Homeowners Llew and Savina Mason wanted their home to fit into the neighborhood and still be perfectly personalized.

Share story

IT’D BE SO EASY to say Llew and Savina Mason “thought outside the box” when they envisioned their mindfully contemporary Central District home. It’d be true, because that’s what they do, but it wouldn’t be enough: They thought against the box.

Llew and Savina Mason love the Central District and wanted their new home, by Heliotrope Architects’ Mike Mora and Dovetail General Contractors, to fit into the neighborhood. “It’s easy to build a house that looked and felt enormous from the street,” Llew says. “This is much more unobtrusive. It succeeded more than I thought it would.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Llew and Savina Mason love the Central District and wanted their new home, by Heliotrope Architects’ Mike Mora and Dovetail General Contractors, to fit into the neighborhood. “It’s easy to build a house that looked and felt enormous from the street,” Llew says. “This is much more unobtrusive. It succeeded more than I thought it would.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Right off the bat, when they first met with Heliotrope Architects’ Mike Mora, “I gave Mike a sketch on a place mat: Don’t do this! No box,” Savina says. “We wanted our home to fit into the neighborhood. It’s a decent thing to do.”

The Masons are far too hip to be square. As is their new home.

They love this neighborhood; their last home was just two blocks away. This time, “We tried to get the biggest lot in the Central District and use maximum space for the house,” Llew says — but not sky-high into typical box territory, even if that is where the best views live.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“The shape, size and construction of the house were all about fitting in well to the overall physical character of the street … with the scale, massing and pitched roof riffing off of a classic bungalow,” Mora says — midblock in a neighborhood of classic Seattle cottages and bungalows. “We were trying to achieve a nonfussy, quiet, low-ego design that deferred to the interesting lives of the house’s occupants: the house as frame, not subject.”

“For us, getting light and turned toward the street was how we wanted it: seclusion and privacy,” says homeowner Savina Mason. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
“For us, getting light and turned toward the street was how we wanted it: seclusion and privacy,” says homeowner Savina Mason. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

In this case, frame and subjects are exceptionally interesting. And “frame” is especially apt: Mora calls this home Artist in Residence.

Savina is the artist; she works in encaustic, and also has an architecture degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Llew runs technology for Amazon’s supply chain. Together, they also are, depending on whom you ask, “gardeners” or “enthusiastic amateurs,” and unequivocally unified roommates to a bearlike German shepherd named Ursa.

There’s a clear sightline through glass from the kitchen (with white cabinetry, walnut countertops and tile flooring), says architect Mike Mora: “I always like to do buildings where you can look through the inside to out through another part of the house. That depth, we do wherever we can.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
There’s a clear sightline through glass from the kitchen (with white cabinetry, walnut countertops and tile flooring), says architect Mike Mora: “I always like to do buildings where you can look through the inside to out through another part of the house. That depth, we do wherever we can.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Mora says there’s “definitely a right-brain/left-brain dynamic between them,” but both sides align perfectly in their supremely customized home: It’s minimally detailed, impeccably decorated (interior designers need not apply), and maximally open and connected (there are only two interior doors).

“The idea was to be able to see a garden from every room,” Llew says. “We sat with Mike and went over thousands of photos we liked: Japanese temples, gazebos, connected walkways, courtyards. Every single room opened to outside. Mike drew essentially a checkerboard on a napkin: five living areas (in white); the black areas were courtyards. That was the first thing he handed us.”

First instincts usually are good instincts. (Also, there was a lot of tabletop drawing going on.)

Homeowner Savina Mason planted all the Zen garden moss and ferns herself, says Llew. “From the couch looking toward the fireplace, the sightline is all green,” Savina says. “It’s a great spot. I had a picture in my mind.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Homeowner Savina Mason planted all the Zen garden moss and ferns herself, says Llew. “From the couch looking toward the fireplace, the sightline is all green,” Savina says. “It’s a great spot. I had a picture in my mind.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“The house plan alternates between interior spaces and exterior spaces around the building,” Mora says. “The center space is the main living/dining room, and it extends from the front entry court to the rear patio court, allowing visual penetration from the backyard through to the street in front. The main floor is elevated above the street, with the front door tucked into the entry court, creating privacy. It’s sort of a you-can-see-out-but-they-can’t-see-in effect.”

What you can see from the street is a single box-defying peak. Inside it, two mutual must-haves: a functioning art studio/home office and a private guest wing. The light and white studio both establishes separation and maintains connection, Mora says: It’s directly attached to the living area but half a level lower, under a soaring, skylighted ceiling.

The blissful Western red cedar soaking tub in the master bathroom is traditional Japanese design, says Chad Rollins of Dovetail General Contractors. “The tub keeps water at the bottom and seals up like a boat,” says homeowner Llew Mason. “One of the big things is the smell: Having been to Japan, I love the smell of the wood.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The blissful Western red cedar soaking tub in the master bathroom is traditional Japanese design, says Chad Rollins of Dovetail General Contractors. “The tub keeps water at the bottom and seals up like a boat,” says homeowner Llew Mason. “One of the big things is the smell: Having been to Japan, I love the smell of the wood.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

The other elevated form, on the opposite end, holds the clever, convention-defying master suite, in two parts: The bedroom is upstairs; the bathroom is not.

“I was vaguely worried about the workout, but quite honestly it’s not a big deal at all,” Llew says — plus, there is great reward for the effort: a custom Western red cedar, Japanese-inspired soaking tub, a soothing splurge among ocean-essence turquoise glass tile and sparkling high-end fixtures.

“A master bath below is something 9 out of 10 clients probably wouldn’t buy,” Mora says.

“We wanted a strong relationship to the street, plus privacy,” architect Mike Mora says. “So the grade is elevated from the street in an off-axial approach. They can sit and see cars go by, and still have privacy. It’s important on city streets to have a connection — classic Jane Jacobs.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
“We wanted a strong relationship to the street, plus privacy,” architect Mike Mora says. “So the grade is elevated from the street in an off-axial approach. They can sit and see cars go by, and still have privacy. It’s important on city streets to have a connection — classic Jane Jacobs.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Clearly, Llew and Savina are not boxed into any this-is-how-things-are-always-done majority — or any box at all, for that matter. Just a perfectly personalized frame.

“The house really fits us — how we live, how we interact,” Savina says. “There’s nothing extra, nothing missing. The whole thing is completely custom. You can’t make the argument you need it, but my Lord, we appreciate it. We are very grateful.”