Pacific Northwest | December 7, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineDecember 7, home
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Winter Home Design 2003

Chic Snug: Packed in Pioneer Square, a condo works and plays
Taking up the living room's entire west wall, the slate-rimmed fireplace looks like it sits in the center of a big flat black rock. But it's actually surrounded by cabinets disguised as slate via faux painting by Rhonda Canales of Design Illusions Inc. in Puyallup. She troweled on plaster with a rich reptilian finish color called charred blue. Silver and black undertones come from a graphite color applied over it.
Steve and Nancy Ross were the classic busy couple, living in a 3,400-square-foot house on Mercer Island and wishing they had a place in the city — a home/office away from home to ease the stress and strain of the workday commute.

Steve designs Web pages and Nancy is a free-lance photographer. They already worked well together, so well that their neighbors had taken to calling the Rosses the "The Ross," singular.

Their challenge was to find something that combined homey comfort and high-tech efficiency — an easy fit for friends and clients, kitchen utensils and photography gear.
A built-in Miele espresso maker (back right) grinds coffee, dispenses hot water and warms the cup. Below the counter sits a small Sub-Zero refrigerator and dual dishwasher with drawers that swap — one for the dirty dishes, another for the clean. Brushed stainless appliances give a matte look. The seating counter is glass.
What they found was an 800-square-foot "vanilla" condo frosted in drywall and carpeting in a Gold Rush-era building in Pioneer Square. Beneath the drywall lurked beautiful Douglas fir ceiling beams, including the granddaddy of them all, a 2-foot-by-1 1/2-foot beauty over the kitchen/dining area. They were covered with "a hideous orange stain," but it was nothing that a little heavy-duty sandblasting couldn't resolve.

The Rosses interviewed an architect who spent more time talking about what you couldn't do than what you could, Nancy says. So they decided to work directly with contractor Don Wilde of Waters & Wood in Auburn.

"Don is so creative. He doesn't say, 'What do you want to do?' He says, "What do you want to solve?' " Steve says.

And, after the Rosses bought the loft in 2001 for $250,000, they were delighted to see the remodel completed on time and on budget, at about $90,000, six months later. In June 2002, they moved in.
"We couldn't do a lot of overpowering overstuffed furniture" in the living room, Nancy says. They went with a simple Ultrasuede fold-out couch of slate blue, which doubles as the bed. The rug — in a red, olive, gold and deep-navy pattern of leaves and plants — is the condo's magic carpet, just right for softening the room's angular lines and brick walls.
Wilde's challenge was dealing with new surfaces that "we kind of just dreamed up." Take the perforated metal ceiling, for example. "There was tons of plumbing and wiring that we couldn't deal with because it affects other units. So we gave them lighting with the holes we punched in the metal, all hiding the wires."

Also, Nancy loves matte finishes. She wanted it on everything, and just about got it. Matte is found from the bathroom shelving and toilet to the 4-inch baseboards, which are covered with metal and brushed. Says Nancy, "Our contractor calls me 'Matte Nancy.' "

Laminate is not a dirty word to the Rosses. It is used just about everywhere. The cabinets are laminate with solid woods inside. Even the overhanging range fan is laminated.
Nancy wanted a light table and work area tailored for a left-handed person of her height. The Rosses cut butcher-paper outlines to check the fit before work began. The drawers are specifically divided for paper sizes and photo sleeves. The counter is just wide enough to hold open photo-sleeve books next to the light table. And those books sit on shelves made just for them.
The location puts the Rosses near Safeco Field, the art walk and Elliott Bay Book Co., each of which they love.

"This is the happiest I've ever been in a work space," Nancy says. "We get a lot of our inspiration at night (thus the sofa bed in the living room). And we're more productive and creative here. When we come back from a two-week trip we've got 120 rolls of film to edit. It normally would take me a week to go through them, but I can edit them in a weekend here."

Creative storage solutions were key to making the space so versatile. You would swear that the wall surrounding the fireplace, floor to ceiling, is faced with large black-slate rectangles. You would be wrong. They are actually cabinets (for storing the television, bedding for the fold-out sofa and such) disguised with a faux finish.
The door doesn't open. It slides (to save space) on real barn-door fixtures. The shower door features a branch-like pattern in brushed stainless over clear ridged glass. The sink, sunken into a limestone counter, is pewter.
An insulated steel column between the kitchen and dining-room table hides pipes and cables. "We have precious little place to hide things. But I'd say we freed up a good 50 or 60 feet of space in the remodel," Steve says. The floors throughout are bamboo. And the finished product is flexible: The table was chosen, for example, for meeting and eating.

Wendy Colgan of Wendy Colgan Design added her expertise with color and texture, making a small space grand. "It needed sometimes to be a gallery, sometimes a bedroom and sometimes an entertainment kind of a place and sometimes a place of business," she says. The furniture is from Schoenfeld Interiors.

There's a downside to the small condo with the big finish: "When people come over they just start touching surfaces or looking at things, because it's so hypnotic," Nancy says. "When we have clients in, they know they're on the clock to talk about Web design, but we tell them it's OK to look around first. It's so peaceful and serene."

Rebecca Teagarden is a Seattle Times staff copy editor. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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