Friday, May 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Warm Modern: Urban direct meets Northwest groove, up and down

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When you can't go sideways, go up. That was part of the solution for Dave and Heidi Boone, remodeling a 1939 house snuggled onto Queen Anne Hill. With the potential for grand views and lots of design/construction savvy — he's an upper-end residential contractor who once considered being an architect — this project had a lot going for it.

But the best component was the smooth collaboration between the clients and the architect, Jim Graham. Playing off each other's strengths, this trio, all in their mid-30s, blended a modern sensibility with a classic-Northwest-style approach. They so update the staples of the latter — Asian influence, big windows, lots of wood — that it helps write a new chapter in the venerable tradition.

Dave and Heidi bought the house about seven years ago and did a modest remodel, but they always knew they wanted to do more. Building houses for creative architecture firms had exposed Dave to lots of design ideas. When the time came to remodel, he had a mental list ready. He liked Japanese architecture and loft spaces. He admired craftsmanship and modern structures. Heidi, a real-estate attorney, liked volumes, views and a sense of order.

In Graham, they chose an architect who was also a family friend. Graham and Dave had worked together on several projects when Graham was with the firm then known as Olson Sundberg. They were confident in one another's work, which allowed the collaborative process to be smooth and productive.

The showpiece of the home is the "pavilion," an airy main living room inspired by Japanese-vernacular designs. It borrows a bit from the barn and a bit from the teahouse. The ceiling is made of layered wood and hovers 19 feet overhead with a level of detail that is transporting. Supporting the ceiling and roof are columns made of industrial steel. They rise from the floor like saplings, welded at the top with round crosspieces. This graceful box of metal, technically a moment frame, gives the home strength and rigidity. "We wanted to display the construction process and see how the house is held together," explains Dave.

One key role for the architect was as editor, assuring that such design decisions were integrated into the overall conception.

In organizing the house, the architect also created a sense of vertical procession, as befits a house on a hillside. The subdued main entry is through the lower level — the "grotto," with dark concrete floors and a fireplace. An interior stairwell leads up to the pavilion, full of light and a big view.

The master bedroom and bath are in the rear upper level, the "loft," in a series of small, interwoven spaces that include a sitting room and the narrow master shower.

Atop the house is a roof deck providing a panorama from Elliott Bay to the Cascade Mountains. The Space Needle looks like a swizzle stick, the city their cocktail.

Overall, though, restraint was a motif. There is no trophy kitchen or marbled bathroom (the master-bathroom sink is a stainless-steel trough). Materials and fixtures are straightforward.

The remodel, confined to a modest lot, gained size by going both up and down. They added an upper level in the back, bringing the total square footage to about 3,600. They also excavated in the lower level, achieving greater headroom and allowing space for large new footings. Though a remodel in name and footprint, the house was rebuilt from top to bottom.

Because of the creative talents and collaborative intent, certain designs were worked out on the site, in the tradition of the Arts & Crafts movement. Graham, the architect, left challenges for the three of them to solve together and especially pushed Dave to "do his own thing." Dave designed the shed roof leading to the pavilion deck, as well as such features as the entry door and the bookshelves. In these cases, Graham acted again as editor. "It was his house," Graham says. "I didn't want to steal that excitement."

To achieve the remodel, Dave put his contracting business on hold for seven months, and worked with two assistants and subs. He and his wife moved in with her parents while he put in 14- to 16-hour days. That was staggering, he explains, but he didn't want to regret a single construction detail. Costs were about $650,000, close to $145 a square foot, but this does not include Dave's labor as general contractor or finish carpenter.

Personalized practical vignettes show up here and there. For example, at the back entry, the one Dave and Heidi use all the time, is a station they designed and Dave built out of metal. There's a place for keys, newspapers, briefcases, shoes and light controls. They call it the hub. "Without fail, every visitor loves the hub," says Heidi. "It's so functional."

This house finds pleasure in industrial materials and structure, and design itself. It thinks of modern as warm and pleasurable, not cold and stripped down. Yes, there is Douglas-fir wood and an Asian feel, but it's offset with industrial materials and an urban directness, wrestled down to a fine residential scale. Through such strategies, a next generation of architects and clients is investing the Northwest style with new vigor.

David Berger is a Seattle-area writer and artist. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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