The owner of a remodeled condominium can see all the action on the lake — and beyond.

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WHATEVER BOAT’S AFLOAT, if it’s on Lake Union, it’s in Darrell Jackson’s sightline. The booming Fourth of July fireworks barge. The University of Washington’s legendary crew shells. Duck Dodge racing sailboats. Work-of-art restored wooden boats. Shimmering Christmas ships. Breathtaking superyachts Vava II and Omega. Jackson’s own 23-foot Cobalt, destined for a slip below his stunning windows-to-the-water penthouse perch.

The old, dated brick-faced living-room fireplace once had two flues, Jackson says. It’s now painted medium-density fiberboard, “harder than nails,” with stained rift-sawn oak. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The old, dated brick-faced living-room fireplace once had two flues, Jackson says. It’s now painted medium-density fiberboard, “harder than nails,” with stained rift-sawn oak. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“There is a constant stream of boats all the time,” Jackson says. “I never tire of watching them sail by.”

Could be (at least partly) thanks to the perch itself.

When he’s not in Spokane (Jackson is semiretired from Coeur d’Alene’s Sunshine Minting, Inc. — “making money making money”), Jackson drops anchor at the tippy top of Union Harbor, an apartment-turned-condominium building erected quite literally on the lake in 1968. Jackson and his wife, Ruth Gellert Jackson, inherited the two-level corner condo from her father, philanthropist and ELDEC CEO Max Gellert, after his death in 2012. Ruth passed away in October 2014 — after the condo’s total makeover had begun, but more than a year before its completion.

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“My wife and I had always planned to update the condo and move here when we retired,” Jackson says. “We were going to do a little bit here, a little bit there … let’s just say the scope changed.”

Jackson’s expansive windows offer great views of bustling Lake Union. “It’s so much fun to watch those Kenmore Air planes front and center,” he says.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Jackson’s expansive windows offer great views of bustling Lake Union. “It’s so much fun to watch those Kenmore Air planes front and center,” he says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Jackson says it was pretty obvious pretty quickly they needed an architect to open up the 2,375-square-foot space as much as possible and “to do whatever needed done to accent this fabulous view.”

Ben Trogdon got that the second he walked in the fourth-floor door, at the end of a deceptively blasé long, narrow, fluorescent-y hallway.

“The location is so stunning; it’s just a jaw-dropper,” says the namesake architect of Ben Trogdon Architects. “The view is the most important. This is a one-of-a-kind building. The height on the top floor doesn’t exist anywhere else on the east side of Lake Union.”

Not much was untouched in this visionary view quest. The original two-story windows stayed, but walls came down. Rooms moved and assumed new roles (the dining room, now with twice the window space, used to be a walled-off bedroom; the pantry used to be a galley kitchen; the all-new non-galley kitchen used to be the dining room). The dated brick-faced fireplace lost one of its two flues and gained stained rift-sawn oak and “harder-than-nails” painted MDF panels. Trogdon answered the “Where are we going to put the TV?” question with a soffit box that holds a drop-down big-screen TV; once it drops down, it rotates 360 degrees.

Trogdon and interior designer Sally Oien stuck to a palette of “organic Pacific Northwest natural colorations.” “All I heard from Ben was gray, gray, gray,” Jackson laughs. “But to be honest, I just shook my head and trusted his vision. This place is so light compared to the dungeon it was before.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Trogdon and interior designer Sally Oien stuck to a palette of “organic Pacific Northwest natural colorations.” “All I heard from Ben was gray, gray, gray,” Jackson laughs. “But to be honest, I just shook my head and trusted his vision. This place is so light compared to the dungeon it was before.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Upstairs, the “unused and inefficient” whole-floor open loft evolved into a practical and view-perfect media room, bathroom and bedroom (where three glass panels overlooking the living area slide for acoustic privacy without blocking the lakescape).

Throughout, interior designer Sally Oien (The Oien Collaborative) worked with sandy-beach and driftwood references, and restrained “organic Pacific Northwest natural colorations,” on all-new furniture. Inspired by one of Jackson’s multicolored Hawaiian shirts, a few deliberately not-so-restrained injections of bright orange pop out to say HEY: on the entryway electrical box, on a towering post, on a lone dish towel in the sparkling kitchen.

The new open stairway showcases ingenuity on a couple of levels: in the structure holding up its heavyweight steel panels — and in the way those panels were delivered. They wouldn’t fit up the building’s stairs (or in the elevators), so a hired barge with a crane “puttered right up and parked,” Trogdon says, and hoisted them (along with the refrigerator and a new rooftop air-conditioning unit) up to the deck.

The remodeling of Darrell Jackson’s 2,375-square-foot Lake Union penthouse condominium started out with “the possibility of expanding the lower-level common area to take advantage of the view,” architect Ben Trogdon says. Fourteen months and a total overhaul later, with contractor Thomas Fragnoli Construction on board: Yowza. Mission accomplished. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The remodeling of Darrell Jackson’s 2,375-square-foot Lake Union penthouse condominium started out with “the possibility of expanding the lower-level common area to take advantage of the view,” architect Ben Trogdon says. Fourteen months and a total overhaul later, with contractor Thomas Fragnoli Construction on board: Yowza. Mission accomplished. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Outside and in, every room now accents that forever view, and the lasting Gellert legacy, thanks in huge part, Jackson says, to “godsend” CiCi Pilgrim, who stepped in to help with the project after her sister Ruth’s death.

“So much of what was in Ruth’s mind had to do with her dad,” Jackson says. “So a lot of this is CiCi’s vision of what was Ruth’s vision.”

So the first-level master bathroom, expanded by stealing a little space from the entry, showcases the glass blocks Ruth really wanted, along with granite countertops that reminded the Jacksons of Palouse wheat fields, and at the top of the stairs hang five black-and-white Seattle Opera “Madame Butterfly” photos discovered in Max Gellert’s portfolios. (“He was a tremendous supporter,” Trogdon says.)

In the second-level bedroom, “People come up and see the floor-to-ceiling windows and go, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Jackson says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
In the second-level bedroom, “People come up and see the floor-to-ceiling windows and go, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Jackson says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

And that view — did we mention the view? — that view is a treasured heirloom, too.

“It’s spectacular,” Jackson says. “I could just stay here forever and stare out the windows.”