Image: Will Austin

Inside Outside

Materials Steel cabinet with gas flame
Architect George Suyama, Suyama Peterson Deguchi Architects

EVEN ON SEATTLE’S soggiest days, you won’t catch architect George Suyama complaining about the weather. In fact he believes local buildings should inspire us to spend more time in what he calls our “benign climate.” So when it came to designing a home for his family, Suyama worked to create a strong connection to the elements and avoid clear delineations between interior and exterior. A long ledge runs the length of the house—built on waterfront property in West Seattle—from the garage to the western deck, unifying a series of indoor-outdoor spaces: patios, gardens, and an open-air living room warmed by a built-in gas fireplace. The materials in the room are spare: There’s a concrete floor, a fir timber ceiling, and walls of cement plaster, horizontal cedar planks, and white plastic laminate. “When people see a photograph of the space, they sometimes say, ‘Well that’s an interesting living room, but it doesn’t have a lot of stuff in it,’ ” he says. “So it worked—it felt as if it were inside as well as outside.”

Into the midst of this serene chamber bursts a bright jet of flame, emerging unexpectedly from the low steel cabinet that runs along one wall. The design offers high drama, but including a fireplace was also essential to making the area usable during cold months. Although it is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds and protected by glass skylights from the rain, the room faces north and lacks the heat buildup that would come with southern exposure. The warm glow of the gas fire, so quickly and easily lit, allows the Suyamas to hang out here year-round. “We use it spontaneously, even in February,” says the architect. “We go out with a coat on, light the fire, and we’re out of the wind and rain. We’re warm.”

Suyama Peterson Deguchi Architects, 2324 Second Ave, Belltown, 206-256-0809

Suite Success

Materials Granite and glass,
gas jets in river rock
Architect Geoffrey Prentiss,
Prentiss Architects

IN THE BEGINNING, Angie and Steve Moore hadn’t planned to build a fireplace in their bathroom. The couple had recently remodeled their bedroom in Kirkland’s Holmes Point neighborhood, adding a horizontal sweep of windows overlooking the June grass and flowering flax planted on the green roof just outside. “In the bedroom we have surround sound and a view of the lake, so it’s a very nice and relaxing place,” says Angie. Geoffrey Prentiss knew that he needed to balance the window’s strong rectilinear form, so he designed a generous sweep of granite along the opposite wall, with a long, narrow gas fireplace set into it. 

The architect realized midway through the design process, however, that because the wall joined the bedroom to the master bath, the fireplace could serve both rooms. The Moores loved the idea. “We thought it would be so cool to be able to sit in the bathtub and have a fire,” says Angie. Prentiss set the gas jets in river rock and surrounded them with panes of glass—making the flames visible from both rooms. On the bedroom side, a niche is cut into the granite above the fireplace; below, a drawer stores audiovisual components.

The technical details of this custom design required a good deal of tweaking. “When you put a gas flame inside glass walls, getting the air combustion just right is not easy,” says Prentiss. “Also, since it’s in the bedroom you have to think about heat and noise. You want to make sure it doesn’t get too hot, and that you can control it.”

Prentiss Architects, 224 W Galer St, Queen Anne, 206-283-9930 

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Deck and Dine

Materials Steel mantel, marble
hearth, lava rocks
Architect Jim Castanes, Castanes Architects

JUTTING OUT INTO Ann Wesche’s expansive deck from the adjacent family room is a glass-walled fireplace that spreads light and warmth to both spaces, delivering a two-for-one payoff. “We light it every night,” Wesche says. “And when we entertain, it looks really neat from out on the deck.”

“We wanted to create a nice ambient light at night, and to make it possible to use that dining area even when it’s cool,” says architect Jim Castanes, who designed the unusual three-and-a-half-foot-high fireplace. Outside, a glass-paneled trellis system keeps the rain away. Along with the fireplace, it adds just enough indoor comfort to make the deck usable in early spring as well as in fall.

On the inside, Wesche wanted a modern fireplace to go with the contemporary style of the house, so Castanes created a surround and mantel of steel with visible rivets, dressed up with a polished marble hearth. Gas pipe fittings attach to a custom steel lava rock tray; the rocks can be rearranged to vary the flame spread.

While she likes to turn it on for dinner parties on the deck, Wesche’s favorite aspect of the fireplace is the view through to the Sound from her seat in the family room. “The water is just a stone’s throw away, so you see freighters going by, the mountains if they’re out, and ferries pulling into Eagle Harbor,” she says. “You see the light of the fire, and the light of the ships going by. It’s a view you never tire of.”

Castanes Architects, 1932 First Ave, Ste 928, Downtown, 206-441-0200

Cozy Nook

Materials Stone, basalt slab
Architect Tom Bosworth and Steve Hoedemaker, Bosworth Hoedemaker Architects

“THE SCANDINAVIANS had it right,” says Lynn Grant, the owner of a supremely inviting stone fireplace nook, the snug sanctum of a weekend house on Decatur Island. “They live in a drippy, wet, cold atmosphere, and they figured out hundreds of years ago that inglenooks are perfect.”

An inglenook—a small recess next to a fireplace—is indeed perfect: for curling up with a novel, for taking a midwinter nap, and for gazing out over meadows and evergreens. “The Grants both like to read a lot, so it’s a place for getting away and building a nice fire and picking up a book,” says Steve Hoedemaker of Bosworth Hoedemaker Architects. Built of intermingled Montana ledgestone and fieldstone, with huckleberry basalt slab benches and steps, the nook incorporates wall niches to set a glass of wine or mug of cocoa and outlets to plug in laptops. And since it’s visible from the dining room, its warm ambience casts a glow over dinner parties. “When we have guests we tend to gravitate toward the fire, and everyone snuggles up in there,” says Grant.

In winter, once the fire heats up the stone, it becomes a kind of enchanted cocoon that no one is eager to leave. “Sometimes the kids don’t go to their bunkhouse, they just stay in the inglenook all night,” Grant says. “We find my teenage son and his friends in the morning, tucked up in there sleeping.” Because it’s entirely lined with stone, the nook stays cool all summer long, making for an attractive impromptu bedroom in the hot months as well.

Bosworth Hoedemaker Architects, 1408 N 45th St, Wallingford, 206-545-8434

This article appeared in the January 2009 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.