The goal in their Lower Queen Anne condo was to unify and contemporize the living/dining/kitchen areas, connect the living area and terrace, and infuse it all with more-tactile materials.

Share story

IT’S ONE OF THOSE apocalyptically hot August afternoons, when even the trivial elevation of Lower Queen Anne feels just a lit-tle too close to the sun. And then you climb higher — to the renovated penthouse condominium of Kyle and Shannon Gaffney — and something unexpectedly delightful engulfs your flushed self: a blessed surge of pure cool.

Clearly, it’s not artificial A/C — the giant sliders to the beckoning terrace stand completely agape, doing that whole indoor-outdoor living thing as if boundaries have no business here.

It’s just cool. Authentic cool. Authentic Kyle and Shannon.

The Gaffneys are founding owners of SkB Architects, and their coolly contemporary 1955 condo reflects their design styles, their personalities — and many, many seasons of unexpected effort.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“We walked in and said, ‘This is cool — midcentury,’ ” Shannon says. “ ‘If we came here, we wouldn’t have to do a thing.’ ”

“Funny thing,” Kyle says. (You saw that coming, no?) “We moved here, but not completely — we lived like college students. Then we realized why: Neither of us was ready to commit.”

Original walls and flooring divided rooms, but now there’s a clean, gorgeous line straight from one end to the other, thanks in part to “supersoft” Dinesen Douglas fir flooring. “When people come in and see the materiality of the floor, they’re like, ‘What in the world?’ ” Shannon says. “And then doors. Color, paint, hardware — they’re not demure. Our big thing is psychology of place — people come in, and we take notice of what they’re noticing.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Original walls and flooring divided rooms, but now there’s a clean, gorgeous line straight from one end to the other, thanks in part to “supersoft” Dinesen Douglas fir flooring. “When people come in and see the materiality of the floor, they’re like, ‘What in the world?’ ” Shannon says. “And then doors. Color, paint, hardware — they’re not demure. Our big thing is psychology of place — people come in, and we take notice of what they’re noticing.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

A couple years later, inspiration struck, and Shannon drew a sketch for a kitchen and pinned it on the dining-room wall, followed by more “what-ifs,” Kyle says: “It took a couple years to design — we see eye to eye, but it kept changing. It took us seven years to do it.”

This isn’t a huge condo — 1,500 square feet indoors and 850 out — so the commitment to efficiently, beautifully use the space was threefold: Unify and contemporize the living/dining/kitchen areas, connect the living area and terrace, and infuse it all with more-tactile materials. (Phase Two, yet to come: the master bedroom and daughter Hannah’s room.)

“For the most part, it wasn’t any major wall movement,” Shannon says. “It was articulating and finessing.”

Articulation-wise, things moved, appeared and improved: Dark outside-reaching beams were hand-sanded to lightness; a previously solid wall between the living and dining areas evolved into a strikingly creative positive/negative divider; and the original tongue-and-groove cedar living-room ceiling came down — only to go right back up after the installation of new lighting.

Kyle (“He cooks; I eat,” says Shannon) works at the travertine island, which makes a statement beyond its central place in the kitchen. “Some things became a test case for us in detail and materiality,” Shannon says. “Everyone said (travertine) is so porous; it’s got a lot of motion. We’re not slavish to granite. Actually, it’s fine. Look, it’s not a museum.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Kyle (“He cooks; I eat,” says Shannon) works at the travertine island, which makes a statement beyond its central place in the kitchen. “Some things became a test case for us in detail and materiality,” Shannon says. “Everyone said (travertine) is so porous; it’s got a lot of motion. We’re not slavish to granite. Actually, it’s fine. Look, it’s not a museum.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

In updating the “true galley” kitchen, Kyle says, they had to “rethink the kitchen part of the whole experience.” Appliances relocated. A wall stepped back to create a butler’s pantry. A travertine island arose (with a pullout dining table docked underneath).

This is now a true working kitchen — and it also works as a minimal, tactile microcosm of the Gaffneys’ design choices and, maybe more important, how those choices speak to how they live.

