After a bit of initial hesitation, LeeAnn Baker remakes history with a sense of Northwest elegance.
“LEEANN BLEW US OFF,” jokes Chak Cheung, who lives with his wife, Lisa, in a luxuriously livable waterfront home on Mercer Island.
Technically, he is right — but only to a point, seeing as how the interior design of the Cheungs’ luxuriously livable waterfront home is by LeeAnn Baker Interiors. Also, in Baker’s defense, she didn’t blow off the Cheungs personally — just the house. Just for a minute.
“A call came in, which my assistant had taken,” Baker says. “A couple wanted to do a slight remodel. I grew up on the island, and in middle school, I baby-sat for the prior owners. I didn’t think the house warranted putting more money into the existing structure; the main floor had too many small rooms that did not face the water. The house really needed a gut renovation. I said I was really busy. I was busy, but I hadn’t met them. Eventually, Lisa and I reconnected, and once I met with Chak and Lisa, I was really excited to work with them.”
Also in Baker’s defense: She was right about the gutting.
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The previous house had been built in 1951 — one level, one carport, one daylight basement, 3,000 or so square feet. After the Cheungs bought it in 2010, Baker says, they updated a few things and used it as a beach house for summer entertaining while they raised their two kids in Bellevue.
Once the Bellevue nest emptied, though, they were ready for more updates, an actual covered garage and monumentally enhanced views.
Good thing Baker was on board.
“LeeAnn did everything for us,” says Chak. “She recommended the architect [Craig Stillwell of Stillwell Hanson Architects] and the contractor [Joseph McKinstry Construction Company] — an amazing architect, and a remarkable design. It fits all our requirements and more.”
After a major remodel, the formerly awkward baby-sitting house has grown into a confident stunner: three levels and 4,200 square feet of comfy, plush sophistication; windows to Lake Washington and beyond; and, top to bottom, carefully selected elements, materials and colors that embody Baker’s signature Northwest Elegance aesthetic (“unpretentious and relaxed while still luxurious,” she says).
“Lisa has fabulous taste, and she wanted her home to be luxurious, like a New York town house, but still have finishes that would not have her guests feeling like they couldn’t be at home here — elegant, but not fancy or untouchable,” says Baker.
The newly open floor plan, with the master suite on the main floor and guest suites and a music room on the new upper level, also opened opportunities.
“In having a large house for two people, the open floor plan doesn’t feel too overall big,” Baker says. “We had to make formal rooms more casual for everyday use.”
So the custom-made, cerused dining table, cozy for two and perfect for more, looks elegant but is sturdy enough to hide pesky everyday nicks and scratches. Fabrics are purposefully “soft and durable, nothing too precious,” says Lisa. “This is so important to me when our friends gather.” And the coffered ceiling over the dining table is wallpapered “to make it feel like a different room in the great room,” Baker says.
Now that the view gets the respect it is due, “There are more windows than walls for art,” Baker says. “We were more dramatic with the light fixtures to play up the elegance of the home. It’s like a lighting showroom in here, but they all work together. We picked the kitchen ones first and played off of that to create different experiences. They work together, but not matchy-matchy.”
Chak was a little unsure, only at first, about the scones at the base of the gracefully dramatic stairway designed by Stillwell.
“I didn’t like the lights before,” Chak says. “Now I think it complements the others. In the beginning, I thought it was kind of devilish. I love that they’re different. Each room has a different theme.”
Overall, Baker says, “I call it black, white and brass.” There’s inlaid brass detail in the entryway tile. Touches of brass in the master-bathroom light and curtains. A black granite countertop in the kitchen. Black paint “opens up the view a little more” and evokes a “French metal-window feel.” Soft-black French doors everywhere that seem to chameleon into purples, blues or grays depending on the light.
“It’s full of light,” says Lisa. “This is exactly how we live. It’s our forever home. This is for us. We’re not ever getting rid of this.”