Ramble On

A Kirkland couple opts for reconstruction over destruction. 

By Peter Sackett December 27, 2008 Published in the September 2008 issue of Seattle Met

Using windows of all sizes, architect Ben Trogdon lent the midcentury home a modern appeal and created exciting new vistas to its stunning surroundings.

Image: Will Austin

LOOK CLOSELY, and the one-story rambler is still there. In fact, if you hold up a “before” photo of the house for comparison, you can easily identify the original bones of Brad Weed and Susan Pappalardo’s radically transformed Kirkland home. Early in their married life, the couple, both computer software and graphics professionals, purchased the plain brick structure—the kind of cartoonishly simple, single-story dwelling that children sketch by topping a rectangle with a triangle. Cramped for space and encumbered with a demeanor as sober as a drill sergeant, the 1948-built house wasn’t going to win any beauty contests.

Often, when people of means discover such a construction atop a desirable piece of property—in this case a breezy double lot on a suburban hillside overlooking Lake Washington—their next move involves a wrecking ball. Weed and Pappalardo, however, recognized an armature on which they could build “a good first home,” located in an area they enjoyed for its neighborly cadence and proximity to the town center. When improvements became financially feasible, the couple shunned the idea of demolishing the place to start from scratch and instead approached architect Ben Trogdon to guide them in a remodel.

The whimsical blobs composing artist Bryan Smith’s Jackaroo juxtapose with the sharp edges of the living room fireplace and furnitures.

“Part of it was the cost,” Pappalardo explains. “We’re miserly in our nature. But really, our attitude was if we didn’t have to wreck it, why would we? It was in good shape, and we didn’t burden ourselves with the task of creating the perfect place.”

For an architect, the words “dream home” almost always forecast gauzy guidelines—heavy on expectations and light on practical specifics. But it’s not the sort of language home owners Weed and Pappalardo use. Practical considerations drove their requests to Trogdon. Of utmost importance was simply making room—relieving the congestion of the ground floor by removing walls that, without much daylight to illuminate them, made the interior feel pinched and stuffy. “We wanted to have enough room for a family,” Weed says with a smile, gesturing to their twin toddlers at play across the room. “At least two kids, we planned. We just didn’t realize they’d arrive at the same time.”
To create more space, Trogdon articulated the remodeled structure like a weekend vacation caravan; new rooms emerged from the old ones, as if he had unhinged the roof and facade to reveal tentlike hatches that had been collapsed and concealed within for decades. Awakened to their surroundings through numerous glass apertures, the new walls expand in every compass direction in shades of jade, custard, and moondust gray. Large patchwork sections of the old brick carapace remain, now woven into the new and improved one, and painted the elegant, deep gray color of raw coal coke.

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Fir cabinets in warm hues offset the kitchen’s sleek stainless-steel appliances.

Trogdon listened to the couple’s smaller, more detailed requests, too, noting the important minutiae of their daily lives: where the mail would collect, what they were likely to have in their hands when they walked through the front door and where they’d want to put it. “The big move had mostly to do with circulation,” he says. “We developed conceptual diagrams that showed ‘use relationships’ [gestural drawings that suggest the manner and frequency with which the owners would move about their home]. Once you arrive at something that satisfies those, that’s the point at which you start to breathe in the architecture.”

Daylight flows through a series of loosely defined ground-floor rooms, painted a warm, sun-infused white that washes through the living area, dining alcove, and kitchen. Here, instead of walls, clusters of furniture define the spaces in which all action—particularly that of the inquisitive toddlers—stays comfortably public. The double-height living room, informally composed and as breezy as an aviary, showcases a composition of hand-stitched cardboard by Seattle artist Bryan Smith. Its bubble-gum-squashed-against-sidewalk shapes cover the high wall in a fungal meander over the original fireplace, which is preserved, painted, and framed like a formal work of art, in stark contrast to the composition above. At the opposite end of the house, black slate countertops in the kitchen contrast with toasted orange, vertical-grain fir cabinets and echo the visual weight and color of the hearth. A grove of laminated fir posts and beams traces the lines of the original foundation and supports the newly added second story for private quarters above.

An exposed upstairs hallway lets parents keep a close eye on toddlers downstairs.

With their palette of soft natural hues and newly added windows to wash out the shadows, the top-floor bedrooms feel like airborne outposts. The effect is heightened when you walk down the hallway across a suspended diagonal catwalk, open to the living room below, to a small, sunny day room at the other end. Resembling a tree house held aloft above the front door, the room becomes, for the children, a strategic fort from which to spy on neighborhood goings-on; for the parents, a quiet library with a prospect to the lazy bustle of the lake.

Having roughly doubled in size, the now 4,000-square-foot home has matured gracefully as it enters its sixth decade. Trogdon’s intervention allowed the structure to finally take root, ambling easily into the verdant landscape through a series of stepped terraces. The house, always a good investment for its location, simple utility, and solid construction, has been given a chance to breathe. “When I’m giving a friend a quick tour of our home, I’ll point out the sections of the original design,” Pappalardo says. “They always seem to enjoy that—getting those glimpses of what was there before. And so do we.”

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