A few years ago, Martin Criminale posted a “cyclist’s pre-nuptial agreement” on his personal blog. The tongue-in-cheek missive sets ground rules for anyone who marries an avid cyclist, thereby entering a “pre-existing relationship between two parties”—the Cyclist and the Bike.

Martin, a former bike mechanic and racer now working in IT, didn’t write the piece, but it rang true when he found it on the Internet. When he married his wife, Shelley, five years ago, he didn’t own just one bike; he had 11. And though Shelley signed no prenup, she acknowledges and respects her husband’s passion for two-wheeled transport, so much so that when the couple started designing a new home in 2010, Martin’s bikes were a significant consideration.

The Criminales interviewed a few prospective architects and quickly clicked with Lisa Chadbourne and Daren Doss, of Seattle’s Chadbourne and Doss. One thing Martin appreciated: “They’re a married couple, and they don’t always agree themselves.” 

The first step was for each spouse, separately, to fill out a seven-page questionnaire the architects call “HomeWork.” It covers details they want in the house—how much counter space, how many bedrooms, a fireplace, a garage?—as well as favorite books, TV shows, and movies. The survey also asks clients to complete the sentence: “If our house were a _____, it would be ____.” 

Shelley struggled with that one before she filled the blanks with “a country” and “Iceland.”

“It seems open, industrial, very progressive, high tech,” Martin says of the country they both want to visit. “And the landscape is breathtaking,” Shelley adds. “It’s rough and rugged, yet very modern.”

Chadbourne and Doss’s creative approach led one past client to give the architects a CD of music to inspire their design; Shelley gave them four vials of custom scents. “Martin really loves bikes; I really love cooking and perfume,” she says. The scents captured smells like salt and wind; vanilla and leather; metal, plastic, and rubber; and wood. “I picked them,” she says, “because I felt like they really represented how I wanted my house to feel: warm yet modern, with some elements of the Northwest.”

At the top of the stairs, a bent steel plate forms a guard rail.

The architects combined Martin’s and Shelley’s survey responses and sensory input to create a custom home that suits its residents as well as its 5,500-square-foot lot in Mount Baker. “We took it upon ourselves that Iceland meant sort of raw, natural, volcanic—stark but beautiful,” Doss says. 

The facetious cyclist’s prenup states that Spouse A and Spouse B (the bike devotee) “shall agree upon comfortable and equal living quarters” for the bike.

The finished three-story, 2,400-square-foot home features a panoramic view stretching from Mount Baker to Mount Rainier and across Lake Washington to Bellevue. It’s clad in clear cedar and cement board siding and combines materials such as stained concrete, blackened steel, stained plywood, and asphalt tile. Several of the large, unadorned windows can be thrown open to let in the breeze, and sliding doors open to decks on the second and third levels.

Condition II of the facetious cyclist’s prenup states that Spouse A and Spouse B (the bike devotee) “shall agree upon comfortable and equal living quarters for [the bike], its related service equipment and riding gear.” 

In this case, that would be a 250-square-foot ground-floor bike room with brackets on the wall for more than a dozen bikes (including two tandems Martin and Shelley ride together), a workbench, and space for a bike stand. The owners joke, “It’s the biggest room in the house,” and it’s not too far from the truth.

The room features a radiant-heated stained-concrete floor and plywood-clad walls, one hung with an impeccably organized array of tools. French doors swing out onto a private courtyard, where outdoor hot- and cold-water spigots allow Martin to wash his bike after muddy rides. Space for computer servers was built into the adjacent one-car garage (Martin commutes by bike, naturally). 

Blackened steel surrounds the fireplace; open shelving spans the kitchen opposite the great room, and the stairwell that connects all three stories is lit from the center by a translucent, LED-illuminated wall. In contrast, historic black-and-white photographs of cyclists hang throughout the house, the riders’ old-fashioned gear and attire softening the home’s sleek, modern styling. 

The house may be full of bicycles, but it’s also got the sensory feel that Shelley wanted. She asked for “a lot of cozy places where she could read and hunker down,” says Doss. A small reading bench next to the fireplace lets her hunker with a view and wraparound windows in the top-floor master bedroom suggest a lofty aerie. When Shelley wakes up in the mornings, she feels like she’s in a nest: “You don’t see any buildings; it’s just clouds and trees.”

Two stories below, Martin tinkers freely. “At times I just like to turn on some music and work on a bike,” he says. “Nothing is as therapeutic as doing some maintenance.” 

Martin Criminale tends to one of his many bicycles.

Custom blackened steel plates clad the fireplace and reading bench in the living room.

The second floor houses the kitchen and dining areas at one end, and the living area and fireplace at the other.

Published: March 2013

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