Pacific Northwest Magazine / On Fitness
Fresh Angles: The beauty is in the geometric interplay of design and function
Charles Simonyi, a driving force behind the development of some of Microsoft's most successful software, lives in a sprawling Medina home built over the years in sections as he acquired property from neighbors on both sides.
He worked closely with longtime Seattle architect Wendell Lovett to fit idiosyncratic parts into a whole. It is inspired, in part, by one of Simonyi's favorite artists — fellow Hungarian Victor Vasarely, whose optical images have influenced both computer science and architecture.
Inside a glass shell on one edge of the house, a 60-foot-long lap pool is eye-catching for how simple, clean and pristine it is.
The pool is narrow, but unlike the lake that parallels it outside the western wall of windows, it does not have a bank. In fact, the edges of this pool are even with the floor, so rather than stepping down, you walk directly into it. It all works because of a subtle, stainless-steel grate surrounding the edges, catching spillover and circulating it back into the pool.
Lovett said he had never run across a pool like that before, but Simonyi (pronounced si-MON-ee) got the idea from various places, including European spas and hotels. The pool puts the swimmer as high in the water as possible and gives Simonyi a wide-open look at Lake Washington as he floats. Teak steps lead from the pool to a sauna.
A workout room takes up much of a mezzanine that overlooks the pool. Weight-lifting and aerobic machines rest in a row above the pool and face the lake beyond. The area has evolved to meet the way Simonyi, 54, typically works out.
Simonyi, who left Microsoft to cofound his own business called Intentional Software Corp., works out with the help of personal trainer Victoria Scott, who owns and operates Body Electric Fitness. Variation is the key in his program, which includes outdoor sports and computers.
"Using virtual-reality trainers is one of my favorites," he says. "Computer games that run on exercise machines — for example, you are a human-powered aircraft fighting fires . . . getting points in the process — are much more interesting and motivating than just watching calories counting slowly."
Simonyi had more than function in mind, though; he was integrally involved as Lovett designed the home.
"The details connect the space with the rest of the house — they suggest continuity," Simonyi says. "The only material unique to the exercise room is the special floor tiling."
But even that follows the geometric patterns of the house, which has various leaning walls, angled rooms and interplaying passageways and staircases. Even the pool is set off at an angle, matching the contours of the property.
Simonyi selected Lovett, who has designed homes in Seattle since 1948, after asking several architects to submit designs. It didn't hurt Lovett's chances that he, too, is a big Vasarely fan. The home is informally known as Villa Simonyi, a name Lovett gave it as the home was taking shape.
"I guess he kind of liked it," Lovett says, "because it seemed to stick."
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff reporter.