Completely contemporary: Ralph and Alicia Siegel now have a beautiful Bainbridge Island house to go with their charming boathouse and carriage house/garage.

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A fireplace separates the dining area from the great room. “The dining area doesn’t need to be exactly adjacent to the great room,” says architect Peter Brachvogel; “it’s daily hangout plus formal.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
A fireplace separates the dining area from the great room. “The dining area doesn’t need to be exactly adjacent to the great room,” says architect Peter Brachvogel; “it’s daily hangout plus formal.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

WHEN LAST WE VISITED Ralph and Alicia Siegel, their burgeoning Bainbridge Island compound was missing just one critical component: someplace to live.

They had someplace to stay — a couple places, in fact: As phases one and two of a three-phase, 10-year, compound-amassing project, BC&J Architects already had created an enchanting cedar-shingle boathouse and a cozy, coordinating carriage house/garage on the waterfront property. Those made ideal interim nests while the Siegels were based in the Midwest, awaiting the big retirement move back to the island where they met.

“We were living in Chicago for the guts of this; we’d come back every six weeks,” Ralph says. “We used to tell our friends we lived in a garage. And we didn’t kill each other.”

Well, it is a lovely garage.

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But it was not home. Phase Three took four more years of designing and building and finessing and filling — and now, lo and behold, home is a complementary, contemporary centerpiece that wraps up the compound and establishes a special, spacious gathering place for the Siegels and their three far-flung sons and their families.

Battered columns of troweled cement plaster flank the stairs to the office/den area. “We do love what the battering creates,” says homeowner Alicia Siegel: “so many layers, so interesting.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Battered columns of troweled cement plaster flank the stairs to the office/den area. “We do love what the battering creates,” says homeowner Alicia Siegel: “so many layers, so interesting.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

That contemporary profile, smack in between the boathouse and carriage house, is “very intentional,” says BC&J architect Peter Brachvogel. “They’re different (buildings) but belong together.”

The Phase Three goal: maximum warmth, zero sterility. “We wanted it open, with as much natural light as possible,” Alicia says. “Concrete, glass, metal, wood — and cozy. That’s always a huge challenge when you’re using hard surfaces.”

The Phase Three result: challenge, schmallenge.

“It all comes down to the light,” Brachvogel says. “Part of that is floor-to-ceiling light. Creating a sense of scale brought light in all year. We played with roof overhangs and clerestories: height, overhang, roof pitch; it’s always the dance.”

This is truly a graceful-on-its-sturdy-feet home, led by high (but not too-high) ceilings; 30 powerful, layered battered columns; abundant art and artistry; and beautiful built-in storage everywhere it would fit.

At its literal and aesthetic center, connecting front to back, in to out, and “daytime and nocturnal buildings,” Brachvogel says: the scene-setting dining area, aka the “connecting tube,” aka “the soul of the building.”

“It’s angled open to splay subtly when you walk in the front door,” Alicia says.

“Most of the time, there are no lights on” in the great room, homeowner Alicia Siegel says. Instead, it brings in its own from big glass doors to the deck, and from “thin-feeling” clerestories, architect Peter Brachvogel says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
“Most of the time, there are no lights on” in the great room, homeowner Alicia Siegel says. Instead, it brings in its own from big glass doors to the deck, and from “thin-feeling” clerestories, architect Peter Brachvogel says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“Everything is on axes to the water,” Brachvogel says. “You can see spaces outside and then back inside. You can always be in a place of a joyful experience.”

The ceiling of the dining area, which architect Peter Brachvogel calls “the soul of the building,” rises to 14 feet, 6 inches. “I’m not a big fan of super-high ceilings,” he says. “We were trying to break spaces up in a way that read interestingly enough.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The ceiling of the dining area, which architect Peter Brachvogel calls “the soul of the building,” rises to 14 feet, 6 inches. “I’m not a big fan of super-high ceilings,” he says. “We were trying to break spaces up in a way that read interestingly enough.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

As you might imagine, it took a village to raise this three-building compound over 10 years — and that, all the village people agree, was a joyful experience all its own.

“If there’s a story here, it’s collaboration,” Ralph says. “We all became friends.”

“We tried to be all local, everything Bainbridge-y,” Alicia says: Brachvogel and Stella Carosso of BC&J, Dave Carley of Carley Construction, Tish Treherne of Bliss Garden Design, subcontractors, everyone.

“The subs loved coming here,” confirms Carosso. “We heard it at the store.”

Carosso consulted on interior design and underscored the import of the Siegels’ personal, meaningful collectibles — some from Ralph’s late mother, famed interior designer Marjorie Siegel, and some from the Siegels’ travels.

“With incredible art and dramatic architecture, you keep the interior muted and let art do the talking,” Carosso says.

Even before it found a home in this home, all that incredible art called out to Brachvogel cross-country from Chicago.

Homeowner Alicia Siegel says they were concerned the guest bathroom might feel too tiny, but with the stone and wood continuing all the way up to the ceiling, “It feels just the right size. It’s very compact, but it works very well.” (Benjamin Benschneider)
Homeowner Alicia Siegel says they were concerned the guest bathroom might feel too tiny, but with the stone and wood continuing all the way up to the ceiling, “It feels just the right size. It’s very compact, but it works very well.” (Benjamin Benschneider)
“We wanted the biggest space in the master, just for us,” homeowner Alicia Siegel says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s the two of us.” A hidden TV pops up from the end of the bed, and the sparkly chandelier belonged to Ralph’s mother, the late interior designer Marjorie Siegel. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
“We wanted the biggest space in the master, just for us,” homeowner Alicia Siegel says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s the two of us.” A hidden TV pops up from the end of the bed, and the sparkly chandelier belonged to Ralph’s mother, the late interior designer Marjorie Siegel. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“Peter had to come to the condo to see how we lived,” Alicia says. “He saw our furniture and artwork — all things we’ve had for a million years. We wanted this to be our home, but we were downsizing by half, especially wall space.”

So, Brachvogel created custom, not-necessarily-wall spaces to accommodate specific pieces: alcoves, niches, display shelves — and then he injected inspired touches of his own seafaring spirit.

“Peter’s boat thing,” as Alicia calls it, manifests in the deceptively small guest room inspired by The Maritime Hotel in New York City (“Everything is tucked in and purposeful,” she says), and in the convertible upstairs den/office that “feels like the bow of a ship.”

From this cozily symbolic crow’s nest, the Siegels catch sight of cruise ships, Mount Baker, cheery woodland and seashore critters — and the curvy sandspit where Alicia rented a house 40 years ago, when she taught in Poulsbo, and when she and Ralph first started dating.

Special places, always, are worth revisiting.

“For four or five years of our marriage, we lived on Bainbridge,” Alicia says. “It’s good to be back in the Northwest.”