaceful spot for reflection is created as the backyard pond, lined by Carl Ledbetter's collection of bonsai trees, leads your gaze through the glass entry hall and out to the view of Lake Washington. On the left, separated from the main structure, is the Escape Room, a space that is intended to morph with the family's needs.
"With houses in particular, not only do you have to have a beautiful expression, but it has to be functional. It's the ultimate product because you live in it," explains Carl, an industrial design manager for the Windows Hardware Innovation team, and a designer of computer keyboards, mice and other hardware products for Microsoft.

"We did bubble diagramming to determine where and how we would spend our time," says Carl. The result was a list of thoughtful features that accounted for both the way they live now and the way they plan to live in the coming years.

What bubbled up was the need for the main floor — the hub of family activity — to be open, have an easy flow from outside to inside, and take the best advantage of Lake Washington views. The upstairs was for private space, the bedrooms. The master suite would go at the back of the house, rather than the front, to create more of a retreat. The rooms for their daughters — Tyler, 11, and Carly, 6 — would be identically sized and big enough so that, after they got married, they could return with their families for holiday visits.
 
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The two-story open stairwell begins at the garage level, leads to the main floor and finishes on the top floor with the bedroom suites. The artfully exposed concrete foundation is highlighted by in-floor light.
Then there was the Escape Room concept. Physically set apart as an "escape" from the main structure on the first floor, "the room is supposed to grow and morph with our family's needs," says Carl. Right now, it's used as a TV room, place for the kids to play, and guest suite. However, "when it gets to the point where we can't move up the stairs, it will become our master bedroom."

The first phase of their research completed, the Ledbetters were ready to assemble the team needed to execute their ideas. "A good product design involves understanding the user, knowing the mechanical restraints and then having a really good design," notes Carl. Architect Lane Williams was chosen to pull together the design.

"It's seems a risky design, but it's not," says Carl. "We were intimately involved and spent a lot of time positioning what we wanted the look to be."

"Carl and I have never been risk-takers, we're very conservative," adds Tiffany. "But we figured, let's just take the chance and we'll get it done."
 
Photo
Relaxing in the kitchen, Tiffany Ledbetter enjoys an after-school snack with daughters, Tyler and Carly. Always attentive to detail, the couple started having their girls play in Mercer Island soccer leagues a year and a half before they moved, enabling them to make friends in their new school before they started in the fall.
The entire 3,800-square-foot house was to be wired, including the garage and the storage rooms. But because of all the concrete in the structure, wireless capability would be limited. Instead, the couple went with CAT5 (network cables in the walls). All night lights and fans were placed on timers, and the lighting in the house was installed to adjust throughout the year to sunrises and sunsets. Other features include an extensive sound system, and in-floor heat from tubes of hot water.

Because they had spent the past 10 years remodeling their previous home in Lynnwood, Carl and Tiffany were eager for a few hands-on opportunities in building the new home. "If there's not a project, there's nothing to do," Carl explains.
 
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"You can't just take a design you like and stick it anywhere," says Carl, "because it's about the property." True to the point, during the design phase the house was moved to the back of the lot and angled to capture lake views. The bonsai-like tree in front was discovered more than a year ago at a garden center and put on reserve until it could be planted.
The couple had worked side-by-side with builder John Courter, of Courter Construction, at their first home, designing and building an expansive outdoor deck that was chosen to be featured in a home-design book. Courter won Carl's respect when evaluating the original design for the deck. "He said you can build it that way, but it will be really difficult and expensive," Carl recalls. He's taken Courter's advice on construction ever since.

They were concerned, though, that building a house together might ruin their long-time friendship. "We are way too picky," they confess. But in the end, Courter convinced them that only he knew the attention to detail the Ledbetters would need in order to successfully complete their new home.

So with Coulter at his side again, Carl laid the tile and concrete flooring, installed the bamboo steps and completed the detail and finish work he and Tiffany had agreed on. Tiffany, on leave from her job as a flight attendant with USAir, acted as logistics coordinator for the project and kept things on track throughout the year-and-a-half adventure.
 
Photo
The master suite is at the rear of the second floor. "Everyone thought we were crazy for putting the bedroom in the back of the house, away from the view," says Tiffany, "but we wanted it to be a retreat."
The day Courter loaded his tools and took off for the last time, "I had tears in my eyes," says Tiffany. "It was like our son leaving for college. From November of 2001 until April of 2003 we had talked a minimum of five times a day."

"It was all a big experiment," reflects Carl. "You do your best to put the pieces in place."

Obviously, all that planning paid off.

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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