Langdon and Anne Simons' house does appear to float over the ground, its structure built around a series of decks and terraces surrounding Douglas fir and giant rhododendrons that preserve the feeling you're living in the woods.
LANGDON AND Anne Simons relocated from the Northeast to Seattle in 1957, leaving behind a recently built house that suited their modern taste. While temporarily settled into a house in Medina, the couple bought five acres of waterfront property there that included a handsome Colonial Revival house. Built in 1918 for lumberman James Garfield Eddy, the estate had been shaped from apple orchards into gardens framed by evergreens. The Simonses chose a two-acre undeveloped section at the northwest corner of the property facing the lake to build their house, and they picked Paul Hayden Kirk to design it. Kirk’s early reputation had been built upon residential work and his ability to adapt International Style modernism to the Northwest with local wood, large expanses of glass and landscape drawn from Asian traditions.
Anne remembers he came to see the site only once, talked with the couple for four hours after that, and in six weeks had completed the blueprints. “He had done everything that we liked. We moved one room. But he had to talk to us about raising it up — we’d never lived in a house that was on stilts.”
The house does appear to float over the ground, its structure built around a series of decks and terraces surrounding Douglas fir and giant rhododendrons that preserve the feeling you’re living in the woods.
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The beauty of the house is in its sensitivity to the site, its simplicity of forms, and the choice of materials: cedar outside, hemlock paneling inside. The landscaped courtyards that weave in and out of the rooms were planted in the Japanese style, with rockeries, a waterway and a George Tsutakawa fountain that now belongs to the Seattle Art Museum.
Entering over a raised walkway past the garden, you are literally carried away from the road and into a series of elegantly proportioned public entertaining spaces oriented toward the west-facing windows and decks.
“The living room is small for the size of the house,” Anne says. “It was for the family most of the time. Parties spilled out into the halls, which (Kirk) called the galleries, and onto the decks.” That became apparent as Langdon Simons became chairman of the Seattle Art Museum board when the museum was planning its first downtown building. The couple hosted parties, architects and the board. “In those days,” Anne recalls fondly, “you dressed up in long dresses for parties.”
In sharp contrast to the elegant entertaining rooms on the main floor, the ground floor included a fallout shelter, a fixture during the Cold War years. Anne recalls the plans called for the wine storage to be outside that room. “That’s ridiculous,” she said. “Put the wine in the fallout shelter. We’ll need it if we’re sitting in there for long periods.”
After 35 years in the home, the Simonses sold it to Richard and Rosemary Peterson in 1996. A year later, the Petersons invited architect Jim Olson to help restore and improve the house. Olson was a perfect choice. Kirk had designed a house for Olson’s aunt, which inspired the young architect to seek work in Kirk’s office. The principal change was enclosing the interior courtyard and converting it to the dining room. To retain the illusion of the out-of-doors, the roof was designed with a clerestory and the structure was hidden with translucent fabric panels that evoked the feeling of clouds overhead.
Olson made minimal exterior changes, moving a soaking tub indoors and installing sliding doors to expand access to the waterside deck and back garden. Worn out windows, doors and porch railings were replaced, the kitchen was expanded and bathrooms renewed.
With design assistance from Janice Viekman, the Petersons had furniture and carpets custom made by Northwest craftspeople.
When the Petersons recently decided to move on, too, much of that furniture stayed. The third owners agreed the fit was just right.
Larry Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and author of “The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest.” Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.