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Pacific Northwest | May 9, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineMay 9, home
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The kids are gone, and we're making room for ourselves
A private deck off the master bedroom puts Katy and Don Peek close to the water and by themselves, even with a full house.
KATY AND DON Peek knew exactly what they wanted in their grown-up house. A place for themselves and a place for both of their daughters' families. A place to be alone, and a place to gather together. A place to have fun, lots of fun.

"That's what we call the 'mud-and-martini room,' " says Katy, talking about the utility hall behind the kitchen of their San Juan Island waterfront lodge. "They kept calling it the mud room when they were building it, but I said that's where we'll make the martinis." It has a hopscotch court cut into the heated concrete floor. "That's the DUI test before anybody drives home," she says, laughing about the spot more likely to be enjoyed by her four little granddaughters.
Welcome to Someday. As in "Someday when the kids are gone . . ." or "Someday when we retire . . ." the conversation that often trails off with a wistful glance around a house jammed with life's clutter.

But young families grow up. The kids move out. Retirement nears. Suddenly, it's just the two of you, and it's time to switch gears for the ever-evolving adventure. We may be talking about retirement, but not a retiring life. It's all about comfort, happiness and lives full of zeal.

Better take a vitamin. This is no downshift.
Pocket doors allow the Peeks to close off the great room and master-bedroom suite from the entry hall and guest wing.
"Families filled the garage with scooters and Big Wheels, and now that's all gone," says Seattle architect Todd Lawson, who for three years traveled the country poking into homes for "The House to Ourselves: Reinventing Home Once the Kids are Grown" (The Taunton Press, $35), a book he co-wrote with Tom Connor that looks at just what grown-ups want now from their house — and what they're doing to get it.

"It used to be that one size fits all. Now there's all these choices," Lawson says. "I saw a house designed for one woman's weaving."

About 70 million of us have hit the half-century mark, according to the book. And this burgeoning bunch of mature adults wants a home tailored to the new freedom of choice.
A 25-foot-long skylight brightens the great room, an otherwise shaded place. Alcoves and openings into nearby spaces integrate the great room. On the left is a small game room, and through the doorway at the end of the living room is the office, which leads to the Peeks' bedroom wing.
Unlike many of our parents, we see our future as a continuation of adventure and learning, according to the book. Post children and careers, mature couples traditionally moved into smaller quarters. Or they stayed in the family home making only minor adjustments — spare bedrooms tweaked into offices and sewing rooms. Or they flocked to Arizona and Florida.

But we are such a bunch of rebels. We want more. We're venturing into both urban and rural parts of the country. Some of us move to a favorite vacation spot, while others want to remain near children and friends. We're wired wherever we are. These houses for two may actually be bigger than the ones we raised the kids in. Whether new or remodeled, these homes need to accommodate "passions, hobbies and even new careers well into the 60s, 70s and beyond."
The Peeks' home office has a wraparound desk and built-in shelving. It is paneled in Western red cedar and offers Don the water view he loves.
Forget about school districts, work commutes and curb appeal. Never mind practical, economical and functional. It all comes down to these big questions: "Where will we live, and what will our home look like now that we finally have the house to ourselves?"

It's all about fantasy and flight of the imagination. Bring on the gourmet kitchens, wine cellars, media rooms, game rooms, hobby rooms, libraries, greenhouses — and the heated hopscotch courts. Quality counts.

"It's breaking it down and figuring out what they really want. The job of an architect is really psychoanalyst," says Geoff Prentiss of Prentiss Architects in Seattle, who got inside the heads of the Peeks to find out what was in their hearts.
The warm, open kitchen is made more inviting by its location. It opens up to the utility hallway off the entry, the great room and the guest wing for easy access.
"They want to be sure the family can come home again. But it's more about themselves, that's the difference."

He says couples really want that all-encompassing great-room space connecting living room, dining room and kitchen. It's the most requested room, according to "The House to Ourselves." Next comes the hobby room. And an office. Overall, make it comfortable. "They're not too much about making an impression when people arrive," he says. "It's about people being there."

The Peeks got all of that in their 4,100-square-foot mixed-breed that is part Craftsman, part Adirondack camp lodge. The rooms are arranged in clusters around a central living room and kitchen. When it's just the two of them, the Peeks close the door to the guest wing and the ribbed-glass pocket doors at the bottom of the entry-hall stairs. What's left is a cozy one-bedroom suite that is about half the size of the whole house.
The big house that holds smaller gathering places throughout includes an outdoor sitting area around the porch fireplace. It's easy to get to this space from the kitchen or the great room.
That gives them a house that sleeps two or 10. A house that also includes an outdoor fireplace, sound-proof library looking into the forest, and multi-strand cable for communications and high-speed Internet access.

"I am not an ocean person," Katy says. "I don't like the pounding surf or the salt air. Don, of course, is the opposite. This place is a great compromise. It had the woods for me and the water for Don."

As the Peeks approach their 40th wedding anniversary in June, it is a compromise that fulfills them both.

Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine.

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