Originally designed by Paul H. Kirk, this Innis Arden home is modernized throughout, including the moated driveway.

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TYPICALLY, AS ITS NAME so aptly implies, a driveway simply gets you to a house. Right? Drive (this) way! Keep it between the lines. There; you made it. Thanks for coming.

The entry gate is 2,000 pounds of solid metal with sandwiched ipe and glass, Houck says. “It was Darrin’s idea to make the overhang floating,” Larry says. “He came up with ideas, and we liked them. He said, ‘I didn’t think you’d do them all.’ ” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The entry gate is 2,000 pounds of solid metal with sandwiched ipe and glass, Houck says. “It was Darrin’s idea to make the overhang floating,” Larry says. “He came up with ideas, and we liked them. He said, ‘I didn’t think you’d do them all.’ ” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

So let’s not call the artful entrance to Larry and Rhonda Nelsen’s Innis Arden home a driveway, K? This brief stretch of deep imagination, this unexpected collection of textures, features and materials, carries far more than the random sedan: It embodies the entire aesthetic of the equally inspired home it leads to.

This driveway is designed. There is grass. There are pavers. Lights. Fountains. There. Is. A. Moat. People! A moat. You must cross it, on custom ramps, to reach the gorgeous garage.

When the Nelsens remodeled this solid circa-1946 specimen of Paul H. Kirk architecture — with Rainier Custom Homes, architect Darrin Petersen (Bjorn & Poulsen Fine Home Design) and interior designer Beverly Bradshaw — they really did not want “the whole house to look like a garage” from the street.

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Even the garage doesn’t look like a garage from the street.

The door, for starters, is a hulking 22-foot span of COR-TEN steel. “It’s one of my favorite things,” Larry says. “How were we going to open a 22-foot garage door? People were telling me we couldn’t do it. But Adin (Houck, of Rainier Custom Homes) went online and found a way.” (The awesomely atypical way: a hydraulic pumping station.)

“It was a process picking the slab at the top of the stairs,” says Adin Houck, of Rainier Custom Homes. “I love that granite — Red Hollywood — when you come in, it catches the eye,” homeowner Rhonda Nelsen says. Bella the pig was a gift from her husband, Larry. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
“It was a process picking the slab at the top of the stairs,” says Adin Houck, of Rainier Custom Homes. “I love that granite — Red Hollywood — when you come in, it catches the eye,” homeowner Rhonda Nelsen says. Bella the pig was a gift from her husband, Larry. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

The entry ramps are COR-TEN, too, measured to accommodate the Nelsens’ cars, galvanized in the moat water and bolted down. “It looks precarious, but there’s more room than you think,” Rhonda says. (“What happens if you go in?” Larry asks, perhaps prophetically anticipating the next question. “We’ve got AAA.”)

And then — oh, yes — there’s the part where they live: 3,410 square feet of simple lines and stucco (“Mediterranean with a contemporary twist,” Houck says); literal and ambient stability, strength and warmth; neutral shades of wood, stone and steel.

Right away, you sense: This is a substantial home. Pre-remodel, it was “kinda like a bomb shelter,” Larry says. “It was pretty darn ugly — all concrete and glass. The whole house was on four concrete pillars, with huge concrete beams.” (The structure stayed, Houck says, joined by new supports and new wrapping for the beams.)

Then, you know for sure. The entry gate — 2,000 pounds of solid metal with sandwiched ipe and glass — pivots open. To the left, on the upper deck: more water, and fire. An infinity pool (a fireplace “floats” in the middle) gently waterfalls, next to a built-in concrete table, into a trough. Underneath, “an underground vault with a manhole cover” contains all the essential pump and filtration equipment, Larry says.

Head straight inside from the gate, and you’re hit with more water — this time, Puget Sound itself — farther away, beyond a steep hillside, but still right there. “There’s a window-to-window view from the front door,” Rhonda says. “The minute you come through: Whoa.” (Even the hardware stays out of the way. “We shopped for flat handles,” Larry says. “We wanted that walk-in sightline to the view.”)

Customized COR-TEN steel entry ramps lead over a fountained moat to the Nelsens’ garage, a hefty 22-foot-span of more COR-TEN that’s raised and lowered by a hydraulic pumping station. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Customized COR-TEN steel entry ramps lead over a fountained moat to the Nelsens’ garage, a hefty 22-foot-span of more COR-TEN that’s raised and lowered by a hydraulic pumping station. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Between the view frames, another visual treat: The glistening kitchen, now reshaped and relocated to a prime wedge of the upper-level open layout, considerately keeps its two sets of upper cabinets to the side, clearing counterspace galore en route to a coffee/computer workspace with a wall of windows to the water.

The kitchen island’s waterfall design “puts the work space down a level,” Rhonda Nelsen says. Two upper cupboards back out of the way of the view, and a drawer microwave frees up counterspace. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The kitchen island’s waterfall design “puts the work space down a level,” Rhonda Nelsen says. Two upper cupboards back out of the way of the view, and a drawer microwave frees up counterspace. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

In the living area, one of the Nelsens’ impressive works of art slides down to expose another medium: a hidden TV (all their TVs are hidden). The heat-throwing blackened steel fireplace, with a “floating” hearth, tucks little ventilation holes between each panel, Houck says.

The translucent-glass pass-through between the master bedroom and the living area is “open for us most all the time,” says homeowner Rhonda Nelsen. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The translucent-glass pass-through between the master bedroom and the living area is “open for us most all the time,” says homeowner Rhonda Nelsen. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

The master suite stayed at the front of the home but gained a translucent-glass pass-through into the living area, built-in cabinets and drawers, and a freshly feng-shui-ed east-west bed orientation. The master bathroom and powder room were modernized with tiles, rocks and textures, and down the floating stairs (metal boxed with oak), the office, family room and game room were updated and rearranged.

“We live upstairs mostly, and come down for movies and special events,” Rhonda says.

Rhonda and Larry Nelsen relax at the built-in concrete table (by Absolutely Fine Concrete) on their deck; it sports their initials: L & R. The gas firepit in the infinity pool lights at night. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Rhonda and Larry Nelsen relax at the built-in concrete table (by Absolutely Fine Concrete) on their deck; it sports their initials: L & R. The gas firepit in the infinity pool lights at night. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

It’s a design that leaves no wasted space, she says. Even all the way to the road, along those ramps, over that moat, atop those grassy pavers forming that artsy “driveway.”