A couple of years ago, architect Tim Weyand and his wife, Kathleen, decided to completely remodel their home in Seattle's Denny Blaine neighborhood. The 2,400-square-foot ranch-style...

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A couple of years ago, architect Tim Weyand and his wife, Kathleen, decided to completely remodel their home in Seattle’s Denny Blaine neighborhood. The 2,400-square-foot ranch-style house, built in 1954, needed basic upgrades and a more people-friendly interior for their family. They drew a series of schematics, aiming to create something architecturally cutting-edge.

Then one afternoon, while he was watching their children playing at the zoo, Tim noticed they were happy and totally engaged. Nothing unusual about that, except that “the kids were playing in the African Village, which had basic structures.” That was his epiphany: Practicality and simplicity should carry at least as much weight as architectural statement.

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The structure’s problems were, after all, pretty basic. It had not been configured to take advantage of natural light or encourage ease of movement, and the latter became even more difficult with three energetic young children about. The solution was more floor space with fewer walls.

Rather than start over, Tim, who had a full schedule coordinating a major project at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, did the logical thing: He called an architect. David Neiman, a friend and former colleague at the Seattle branch of NBBJ, the international architecture and design firm where Tim still works, was the couple’s choice.

“Everyone needs an architect,” Tim says. “That’s the standard line, isn’t it? But it’s true; even architects need an architect.” Tim’s forte is logistics, organizing complicated projects. Neiman, who left NBBJ to start David Neiman Architects, is strong in design. Kathleen, who met Tim in architecture school and also has design training, figured ways to tie the interior into a cohesive whole.

The couple’s plans called for a full second story, which would have shaded much of their garden. “This was a matter of reckoning with the site, crunching the Weyands’ preliminary plans down,” Neiman recalls. “The lot falls away, so in this instance a full two stories would not have been the best solution.” They decided on a partial second story to hold the master suite.

They didn’t see the need for a separate dining room and family room, because when family and friends visited, they tended to mingle rather than sit formally, and people were always in and out of the kitchen.

Another key consideration was a glorious Japanese maple at the edge of the corner lot. In four years of living there, the couple had come to think of the maple corner as the neighborhood living room, where walkers, joggers and schoolchildren passed by. Near the top of their must-have list was an unobstructed view of the maple from inside the house.

The result is that now, everything above the basement is new construction. Living space has been increased to around 3,800 square feet. A major change was to move the kitchen to the opposite side of the house, just off the main entry. The old dining room, opposite the kitchen entryway, became an open stairwell to the basement. The main floor includes two bedrooms and one bathroom. (The two boys share a room.)

A desk and books on the upstairs landing belonged to Tim’s great-grandfather, who worked with the architect Richard Neutra in Europe. Learning of the connection inspired Tim to pursue his passion for architecture.

His great-grandfather probably would have approved of the kitchen’s angled walls, corner cupboard and especially the clever positioning of windows to define the area and bring the outside in. Matching doors and windows, as well as a consistent theme of light-blue walls, soft-yellow trim and a tile floor, help unify the space. On one side of a food-preparation island, low shelves put plates and flatware where kids can reach them.

The architects called for a coffered ceiling just above the dining table in the otherwise smooth-surfaced room to delineate the space.

The Weyands opted for porcelain tile in the entry, and limestone and green granite tiles in the master bath. Flooring elsewhere is Brazilian cherry.

In the daylight basement, craftsmen shifted a few nonbearing walls, added doors, fresh paint and hardware, but the basic layout remains. There is a guest suite, bathroom, laundry, playroom/project room and a small office.

For the exterior, the Weyands chose low-maintenance cement-board panels in combination with cedar shake. Painted 6-inch wood lap siding above the garage suggests a traditional look, while a diagonal procession of windows lights the stairway to the master suite, breaking up the vertical line of the two-story section.

The contractor was Keith Beckley, who has built everything from houses to art exhibits. Tim managed site administration — including all those niggling details that slow things down and drive costs up. Construction was timely and on budget; the project took a year to complete and came in at about $150 a square foot.

The couple describe the result as a modern cottage. On his Web site, however, Neiman refers to it as a dramatic contemporary home. Perhaps it’s best to split the difference and call this dramatic contemporary cottage a marriage of themes. Certainly, there’s no denying the new building’s impact from the sidewalk; it probably is the only house in the neighborhood with a two-story climbing wall disguising a bump-out from a gas fireplace.

As it is, the remodeled rancher functions just as they hoped it would.

Gardensmith Horticulture recently installed a garden around the house, and the Weyands expect that once foundation plantings mature, the house will blend quietly into the neighborhood. The maple, meanwhile, stands resolute, at rest until spring.


Dean Stahl is a Seattle free-lance writer.