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Originally published Sunday, July 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Living

Fun House: With room to skate, swim and jump around, kids and grown-ups can play

If Finn Tobias asks you to come over and play at her house, you are in for a fun day.

Keep it simple

"We built this house for how we want to live," says Martin Tobias. "We love that open multifunction. We can turn it into anything we want."

Architect Eric Cobb's focus was robust, substantial but effortlessly connected to site and view:

"The classic issue in Queen Anne, as everyone tries to get up high for a view, is that in doing so you necessarily disassociate your living space from the site," Cobb says. "The goal is how do you get the best view in the context of a family house that still needs access to a yard? These climbing boxes in the landscape start with garage, move to orchard, move up to grass lawn, move up to terrace, then up to terrace off the great room and then to the great room itself."www.cobbarch.com

If Finn Tobias asks you to come over and play at her house, you are in for a fun day.

You and Finn might ride bikes, skateboard, roller skate, jump on the trampoline or even inflate the McDonald's-size jumpie house and goof around in there for a while. In the living room. Jumping up and down, and riding around and around on the south slope of Queen Anne Hill in plain sight of the Space Needle and Puget Sound.

"It's really her house, not mine," says Martin Tobias, Finn's dad, entrepreneur and venture capitalist, in that order.

"We had a house in Madrona when Finn was born, the eastern view with Mount Rainier at your feet when you woke up. Then we moved to a Pike Place Market loft. We loved the space, shopping at the Market and being downtown. But the one thing we didn't like was that there's nothing for kids. We wanted more of a neighborhood with the feel of downtown, but we were in love with this view of the water."

Score.

It took some hunting to find the perfect site, a double lot of 10,000 square feet with Kerry Park views but more privacy. The rest fell into place with the teamwork of architect Eric Cobb of E. Cobb Architects, Charter Construction, with superintendent Ed Coke and project manager Eric Blazer, landscape architect Bruce Hinckley of Alchemie and Langstraat-Wood for landscaping design and installation. Work on the 5,300-square-foot contemporary wrapped up a month early, in August 2005, and under budget, $310 a square foot.

"I've used a lot of architects for my projects," Tobias says. "But I really liked Eric's little-more-hands-on approach and his ability to work within a budget — not that we had a constrained budget, but I wanted an architect who could explain to me why this way and not that.

"And I think it's important that the architect and contractor have worked together. I use Charter Construction on all my projects."

The result is the "industrial bones for living," as Cobb describes it: heated concrete floors, 10-foot-tall glass sliding doors, maple paneling, blackened-steel beams and columns: sturdy, solid, nothing particularly exotic. Precision, detail, no fussiness: bedrooms for only beds and art. Interior surfaces breaking barriers, carrying the massive living space toward the even bigger skyline. Fifteen-foot ceiling in the main room, 10-foot ceiling down. The entire site and house boxed and organized by concrete-block walls.

Simply white walls throughout are bright backdrops. Perfect for the contemporary art, some of it a poke at wasted consumption — statements from Tobias' days as chief executive of a biofuel company — and the expressive portraits of his grandmother, painter Linford Donovan.

Sure, there are other rooms in the Tobias house: The downstairs is devoted to the private spaces — bedrooms and workout room; upstairs holds Daddy and daughter offices. A playroom off the kitchen for her Rock 'em, Sock 'em Robots and his Harley Davidson pinball machine. But the main room's the main thing.

Roche Bobois sofas can be easily shoved aside. Two Eric Cobb tables on wheels can be joined to seat 20. A 16-foot screen in the ceiling unscrolls for movies. With Dolby surround sound.

The backyard includes a large expanse of turf for bocceball, volleyball, a pool in the summer; a concrete slab over the garage for outdoor skating and bikes, an orchard of eight apple trees and a place to park the Airstream motor home.

Do grown-ups get to come over and have fun, too? Sure. About 150 are invited for the city's two great fireworks events: the Fourth of July and New Year's.

"This is a play house," Tobias says.

Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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