Mitchel Smith and Evette Gee left corporate jobs to travel the world. They spent a year visiting 23 countries, collecting not only memories but...

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Mitchel Smith and Evette Gee left corporate jobs to travel the world. They spent a year visiting 23 countries, collecting not only memories but Buddhas, furniture and an entire joglo from Java, all of which they shipped home to adorn their North Seattle garden. With hard work and an eye for exotic artifacts, the pair have transformed their city lot into a richly layered series of rooms that serve as quiet sanctuary or stage set for partying.

The couple began with a serious remodel of the 1,000-square-foot Ibsen Nelson house that sits squarely in the center of the property. Nelson is perhaps best known for designing the Museum of Flight and the artist Morris Graves’ home in Northern California.

“The lines of the house appealed,” says Smith, an architect himself. “But I consider myself a design-build guy now,” he explains, his handiwork on display in the sleek modernization of the flat-roofed contemporary box of a house. Its updated stylishness flows out into the garden because Smith installed floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors to open it up. The garden is all about décor. It’s unapologetically not about the plants. “I plant what I like visually,” says Smith. “I don’t know the names. And I’ve given up on grass — I just put in more moss.”

Smith made sure the exterior infrastructure was in place before setting in to decorate the garden. He wrapped the property in tall, wooden fences for privacy and installed a sprinkler system that irrigates every corner. Overhead, a canopy of timber bamboo, cherry and maple trees pretty much roofs the entire back garden in leaves.

To every room, a purpose


Influenced by cultures where people live outdoors much of the year, Mitchell Smith and Evette Gee created distinct garden rooms, each with its own purpose and atmosphere:

• You know you’ve arrived somewhere special the minute you step into the entry garden, where you’re greeted by a pair of red parasols and a Buddha. A pond and goddess statue encourage guests to pause for a moment of quiet contemplation on their way to the front door.

• The outdoor dining room is tranquil and private with fence and arbor, floating candles and lanterns. It feels like a world apart, a perfect space to linger long over a meal.

• The “opium den” is decked out with a Moroccan rug, floor pillows, low chairs and a table for lounging.

• The joglo is an open-air room that has a ceiling carved 250 years ago and is furnished with comfy, cushioned wicker chairs.

Both Smith and Gee were greatly influenced by the centuries-old gardens they visited in Japan and Indonesia, and by cultures and climates where people live outdoors much of the year. “We loved how minimalist the gardens were, how serene, the spirituality of it all,” says Gee.

You need only step out through the kitchen sliders to start your journey through the garden. What was once a narrow side yard has been refashioned into an intimate dining area framed with handsome arbor, gate and fencing. A long dining table sits alongside the pond and rushing waterfall Smith built as tribute to the couple’s trip to Africa’s Victoria Falls.

Stroll through the carved gateway to find a promenade of Buddha statues practicing their lotus positions, then into a lantern-lit, fern-rich back garden. Follow the path to the fully furnished joglo built over a koi pond. This open-air room seems to float above the water, its intricately carved wooden ceiling serving as yin to the home’s modern yang. Continue around the house to the party spot the couple calls “the opium den” with its Moroccan vibe of cushions and patterned carpet.

“You could be anywhere, it doesn’t feel a bit like Seattle,” says Gee, as a finch lands on a nearby Buddha and the bamboo rustles overhead.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net. Jacqueline Koch is a writer and photographer based in Seattle.