LIKE EVERY EXQUISITE residence Seattle architect Nils Finne designs, The Venice House is named for its location, not its composition.

Otherwise, The Venice House would require dual West Coast citizenship.

Spring Home Design: Northwest architecture, materials and craftsmanship shine in a one-of-a-kind California house that really feels like home

“It’s like the whole house was shipped here from Seattle,” says Andy, who lives in The Venice House with his family.

It really kind of is.

Finne’s crafted modernism approach to architecture relies on impeccable craftsmanship and top-notch materials — and consistently, increasingly, even in artsy Los Angeles, he finds there’s no place like home.

“I have lived in Seattle now for close to 30 years, and I know there is some old-fashioned pride in Seattle showing the big cities how to do certain things, including design,” he says. “I am serious that my experience building this house made me realize just how high the bar is in Seattle in terms of quality and craftsmanship.”

Here are some of the Northwest creators setting the bar at “stratospheric” in The Venice House (all elements were designed by Finne):

This custom cable-suspended mirror “kind of scared the [Los Angeles] contractor to death,” says architect Nils Finne — but not Brian Bergstrom, principal at Distinctive Glass in Lynnwood. “What makes this really neat is that the screw, when it’s installed, is flush with the face of the mirror; there’s nothing protruding. That’s what people get really nervous about. Once you tackle it and do it, it’s OK. It’s not easy. It might be for us just because we’ve done it.” Finne designed this custom sink from “two pieces of quartz [that] are slightly different — two swirling shapes,” he says. (Courtesy Tom Bonner Photography )
This custom cable-suspended mirror “kind of scared the [Los Angeles] contractor to death,” says architect Nils Finne — but not Brian Bergstrom, principal at Distinctive Glass in Lynnwood. “What makes this really neat is that the screw, when it’s installed, is flush with the face of the mirror; there’s nothing protruding. That’s what people get really nervous about. Once you tackle it and do it, it’s OK. It’s not easy. It might be for us just because we’ve done it.” Finne designed this custom sink from “two pieces of quartz [that] are slightly different — two swirling shapes,” he says. (Courtesy Tom Bonner Photography )

Custom suspended mirror (powder room)

Fabricated (in duplicate, actually) by Distinctive Glass of Lynnwood

“The L.A. mirror guys just refused to install the mirror in the suspended steel frame,” Finne says. “We had a long hassle. The mirror floats. The sub said, ‘I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole.’ Finally, he said, ‘I’ll do it for $5,000 to cut one mirror. I went to Distinctive Glass. They cut two, in case one broke during shipping, and sent them down here. The cost was $800, including shipping.”

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Just another day of (highly skilled, highly detailed) work, says Brian Bergstrom, who founded Distinctive Glass with Dennis Vogt 20 years ago and has collaborated with Finne on 10 or so projects. Bergstrom worked with Dave Renninger and Matt Dunston on this one, which he calls “the Nils Finne Mirror Special.”

“We like to do things that a lot of people say no to,” Bergstrom says. “Nils really pushes the bounds and stretches things out, but our fabricators are used to things that are out of the ordinary. They’re challenging, for sure. You have to be very precise when cutting and drilling these holes. I was a little surprised that nobody in L.A. could do that … More power to the people up here.”

Shipping the mirrors was more challenging, he says. “We made a special crate and had to protect the mirrors. A lot of people had to do their job right.”

They are pros. Nothing cracked in transit. “They didn’t send back the second mirror,” Bergstrom says. “Somebody probably has it down in L.A.”

Quantum Windows & Doors in Everett fabricated the massive vertical-grain Douglas fir lift-slide doors leading to the pool. “The clear opening you create is 20 feet when you open the panels,” says Ty Robb, regional territory manager. “It’s a complete wall of windows and doors. You can see the other manufacturer’s windows, the small openings at the bottom. Ours have a similar layout so it looks consistent; it’s basically the same glass sightlines.” (Courtesy Tom Bonner Photography)
Quantum Windows & Doors in Everett fabricated the massive vertical-grain Douglas fir lift-slide doors leading to the pool. “The clear opening you create is 20 feet when you open the panels,” says Ty Robb, regional territory manager. “It’s a complete wall of windows and doors. You can see the other manufacturer’s windows, the small openings at the bottom. Ours have a similar layout so it looks consistent; it’s basically the same glass sightlines.” (Courtesy Tom Bonner Photography)

Vertical-grain Douglas fir lift-slide doors (living pavilion) and offset-pivot front door (entry)

Fabricated by Quantum Windows & Doors in Everett

“The enormous 10-foot-wide fir lift-slide doors open up and create a 20-foot-wide opening from the dining space to the pool deck,” says Finne. “The doors are gorgeous.”

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Ty Robb, regional territory manager, has been with Quantum for about 14 years, and has quite a history of gorgeous collaboration with Finne — including the custom sapele front door of the FINNE Architects office in Fremont.

“He is very specific about defining the entry doors; he’s known for wild, custom entries,” Robb says. “All the entry doors, there’s something that’s unique and doesn’t exist anywhere else. A lot of those take a lot of time and effort and handwork — 20 to 30 hours of a craftsperson’s time, depending on the design. This entry door was quite easy for us to build.”

The sliding doors required heavier lifting. For one thing, he says, each of the two giant panels weighed 520 pounds.

