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."
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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
"You don’t usually see this kind of outdoor space in an urban setting—and certainly not in the Pacific Northwest."Eric Walter, architect
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.
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.
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.
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.
"There’s something calming about materials that you don’t have to maintain or make look like something else."Eric Walter
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."