Bronwyn Richards didn't expect to move from Seattle to the Eastside in 1982. But a chance encounter with a 1912 chalet on the shores of Lake Washington won her over.
Bronwyn Richards didn’t expect to move from Seattle to the Eastside in 1982. But a chance encounter with a 1912 chalet on the shores of Lake Washington won her over. Perhaps it was the influence of the newly released movie “On Golden Pond.” Or the rustic, pristine character of the house and its setting in Beaux Arts Village — a quiet jewel of a community set apart from the larger city of Bellevue that surrounds it.
“The house has a warmth and appeal that is at once intriguing and never intimidating or off-putting,” says Richards. “I’ve seen people of all ages over the years stop with a kind of delighted surprise when they come through the door.” She loves the way the house is divided into a number of spaces that are as useful as they are intimate. And at nearly every turn there are views to forest and water through generous bands of original, multipaned, wood-framed windows.
While Richards and other owners before her have left their marks — raising a shed-roofed dormer, adding an interior stair to the ground level, installing skylights and upgrading kitchens and bathrooms — the essential character of the house has not changed. It continues to epitomize Arts and Crafts ideals about the hearth being at the center of the home. Walk into the foyer and you face a clinker-brick chimney that is the centerpiece of the house. The staircase weaves around it; the living room embraces it with the built-in benches of its inglenook.
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“If we’ve had a fire going all evening, going up the staircase you can put your hand against the brick and it’s radiating heat,” Richards says. “It truly is a living home — the heart as well as the hearth.” Using the stair also means touching the places that people have touched to make the circuit for nearly 100 years.
This house was a prototype, built by commercial artist Frank Calvert to inspire other residents building in this remarkable community. He was influential in planning and financing the village.
In 1908, a local group calling itself the Beaux Arts Society bought 50 acres of forest on the east shore of Lake Washington. Co-founders Calvert, Alfred Renfro and Finn Frolich planned a community for artists, architects and craftspeople where they could “live together, work together and play together.” Their interest in the popular American Arts and Crafts movement and obvious efforts to emulate Elbert Hubbard’s famed Roycroft community in New York would result in Craftsman-style homes on half-acre lots in the pristine woodland setting. More than 1,000 feet of waterfront were retained for a community park and boat moorage.
At the center of the project, 10 acres were set aside for Atelier Square, which was to eventually include workshops for the Beaux Arts Academy (headquartered in downtown Seattle at the time) in an Arts and Crafts building, a clubhouse, tennis court and grounds “for healthful recreation.” The clubhouse was to be outfitted with furniture and accessories made in the Arts and Crafts workshop.
The emblem of the Beaux Arts Society was the Beaux Arts cottage, an Arts and Crafts bungalow partly built of logs. According to the founders, “It is a refinement of the pioneer cabin of the West, and emblematic of the ‘home.’ ” It was Calvert’s chalet, its overhanging second floor supported by decorative brackets and crisscrossed bargeboards at the peaks of the roof, that the society adopted as its official trademark. Its form was the basis for the site plan of Atelier Square.
Renfro had been the first to build a rustic woodland chalet, and other members followed suit. Unfortunately, Beaux Arts Village soon lost its focus as its artists commuted by ferry to Seattle for their 9-to-5 jobs. The workshop, studios and clubhouse were never built.
A century after its founding, Beaux Arts Village is still a separate municipality, and while many newer homes threaten the rustic character sought by its settlers, enough of the original homes and landscape are preserved to allow visitors to step back in time and experience the delight that Renfro wrote about living here:
“We have tried to live on peaceful terms with Nature, as her guests and disciples, rather than masters or innovators.”
Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and author of “The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest.” Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.