Architect Bob Swain creates a Phinney Ridge refuge where everything works — on more than one level.
AS YOU AMBLE along the lushly landscaped, wood-planked path to Bob Swain’s Phinney Ridge home — once you find Bob Swain’s Phinney Ridge home — your shoulders slump. Your neck destresses. You breathe deeply (remember that?) and sigh, not even on purpose: “Ahhh.”
Wait just one city-slickin’ minute here — is this a house, or some kind of mystic hidden oasis?
Yes. And yes.
“We live too-intense lives,” says Swain, the architect/designer behind Robert Edson Swain Architecture + Design. “In a busy city, how do you create refuge? It’s an emotional experience as you decompress before you make it to the front door.”
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Technically (though not argumentatively, because we are very relaxed), there are three doors to the three living “environments” that make up Swain’s intentionally tucked-away and thoughtfully renovated 1905 home. Together, they add up to 1,830 square feet, give or take, split between the main building’s upper level, a back-house master suite/office (formerly a one-car garage) and a lower-level entertainment area Swain jokingly (but kind of aptly, actually) calls a “cantina.”
Swain bought his “cabin in the woods” hideaway in 1998. The “long, skinny, tiny T-shaped building on piers” had been modified over the years but, let’s say, maybe not to its full potential.
“The first thing I did was just cleanse,” Swain says. Adios, asbestos. See ya, sad shag carpet and smoke-yellow walls. Bye-bye, giant pink GE refrigerator.
Out went the “classic workers’ housing” vibe. In came the outside. And now every wide-reaching window offers a soothing view of greenery.
“I love climbing, hiking and wilderness,” Swain says. “My fantasy is living in a Cascades cabin I could sleep in every night after work without driving to Methow. This is like a vacation every day in the city.”
But it’s a vacation spot where things work.
“Everything serves at least three purposes, and it has to be beautiful,” says Swain, a credit to his New England boatbuilding heritage. “Everything is very changeable. It’s a way to fit things you shouldn’t be able to fit in a small space.”
Striking examples are rampant:
• It’s fitting that the back house used to be a garage, because now it screams convertible. Swain sited his gloriously skylighted bedroom up high, “driven by the sky,” to create storage space underneath. His study turns into a yoga area once he moves chairs, nests a coffee table under a bigger table, and extracts the massage table from its below-bedroom nook. The same space transforms into business-meeting central when he angles the larger table 90 degrees, slides a wooden door to block the bedroom stairs, and hangs presentations from a pinboard rail.
• Opposite the rusted-steel-sided, cooper-floored fireplace in the living area, a beautiful bookcase looks a lot like your basic beautiful bookcase. But then it moves — and exposes a hidden staircase leading to the lower level.
• Down those stairs, the former crawl space is now a magical place of presto-change-o. Poof! It’s a gathering spot: dinner around a 300-pound madrone-slab table and movies in the entertainment nook (on custom seating Swain designed). Abracadabra! It’s a complete guesthouse. Or apartment. Or pied-à-terre. The seating area becomes a queen bed; glass-framed doors define the new sleeping space; and you’ll find your guest bathroom behind, and kind of nestled within, the translucent glass walls framed by steel-shelved bookcases. (That mirror above the granite sink nook just outside? Also a door to the service area.)
• Elsewhere (everywhere), walls hide drawers and light switches; screens shield electric panels and garden supplies; furnishings hold shelves; and nooks conceal storage spaces, travel gear and even a rolling wine shelf.
“I’m a person who’s still super-practical,” Swain says. “My way of thinking with this house is that I don’t let you feel anything is ever a compromise. It’s all in the detailing and thoughtfulness and mindfulness.”
Mindfulness, did he say? Ahhh.