LIVING IN LESCHI, Steve Hoedemaker and Tommy Swenson were looking for a new house “kind of obsessively,” Hoedemaker says — and kind of skeptically. Initially.
Then up popped this West Seattle prospect: part elevated treehouse, perched as it is over such a serious cliff, and part resort, its illustrious footprint extended as it is by four outstanding outbuildings; a shimmering pool; and gardens so jubilant, “It’s like a cheerleader exploded here in spring,” he says.
“I was very curious, but I’ve been deceived by so many things online,” Hoedemaker says. “But every corner I turned, I was more and more sold. I couldn’t believe something like this existed.”
This truly incredible home has existed since 1966 (it starred in a sweet, now-sepia feature in the Nov. 11, 1973, Seattle Times Sunday Pictorial, plus one in Sunset), built for art collectors Duff and Dorothy Kennedy by their friend/noted Northwest architect Ralph Anderson. (The additional lot, with the outbuildings and pool, was finished in the 1980s.)
Even more encouraging, Hoedemaker says, “My dad [architect David Hoedemaker] and Ralph worked together and had desks next to each other. After he moved here, [architect Albert] Bumgardner was doing some beautiful detailing, lots of wood-trim details — that showed up in my dad’s residential work, and the house we grew up in on Yarrow Point. The detailing [here] reminded me so much of the home I spent 18 years in: views, privacy, spaces.”
And that was the end of that house-hunting obsession. And the skepticism. Hoedemaker (also an architect, with Hoedemaker Pfeiffer) and Swenson (a nurse anesthetist with, he says, “a passion for art, architecture, furniture — and architects”) made an offer while they were in Denali National Park, getting engaged.
Now married and living in this meaningful midcentury-modern home with pups Tonka and Tripp, Hoedemaker and Swenson have honored Anderson’s design, and his legacy as an early, influential historic preservationist, through a gentle modernizing update grounded in respect.
“[Such a legacy] can feel like an uncomfortable obligation when the house doesn’t do its job well,” says Hoedemaker. “I find myself remodeling some beautiful things [elsewhere] that didn’t work well. This one is a study in approaching what works and what you might have done differently. The house is fundamentally the same.”
So much works so well — the unique southwest orientation, pointing right at Puget Sound, Blake Island and Vashon Island; the remarkable, tall-drink-of-water entry door; the sky-high indoor/outdoor skylight; the daring cantilever of the cliff-top living room; the still-brilliant original lighting, by Seattle lighting designer Irene McGowan; the original, elegant brass sinks and Italian marble counter in the master bathroom; a masterful plan of compression and expansion (“how low the ceilings are in some spaces, and then this big relief,” Hoedemaker says).
There really was no reason for extensive remodeling or reworking — just strategic repainting, refinishing and refurbishing.
“The home plays to three basic materials: wood, brick and glass,” Swenson says. “The work we’ve done on the interior is a testament to the home.”
Tim Pfeiffer, the other half of Hoedemaker Pfeiffer, led that interior work, curating furnishings and the couple’s amazing array of art and collectibles.
“Our style is determined partly by the way we collect: beautiful things of any age that often show history — eclectic, casual, natural, with elegant aspects,” Hoedemaker says.
In the living room, a custom paper light with a wire frame (“Moon Shine,” by Seattle artist Yuri Kinoshita) “was designed to float as a 3-D object,” Swenson says. (It does.) A new stone top modernizes a table commissioned in the early ’50s by Hoedemaker’s grandmother. The fish trap in the corner “is vintage,” Swenson says. “The skull rack is a whitetail deer I shot. The corner chairs were purchased from a friend; they were his grandmother’s. We took the mohair off and reupholstered them with cowhide. … The Tulip Table is a nod to the vintage of the house, a connection to [Eero] Saarinen, Steve’s dad’s boss.”
“We wanted to make the living room a place we occupied as often as possible,” Hoedemaker says. “We spend a lot of time in here.”
Nearby, an 11-foot-tall door leads to a super-cozy, brick-walled room on the other side of the two-sided fireplace. “We call it the study, but no one would ever study here,” Hoedemaker says. “Or the library, but that’s too formal. The hangover room! It can be lightless.”
Here, again, he says, “Every object tells a story.” There’s a wooden ship from David Hoedemaker’s home. A Phi Beta Kappa key that belonged to Hoedemaker’s mother. And what he laughingly calls “a nice embellishment”: a collection of metal shivs from the New York prison system.
“We are fortunate enough to go to a lot of places and come home with something,” says Swenson. “It’s sometimes not the obvious thing.”
Yet it all matters. As does this treasured home, and the deep connections, respect and gratitude it engenders.
“It’s probably my favorite house I’ve ever seen in the city,” Hoedemaker says. “The fact that we get to live in it feels like a privilege.”