That lovely dining table, for example, speaks from real-world experience.

“Just a couple months in, our daughter and her friend had laptops on the table,” Kyle says. “She said, ‘I have to tell you something. The bottom of one of the laptops scratched the top of the table.’ I told her, ‘It’s a kitchen table. Keep scratching.’ ”

The dining area blends heirlooms (the corner Windsor chair, which was Kyle’s mom’s mom’s); splurges (the Runtal radiator); and excellent conversation pieces, like the white etchings from a gallery in Marfa, Texas (“Only an architect would love these,” Shannon says), and the Bruno chairs around the docked dining table by SkB Architects. “A company in Denver in the mid-’80s was getting rid of a bunch of rusty orange chairs for $150 each. I knew the value. I got six of them. I carted around those heavy suckers and upholstered them,” she says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The dining area blends heirlooms (the corner Windsor chair, which was Kyle’s mom’s mom’s); splurges (the Runtal radiator); and excellent conversation pieces, like the white etchings from a gallery in Marfa, Texas (“Only an architect would love these,” Shannon says), and the Bruno chairs around the docked dining table by SkB Architects. “A company in Denver in the mid-’80s was getting rid of a bunch of rusty orange chairs for $150 each. I knew the value. I got six of them. I carted around those heavy suckers and upholstered them,” she says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Behind the table, a Runtal radiator replaced not-quite-as-cool baseboard heating. It’s “modern and recalls vintage,” Shannon says. It’s also a purposeful splurge, like the Dinesen Douglas fir floor on which it sits.

“Certain things you start to fall in love with. You need it to be functional, but what about the emotional touch?” she says. “For one thing: the floor. It’s fir. It was fine oak flooring, but these floors make a difference. Certain things are hard to articulate how they influence your own psyche. We got to places where we said, ‘We can’t spend this — where is the value?’ But I have no problems with this. It’s worth it. I’m not going to talk myself out of it. People say it’s frivolous, but if it gives a beautiful sense of place and comfort, it’s worth it. We value this place not for the things, but for how it makes us feel.”

The sandstone on the outdoor fireplace is original, but that “area rug” is a crafty bit of modern creativity: “The easy thing would have been a pallet,” says Kyle. Instead, they routed out ipe for a quarter-inch of fire hose (which, when recessed in the wood, compresses to one-eighth of an inch). Water flows right underneath.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The sandstone on the outdoor fireplace is original, but that “area rug” is a crafty bit of modern creativity: “The easy thing would have been a pallet,” says Kyle. Instead, they routed out ipe for a quarter-inch of fire hose (which, when recessed in the wood, compresses to one-eighth of an inch). Water flows right underneath. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“Tactility, experience, quality, authenticity — this is us,” adds Kyle. “We travel. We cook. We read those books. We celebrate these things.”

In many cases, they also custom-designed these things: the meant-to-be-used dining table; the coffee and end tables; and the living-room fireplace’s black box, which is flanked by magic nickel-coated andirons.

Their trick? “The andirons don’t get hot,” Shannon says.

The fireplace has been converted to gas. Easiest thing in the world to flip it on and prove the point.

“I’m most proud of the nuance of lighting and how it transforms, and the ambience it creates for us living here,” says Shannon. “That didn’t exist before.” The also-nuanced glass and wire positive/negative wall to the left “pays a little homage to midcentury modern,” she says. (Those are Herman Miller/Eames black chairs, with a Jonathan Adler table in between; SkB Architects designed the coffee and end tables.) (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
“I’m most proud of the nuance of lighting and how it transforms, and the ambience it creates for us living here,” says Shannon. “That didn’t exist before.” The also-nuanced glass and wire positive/negative wall to the left “pays a little homage to midcentury modern,” she says. (Those are Herman Miller/Eames black chairs, with a Jonathan Adler table in between; SkB Architects designed the coffee and end tables.) (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

This is a tactile home. It takes just one touch: The magic andirons are not hot.

Even next to a toasty fire on a roasting day, they’re just really, really cool.