“SO THIS IS a garage, as you can see,” says Seattle architect Mark Thomson.
Thomson’s not one for self-promotion. The large, white structure at the end of the driveway most certainly contains his car. It is also a studio (upstairs) with space for archival storage (downstairs). But all of that pales in comparison to how it does each of those things. With grace. With dignity. With the finest sense of design.
“I’m just kind of ripping off Philip Johnson. There’s this little studio Johnson did,” Thomson says referring back to his own stark-white stacked boxes topped by a cone of skylight.
“It’s a wood structure. It shouldn’t be a wood structure.
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“I have a good relationship with my contractor friends.
“Everybody who worked on it put in extra effort. You’re only as good as the people who build it.”
That’s really how the interview goes. From here. To there. And back. Thomson lives in his head, and the thoughts are flowing.
“I think of them as two different things,” he says of his chocolate-brown-cedar-sided chalet of a place across the yard (“I ripped that off, too, I was in Europe and . . .”). “But they’re not really that different. The volume of spaces. If they come out of me they’re gonna kinda have my bias.”
Again, not much for self-promotion.
Allow me. Yes, there is a relation to Johnson’s Library/Study on the 47-acre New Canaan, Conn., property that is home to the Glass House. But Thompson’s is a new interpretation for an entirely different landscape (even though he will argue “it’s all derivative. There’s nothing original.”). And that landscape is? “Phinney’s a little presumptuous,” he says. “Put Ballard. I’m right in a kind of a sweet spot. Put Interbay. Oh, Phinney’s fine.” There. At the end of a nothing-unusual residential block, up against a steep hillside embedded with side streets.
Thomson’s structure is white stucco with two skylights bathing the studio. One, rising skyward not unlike a ship’s sail, sends a shaft of soft light to the floor much like a James Terrell light installation. A two-foot square window on the wall up there is etched with the word “YES.”
“When we have sun, the light hits it, and it reflects on the wall,” Thomson says. “Where depends on what time of year it is. I did that just because we don’t have all that much sun here.”
And then he cannot help himself. He turns and says, “It’s a gross ripoff of Yoko Ono.”
While the studio, 400 square feet with a small galley kitchen and bathroom of tiny tiles, is “without much accessory,” what is there intrigues. All doors have porthole windows. A prominent cabinet against the north wall is Ikea. Behind the frosted-glass fronts Thomson, whose firm is called MTAP, has inserted giant letters: NO WAR.
Outside, the overhang protecting the stairway to the archive (the sign there reads “Entree Des Artistes”) is a Moroccan star pattern cut in fir trim. “It’s based on a quarter panel,” Thomson says. “If you take one of those panels and flip it over it re-creates the whole thing.”
About this he will admit, “It turned out better than I thought.”
The driveway is perhaps best of all. As you peer down from the studio landing, you see it revealed as a giant tire tread, the pattern outlined in aluminum, filled in with concrete.
The overall effect? One big art installation. But not on Thomson’s watch. “I’m not an artist,” he insists. “I’m just fooling around.”
No. He’s not.
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.