Greener Grass

By Amara Holstein / Published by Dwell
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Craving the conveniences of city life, a couple sidle over to Seattle from the countryside without compromising their love of the outdoors.

As the setting sun shines on the Cascade mountains in the near distance, Debra Peat and Ian Jones’s Seattle home catches the last rays of light. A soft hum of voices filters through the central courtyard and open living spaces. Ian grills a fillet of salmon, adding sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden, and dinner guests mingle under generous overhangs and covered breezeways. "The home is really exciting, because you don’t usually see this kind of outdoor space in an urban setting," says designer Eric Walter of local firm mw|works. "And certainly not in the Pacific Northwest." 

Ian Jones and Debra Peat enjoy fresh fruit grown in the backyard of their Seattle, Washington, home. Relocating from a rural community, the couple brought their passion for gardening to their new urban setting. Sliding doors from Quantum wrap around the kitchen and open to an expansive courtyard and deck, which is furnished with armchairs from Crate and Barrel. Smith pendants from Resolute hang above the PentalQuartz and marble island; the oven and dishwasher are from Miele.

Ian Jones and Debra Peat enjoy fresh fruit grown in the backyard of their Seattle, Washington, home. Relocating from a rural community, the couple brought their passion for gardening to their new urban setting. Sliding doors from Quantum wrap around the kitchen and open to an expansive courtyard and deck, which is furnished with armchairs from Crate and Barrel. Smith pendants from Resolute hang above the PentalQuartz and marble island; the oven and dishwasher are from Miele.

Photo: Christopher Testani

Before beginning construction on the house in 2012, Debra and Ian had spent the previous seven years living on three-quarters of an acre in the countryside in Fall City, a small community about 26 miles east of Seattle. Ian, a contractor, had built a capacious contemporary home there, with four bedrooms and 23-foot-high ceilings, surrounded by fruit trees and hemlock hedges. But all that greenery required tremendous upkeep, and the couple didn’t use much of the square footage. They also found that they missed the amenities of city life.  

A builder by trade, Ian <br>served as general contractor, working with designer Eric Walter of mw|works. Three box volumes, conceived as "spaces within spaces," are configured around the open courtyard; local firm Wittman-Estes designed the hardscapes.

A builder by trade, Ian
served as general contractor, working with designer Eric Walter of mw|works. Three box volumes, conceived as "spaces within spaces," are configured around the open courtyard; local firm Wittman-Estes designed the hardscapes.

Photo: Christopher Testani


So they decided to move back to Seattle for a more urban lifestyle and planned to downsize to a condo, but when they happened upon a for sale sign on a corner lot, they quickly called the realtor. 

In the kitchen, an elongated window breaks the custom walnut cabinetry by Contour Woodworks.&nbsp;

In the kitchen, an elongated window breaks the custom walnut cabinetry by Contour Woodworks. 

Photo: Christopher Testani

The site had easy access to downtown, yet it was bordered on two sides by sprawling private gardens and was just one block away from Washington Park Arboretum, a 230-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. "The location was central to everything," says Deb, a technical program manager, though a run-down 110-year-old house sat on the lot. With a poor foundation and crumbling structure, "it needed to go," she says.

The metal backsplash and drawer pulls were fabricated by 12th Avenue Iron; the cooktop is by Miele.&nbsp;

The metal backsplash and drawer pulls were fabricated by 12th Avenue Iron; the cooktop is by Miele. 

Photo: Christopher Testani

The couple met with mw/works and immediately established an aesthetic connection, which was helpful, as the project required a somewhat unorthodox working relationship. "Since Ian is a builder, he told me, ‘Just give me a couple of sketches and I’ll take it from there,’" Walter recalls with a laugh. 

A rocking chair that once belonged to Deb’s grandmother sits next to the plaster fireplace in the living room; concrete floors were poured on-site.

A rocking chair that once belonged to Deb’s grandmother sits next to the plaster fireplace in the living room; concrete floors were poured on-site.

Photo: Christopher Testani

Indeed, the entire design process turned out to be more fluid than usual. "Half the time, instead of drawing something, we’d come to the site and I’d explain the idea, and then Ian would build it," Walter says. Moving from the country, the couple had been specific about wanting an open-plan house with outdoor areas a key part of the design, but otherwise they deferred to Walter to craft a modernist style.  

Personal keepsakes, like a mobile by Anne Siems, soften the slightly industrial aesthetic.

Personal keepsakes, like a mobile by Anne Siems, soften the slightly industrial aesthetic.

Photo: Christopher Testani


"You don’t usually see this kind of outdoor space in an urban setting—and certainly not in the Pacific Northwest."Eric Walter, architect

Despite being located in the middle of the city, the couple’s property is flanked by two private gardens and is in close proximity to the Washington Park Arboretum. Ian and Deb often cook using fresh vegetables from the garden, which is equipped with a PVC irrigation system.

