Leading the way, room to room Interesting entries, antique doorways and gates from all over the world are featured throughout the Corliss...

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THE KOI POND hasn’t held a fish any more than the garage has held a car. The waterfall from the second story works unless a kid turns off the main switch while playing a joke on a sister. And the dumbwaiter has been designated off limits to games of hide-and-seek.

Life happens between the time a couple plans a dream home and it actually gets built, Tamra Corliss will tell you.

Permits take forever to pin down. Kids come along. Koi ponds become swimming pools deep enough to dive into. Garage floors become basketball courts too dearly polished to park a car on. And kid magnets like waterfalls and dumbwaiters become the stuff of family stories.

Corliss, a pharmacist, and her husband, Michael, a developer, bought the property in Normandy Park in 1988 — B.K. (before kids) — thinking to work on it over time. They began getting permits in 1992, a process that took seven years, and moved in three years ago.

The property, part of an estate that once belonged to the Foss family of maritime fame, fronts on Puget Sound. It sweeps grandly down a wide embankment to the water’s edge, yielding imposing views along a corkscrew drive.

An old beach cottage on the property was remodeled for the growing family to live in while the main house was being built. The three Corliss kids, now aged 9 to 14, were all born while they lived there.

Architect Barry Gehl, of Krannitz Gehl Architects, and the Corlisses used the time to dream up unique touches and special effects that impart a huge WOW factor to almost every room of the new house. Its 12,000 square feet are divided into three two-story wings joined by two pavilions that house kitchen, dining and living areas. Bedroom suites are in the wings.

Two-foot squares of creamy travertine flooring and long expanses of clear cedar siding flow seamlessly from inside out, their expanse emphasized by inverted fir trusses that draw the eye up and out to the view.

The pool changed drastically between plan and execution. The dining room opens to water contained by tiles that reflect the blues and greens of the Mediterranean. The pool tops out just below the doorsill — a tribute to Gehl’s travels to Venice. Large stepping stones keep guests dry as they negotiate the shallow span between formal indoor and informal outdoor dining. Farther out, the pool drops off to diving depth.

The master bedroom is distinguished by a bath that is part of the overall living space. The dark bathtub forms a headboard of sorts for the king-size bed. The tub is surrounded by blue stone tiles and is fed by a pipe encased in a basalt boulder to form a mini-waterfall.

“One of the fun things about working on this house was that with Mike and Tamra I didn’t have to worry about conventional thinking,” Gehl says. “Who says the bathtub has to be behind a wall?”

The house has two kitchens — a family kitchen upstairs with butcher-block and limestone counters, and, downstairs, a professional kitchen that caterers use for large parties. The dumbwaiter makes delivering the food from downstairs a snap.

“The kids did try sending one of them up the dumbwaiter once,” Tamra laughs, “but only once. We put a stop to that right away.”

In the basement is an atmosphere-controlled wine cellar capable of storing 35,000 bottles. The wine cellar tunnels beneath the house and opens near the guesthouse and a swinging footbridge that leads to the beach.

Though it has many special features, Gehl says, in the end that isn’t what the house is about. “It’s really about reflecting the way people live and kids having a fun place to grow up in.”

Leading the way, room to room

Interesting entries, antique doorways and gates from all over the world are featured throughout the Corliss home, giving it a unique character. Among these features:

• The main entry is a study in contrasts. A thick, field-stone turret reminiscent of an old-world castle watchtower houses an ultra-modern stairway with a welded steel balustrade that winds up to an elliptical skylight, canted to reiterate the tight spiral of the stairs. High-velocity jets surround the skylight, making it self-cleaning.

• Eight latticed Chinese doors backed with rice paper hide craft materials in a utility room. Newly fabricated metal handles were made to look like artifacts attached to them.

• A “mini-bath” faces a curved passageway leading to the master suite and features an Asian bathing pot, a stone water container with a dipper for rinsing off.

• A bronze gate from France, green with patina and marked by whitewashed graffiti added long ago, opens into the master suite.

Sally Macdonald is a former Seattle Times reporter. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.