For another, “The sliding door was kind of atypical in that its tracks extend behind glazed walls, with windows by another company — an interior bypass, like a pocket door, but you’re not framing out an interior pocket wall. The glass divisions in our door mimic the layout of the windows that the door panels slide behind.”

“We do a lot of rectilinear things here in Seattle, and Nils usually has some more curves thrown into things — literally,” says project manager Jesse Wrenn of Landbridge Lighting, which fabricated this custom steel pendant light designed by architect Nils Finne. “He likes to use custom craftspeople in a lot of areas and bring them together in the same place. Everything is opened up, so you can tell where the work has been with his stuff. Even in the cladding of everything he does — it’s all got time on it, and it shows.” (Courtesy Tom Bonner Photography )
“We do a lot of rectilinear things here in Seattle, and Nils usually has some more curves thrown into things — literally,” says project manager Jesse Wrenn of Landbridge Lighting, which fabricated this custom steel pendant light designed by architect Nils Finne. “He likes to use custom craftspeople in a lot of areas and bring them together in the same place. Everything is opened up, so you can tell where the work has been with his stuff. Even in the cladding of everything he does — it’s all got time on it, and it shows.” (Courtesy Tom Bonner Photography )

Custom steel pendant light, kitchen

Fabricated by Landbridge Lighting in Seattle

“This light is a focal point for the entire space,” says Finne. (Initially, he says, the electrician — not from Seattle! — wired it incorrectly, “and we had to rip it out of the ceiling.”)

Now firmly in place — and in focus — the light measures approximately 11 feet long by 1½ feet wide and weighs about 165 pounds, says Landbridge Lighting’s Jesse Wrenn, who managed this project and has collaborated on others with Finne, including mirror frames; stools; and “the large aluminum, serpentine light fixtures — pretty special, dragon-like pieces, two of them, 12 feet long” — in Finne’s Mazama House.

The Venice light is “almost all steel,” Wrenn says. “It’s one where we had 3-D printed elements in there for wire guidance. There’s steel flat bar and some lathe work in the standoffs/spacers that spread the two beams.”

It’s not a particularly complicated light, he says, but there were tweaks. “[Finne] had some dimensions put together on this. We had to change some of those dimensions to bring the cost down, to use some stock steel sizes rather than water-jet pieces. We dialed it in to match ready-made materials so all the work could be done in-house.”

“[Finne] likes clean lines, very interesting geometric lines,” says Tish Oye, principal at Glassworks, Inc., which crafted this 1-inch-thick cast-glass breakfast counter for the quartz kitchen island. “It doesn’t take a lot of visual space.” The stainless-steel custom sink, fabricated by Metal Masters Northwest, “is not in the center of the island,” says homeowner Andy. “If you’re eating [at the counter], there are no splashes, and you’re not looking at the sink. There’s a bigger work area on one side so it’s not as in your face, literally.” (Courtesy Tom Bonner Photography )
“[Finne] likes clean lines, very interesting geometric lines,” says Tish Oye, principal at Glassworks, Inc., which crafted this 1-inch-thick cast-glass breakfast counter for the quartz kitchen island. “It doesn’t take a lot of visual space.” The stainless-steel custom sink, fabricated by Metal Masters Northwest, “is not in the center of the island,” says homeowner Andy. “If you’re eating [at the counter], there are no splashes, and you’re not looking at the sink. There’s a bigger work area on one side so it’s not as in your face, literally.” (Courtesy Tom Bonner Photography )

Custom cast-glass breakfast counter

Fabricated by Seattle’s Glassworks, Inc.

In The Venice House, under that brilliant pendant light, 8-year-old Mays slices juicy red tomatoes for a lunchtime sandwich. His cutting board rests on a dazzling glass counter that’s elevated only 30 inches, “for dining-table height,” says Finne — “no stools.”

It is architectural art in everyday action. That is a beautiful thing.

“This one is cast glass, 1 inch thick,” says Tish Oye, principal at Glassworks, Inc., which has etched or cast custom glass pieces for eight Finne projects. “It’s really easy maintenance and very clean.”

It took about three weeks to craft, she says: “We had to get the glass, crush it, form it, heat it (it stays in our oven), cut it, polish it.”

And then: Ship it. Very, very carefully.

“We have custom shipping crates and a great shipping company,” Oye says. Special damage-indicator stickers — ShockWatch and TiltWatch — change color if the crate is dropped, shocked, hit or tilted, she says. “We build our crates so the glass is shipped upright, and the shipping company lets us know every stop.”

Creativity meets craftsmanship, meets care.

“It’s important, because each piece we make is for that individual person,” Oye says. “We’re hoping it lasts forever. I think it’s quite an honor [Finne] chose us.”

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It’s an honor shared — and returned — by the Northwest creators who have contributed to this California showpiece of expertise.

Bergstrom calls Finne “a one-of-a-kind architect.” Robb calls him “a true artist.” Wrenn says of Finne’s designs: “They’ve got a flavor to them that is pretty unique.”

Oye says Finne is “really an architectural artist. He sees the whole picture, not just the pieces. Everything is cohesive. It’s sort of like a movie: There’s so many people behind the scenes making the movie, but you just see the actors.”

Spring Home Design: A Pacific NW story on location in California