Despite being located in the middle of the city, the couple’s property is flanked by two private gardens and is in close proximity to the Washington Park Arboretum. Ian and Deb often cook using fresh vegetables from the garden, which is equipped with a PVC irrigation system.

Photo: Christopher Testani

Linear, lean, and tightly held to the site, the new home centers on an open courtyard, with all of the rooms arranged around that core. "We wanted the architecture to fall away; it’s about framing spaces and views," Walter explains. Nine-foot-high sliding walls of glass separate the living areas from the courtyard and are easily pushed aside in pleasant weather. Each part of the living space is articulated by separate box volumes defined by diverse siding materials. They include hundred-year-old barn wood sourced from nearby Skagit Valley, three types of Richlite cement board, custom-milled cedar, and steel—all of which continue inside to further blur boundaries between the interior and exterior.  

Generous breezeways, walkways, and overhangs frame views beyond: "It’s like a promenade, with a forest at the end of the road," says Deb.

Generous breezeways, walkways, and overhangs frame views beyond: "It’s like a promenade, with a forest at the end of the road," says Deb.

Photo: Christopher Testani

Inside, a flexible use of space belies the relatively modest square footage. The top two floors, totaling 1,700 square feet, include the main living areas, the master suite, and a guest bedroom and bath; the basement floor provides an extra 1,000 square feet and houses Ian’s business, Treebird Construction, along with a second guest room and bath.  

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Illustration by Peter Oumanski

 

The home’s exterior is clad in a rich material palette of locally sourced salvaged barn wood, three types of Richlite cement board, milled cedar, and steel. Ian and Deb specified most of the plantings throughout, adding a variety of grasses, evergreen vines, and mature trees from Emery’s Garden, including a Japanese black pine that sits alongside the entrance on the west facade.&nbsp;

The home’s exterior is clad in a rich material palette of locally sourced salvaged barn wood, three types of Richlite cement board, milled cedar, and steel. Ian and Deb specified most of the plantings throughout, adding a variety of grasses, evergreen vines, and mature trees from Emery’s Garden, including a Japanese black pine that sits alongside the entrance on the west facade. 

Photo: Christopher Testani

Throughout, the vibe is unfussy and simple. A white oak custom dining table, designed by Jon Gentry of local firm goCstudio, is paired with slim Montis dining chairs. A rocking chair that once belonged to Deb’s grandmother sits alongside a Restoration Hardware couch; a black-and-white IKEA rug perfectly matches the couple’s Havanese dogs, Pippa and Dash. Deb’s found natural objects—including a dried-out wasp’s nest from their previous house, a pair of owl’s feet, and magnolia bud blossoms—adorn the walls and shelves.

The structure is sited on a slope that dips to the east, allowing for a generous basement that Ian uses for his business, Treebird Construction.

The structure is sited on a slope that dips to the east, allowing for a generous basement that Ian uses for his business, Treebird Construction.

Photo: Christopher Testani

Likewise, the landscaping feels integral to the architecture. Local firm Wittman Estes designed the hardscapes, including the steel-mesh fence that’s intertwined with tangled vines of clematis and honeysuckle to form a green living wall that also provides privacy from the street. Mature black pine trees were acquired from a friend’s nursery, roses tumble against one side of the house, and a river of stones hand-placed by Deb runs along the courtyard. In back, raised metal beds host an array of vegetables and herbs, ringed by native flowers. Everything is connected by breezeways and overhangs, so that even in the region’s wet winters, the couple can linger outdoors. 

In the garden, vines of honeysuckle are intertwined on a steel-mesh trellis.

In the garden, vines of honeysuckle are intertwined on a steel-mesh trellis.

Photo: Christopher Testani

"There’s something calming about materials that you don’t have to maintain or make look like something else."Eric Walter

Cor-Ten steel planters host a bounty of fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables.&nbsp;

Cor-Ten steel planters host a bounty of fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables. 

Photo: Christopher Testani

Despite living in the middle of Seattle, Ian and Deb feel like they’re in a bucolic setting. "Really, this home is the best of all worlds, because if we want to go to a lecture, a film, a play, it’s all here—or we can just stay home in this sanctuary, with greenery all around us," says Deb. "It’s a respite from city living."

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Illustration by Lohnes + Wright
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Amara Holstein

@amara_holstein

A former editor at Dwell, Amara recently left the glamorous life of a magazine staffer to pursue her freelance writing dream. She has written for Sunset, Wallpaper*, the Architect’s Newspaper, VIA, and Apartment Therapy.

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