The landscape was so important to the couple that they hired designer Brooks Kolb even before SHKS Architects began to remodel the home.
THE MATURE trees are what drew Jeff and Lara Sanderson to the place they call home on Mercer Island. “We looked at view property, but this place is so magical,” says Lara of their green acreage.
Their careful stewardship of the trees allowed them to keep the forest-remnant feel of the landscape, even as they had the house and garden made over, and a yoga studio built. Now the conifers set the scale for a cluster of Lee Kelly sculptures, and provide shelter and privacy for the home and swimming pool.
The landscape was so important to the couple that they hired designer Brooks Kolb even before SHKS Architects began work on remodeling the 1940s home. The home’s multipatterned interiors, by designer-to-the-stars Kelly Wearstler, have been featured on the Huffington Post and in Elle Décor magazine. “I wanted the garden to be contemplative and restful in contrast to the intense interiors,” says Lara.
Arborist Sue Nicol was called in early to help save declining and neglected trees, especially a huge Deodar cedar in front of the house. Now the needled titan spreads healthy-looking branches above winding stone pathways and swathes of epimedium, ferns and golden Japanese forest grass.
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The garden didn’t always look like this. “It wasn’t at all inviting,” says Lara of the narrow walkway, diseased cherry trees and boxwood hedge that used to be her front yard. Ivy was choking out trees, and huge rhodies shrouded the home’s windows. Kolb moved the rhododendrons to the edges of the garden. Ivy was banished and lower tree limbs were cut to let light into the garden.
“My work was to enhance a naturally beautiful site,” says Kolb, who changed the shape of the lawn, created a sense of entry and redesigned the driveway, replacing concrete with handset Euro-cobble.
Jeff Sanderson, formerly at Microsoft, now owns the Stopsky Delicatessen on Mercer Island, and he and Lara are involved with the Sanderson Family Foundation. Children and dogs play here, so Kolb kept the plantings simple, using natives and ornamental grasses. Under the taller trees he planted lilacs, Japanese maples, oakleaf hydrangeas and the dogwood ‘Eddie’s White Wonder.’
On a property this size — it’s two acres — Kolb gave much attention to just covering all that ground beautifully. To rejuvenate the patchy front lawn, a thick bed of gravel was laid down on top of the grass, then over-seeded directly into the gravel. This improved the drainage and greened it up. He widened stone walkways and designed in a generous bluestone terrace to be more in scale with the large property.
Around back, wings of the house shelter an expansive pool deck. Invasive blackberries were rooted out of the ravine and replaced with a network of pathways and sturdy native plants.
Lara had her yoga studio built beneath the fir trees she’s dubbed the “wise old women.” Closer to the house, she chose brushed stainless-steel sculptures by Oregon artist Lee Kelly for the way they reflect the light. She hand-mixed the brown/gray paint for the home’s exterior to get it dark enough to be the perfect backdrop to all the shades of green in the garden.
“I was always impressed with Lara’s decisions,” says Kolb about the working partnership that created such an idyllic setting. “Mostly, she kept reminding me to save the trees.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.