ANACORTES — No one could say that Herman Wu wasn’t well prepared to build his dream house.
By the time the contractors poured the foundation of the two-bedroom, 4,200-square-foot house in Anacortes, Wu, a radiologist, had spent seven years living in a small apartment and saving money. He had toured spec homes and sticky-tabbed shelter magazines and knew exactly what he liked (modern and minimalist) and didn’t like (grand, useless foyers and the industrial loft look).
And after finding a 2.5-acre, semi-isolated property on a hill overlooking Puget Sound, Wu searched through the American Institute of Architect’s database and interviewed a half-dozen local practitioners.
“I was pretty hands-on,” says Wu, 41. “I wanted to be involved every step of the way. It was exciting for me.”
After he chose Jim Castanes as the architect for the project, the two men began discussing what Castanes described as a private sanctuary: a dwelling that would take advantage of the tranquil setting and water views and keep distractions, whether visual or technological, to a minimum.
“Herman really impressed upon us simplicity and colors that were more muted,” Castanes says. “We took input from him and came up with the design.”
The house, which cost around $300 a square foot, has a central spine from which various rooms branch off, all of them minimally furnished. The living room, for instance, has little more than a couch, a chair and a coffee table, but floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the bay and a steel fireplace set into the main wall creates visual interest.
“When you’re into minimalism, you don’t need a lot of stuff in those rooms,” Castanes says. “We wanted to draw attention to the fireplace as a sculptural piece.”
Still, he says, he likes to challenge his clients, and be challenged himself. In this case, he wanted to interject some color, and suggested doing so with a large door set on a pivot. The hallway door would separate the public spaces from the private areas and be a giant canvas.
As Wu recalls: “Jim wanted to paint it beach-ball yellow and have some fun. I couldn’t picture it. I was pushing back.”
Ultimately, he conceded, and the door, with its textured finish and pop of cheerful yellow, is one of his favorite things about the house. “To have all these brush strokes and texture to it — it came out almost as an abstract piece of art,” Wu says.
Another area where there was much discussion surrounded technology. Wu deals with computers (and computer glitches) all day at his job and had no desire to do so at home.
“That smart-home technology, I just didn’t want to deal with it,” he says. “This is not Bill Gates’ house. I’m a Luddite at heart.”
Here, Castanes was forced to ask himself if technology really makes life simpler, and rethink his design approach to maintain the feel of a true sanctuary. He limited the number of switches in each room and simplified the electrical and mechanical systems.
Wu has been in the house for two years, and says he would change little, if anything, about its design. It has indeed become his sanctuary.
“As soon as I walk in the door, the stress melts away,” he says. “I’m in my own little world.”