KEVIN AND KAREN had lots to look at when they were moving to Seattle from Bellevue. They looked in Madrona. They looked on Queen Anne. But Madison Park looked different.
“We were drawn first and foremost to the neighborhood,” Kevin says. “Specifically, the Canterbury neighborhood. It’s really close to the lake, and has longtime residents. It’s a really unusual Seattle neighborhood in that it’s got a lot of consistency. A lot of the folks that live on this block raised their kids here.”
The couple made offers on three Madison Park homes — all sharing a backyard fence — and finally connected on a 1960s-era rambler with one level, three bedrooms, 1,700 or so square feet and a soggy old foundation. (“This land 100 years ago used to be under Lake Washington,” Kevin says. “After the lake receded, they built houses. The soil was pretty wet.”)
When you connect with a neighborhood this deeply, and it calls you so strongly, and you have been so insistent on making it “home,” it only makes sense that you’re also going to insist on respecting that neighborhood, and your new neighbors.
“Over the years, many homes here have gone through some kind of remodel,” Kevin says. “One of our goals was to try to make the home fit in so it didn’t have a significantly different style. Probably half are one-story, and half are now two-story homes; I imagine most were originally one-story. We wanted the house to fit in, in that regard — kind of a similar footprint, setback and driveway.”
Architect Christopher Wright agrees — and he also knows this neighborhood well: Kevin and Karen contacted Wright after being wowed by his work on one of the nearby homes they didn’t get. “In any neighborhood — especially with a new house and taking down the house that was there — it always is important to not necessarily match everything, but to fit in, and feel like it belongs there,” Wright says. “You see so many [bad] examples. An eyesore starts to change the character of the neighborhood.”
Kevin and Karen’s eye-elating home has elevated it — without impolitely elevating itself. Their sleek new home, with a definite midcentury-modern vibe, is filled with art and light and 3,990 square feet over three levels that do not look at all like three levels. “The third story is not the entire side or footprint — just in the middle,” Kevin says.
“We decided to build a new house that dug into the sloping site, burying most of the basement to be level with the street,” Wright says. “The kids’ bedrooms ended up on the top floor that was set back from the front wall of the house and treated as a dormer popping out of the roof. The intent was that from the street, one would perceive the house as much as possible as being one-story, with dormers above and a garage below.”
Interesting perceptions — and perspectives — continue inside:
• Kevin and Karen’s two teenage sons (their three other children have grown up and moved out) study in what they call “the homework loft: a really neat area kind of on a midlevel between the first and second floor,” Kevin says. Adds Wright: “It’s essentially a horizontal house, but the homework area is really a stair tower that goes all the way to the basement. It’s kind of a surprise space as you work your way up: You think it’s an attic, but it’s opened up on both sides — a big space with a skylight. It’s not really architecturally obvious from the house there’s a tower. It’s kind of hidden within the house, bringing light deep into the center.”
• There’s more hidden treasure in the great room, where an entire wall of sliding-glass doors accordions open to the backyard. “We’re not big TV folks,” Kevin says. “We wanted it available for the Super Bowl or a football game, but we wanted to kind of hide it away and not dominate the feel of the home. We worked with Chris to create a real interesting [solution]: Sliding barn doors, probably 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide, slide in opposite directions to open up a cutout, where Chris built a custom walnut cabinet in the limestone wall. If we want to watch TV, we open it up. When we don’t, we can keep it closed. One interesting twist: The middle panel is actually fabric with speakers inside it, so we can have music on.”
• About that limestone wall: It is connective. It is unique. It is substantial (“basically, our entire north wall of the home,” Kevin says — running from the front yard to the back, where it frames an outdoor firepit). “It slices through where the living room opens on two sides — front and back — and visually connects the two,” Wright says. “We were thinking of the flow and the light coming through between those two spaces.”
The limestone wall — “perhaps the one elevated material” among a “restrained pallet of warm and unassuming materials: exposed concrete foundation, knotty cedar and black Richlite siding, black windows and an asphalt shingle roof,” Wright says — adds an elegant element of privacy to the backyard.
Out front, though, the home sends a decidedly public message, which was the point all along: “We created a deep front porch, intending it to be a welcoming and friendly gesture to the street,” says Wright.