WHEN A LEADING ARCHITECT designs a high-end home, it’s usually for a specific client. Each decision, from spatial layout to finishes to paint colors, is custom tailored to fit the lifestyle and preferences of a particular set of occupants.
Architect Scott Allen describes such homes as being a bit like a bespoke suit. When subsequent owners move in, “often the fit isn’t quite right.”
In late 2004, Allen undertook the design of an Issaquah Highlands home that challenged him to tailor a suit before meeting its wearer. The 4,500-square-foot house, with views stretching across Bellevue, Lake Sammamish, Seattle, and the Olympic Mountains, had no client at all.
He did have a specific site, a one-third-acre lot owned by builder Owen Roberts. Issaquah Highlands developers approached a handful of renowned local architecture firms (Allen was then a partner with Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen) to team up with prominent local builders for a series of high-end homes along Harrison Street with similar sizes and setbacks, but in a range of different styles, to attract discerning buyers.
Allen approached the project by visualizing the home’s theoretical future residents. He anticipated design-savvy clients who would appreciate features like the main level’s bank of glass doors that slide open completely, blurring the line between inside and out. Though the home is contemporary, he says, it “still has the sort of warmth—and functioning—you associate with a family home.”
What he gave his imaginary clients was a covered entrance in the form of a long breezeway with a wooden walkway that seems to float over a small reflecting pool. Inside, a wide entryway leads to a great room with vaulted ceilings of warm wood paneling, and just off the soaring great room lies a smaller space with a lower ceiling; Allen envisioned it as a media room or additional home office.
It’s an idea Allen has played with for years: creating a large space with smaller contiguous rooms for hunkering down, curling up, and reading a book. “The visual access to the larger space makes the larger space feel larger and the cozy space feel cozier,” he explains. “It’s this whole idea of scale.”
The main level also includes a spacious master suite that offers northwest views from both bedroom and bath, as well as a cozy home office off the entryway. Allen imagined his clients would be a couple who’d spend most of their time on this level. Two kids’ bedrooms would be downstairs, each with its own built-in desk, along with a guest suite.
Fast forward five years: The recession halted construction on the project, but the investors who in 2009 bought the unfinished house from the bank contacted Allen, who had since started his own firm, to complete the project as he originally intended. Thus the architect was able to add the finishes he envisioned: granite countertops in the kitchen, limestone in the master bath, a warm hemlock ceiling for the great room, and fir trim for the windows. Allen says these touches help strike “the right balance between contemporary spatial layout and materials, but still imbue the spaces with warmth.”
In February 2011, the finished house met its first occupants: Turi Widsteen and Keith White. An active couple, both employees of Microsoft, the new owners were almost exactly what Allen imagined. “We definitely knew we wanted a modern home, but what we liked about this one was that it wasn’t that ‘cold modern’” Turi explains.
Turi and Keith love drinking morning coffee in the cozy den and entertaining both indoors and out. The bedrooms downstairs are just right for Keith’s two children. “It’s spacious, but it doesn’t feel big,” Turi says. “We don’t feel isolated from the kids when they’re here.”
“It wasn’t designed for them, but in a way it was,” says Allen of the real-life clients who so closely resemble his imaginary ones. Turi agrees: “It actually felt like it was designed for us.”
Scott Allen Architecture
11574 Meadowmeer Cir NE, Bainbridge Island, 206-780-1122; scottallenarchitecture.com
5914 Lake Washington Blvd NE, Kirkland, 425-483-0234; robertswygal.com
Jacobson Interior Design
227 Bellevue Way NE, Ste 236, Bellevue, 425-531-0140; www.jacobsoninterior.com
Tour of Architects
To see this home and other architect-designed projects in Seattle and the Eastside, take the Tour of Architects’ weekend tours offered March 17–25. Tickets $20. tourofarchitects.com