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Originally published Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Living

You can have a lot of fun in, and outside of, this lakeside house

"How much fun can we have? "If we could both quit work, we'd have fun professionally. " This is Nancy Porter. And at Nancy and Steve Porter's...

Getting a lot out of the lot

The Porter home appears to have no driveway at all, and yet it's big enough for the kids to ride bikes and play basketball. The trick is in the siting.

"We didn't want the car to be so prominent," says architect Kyle Gaffney of SkB Architects. "Steve's a civil engineer, so we worked with him to get this house as low as we could and hide the car. The big planters divide entry from auto court."

Once inside, the focus was on structure. As long as it was open and connecting."We exposed the structure, and we expressed that for the honesty of the construction, a balance between the refined elements and the raw elements."

"How much fun can we have?

"If we could both quit work, we'd have fun professionally."

This is Nancy Porter. And at Nancy and Steve Porter's house you can swim, water ski, kayak, ride Sea-Doos, play horseshoes, run, shoot pool, play poker, cook out or soak in a tub under the stars. Friends drop in. Kids come over. Neighbors, fresh off a morning bike ride, stop by, grab a shower and a coffee.

That's a lot of fun right there, and we're not even in the house yet.

"All the beautiful people said, 'Oh, you've got to have a Japanese soaking tub,' " Nancy says, nodding to the hot tub a few feet from Lake Washington. "Well, we like beauty, but we wanted the jets."

Later, in the family room, she pivots a large, flat-screen TV toward the kitchen. "Everybody wanted it to be a gorgeous piece of art over the fireplace, and we know it should be. But we're a family, and we watch TV."

So SkB Architects came, heard and conquered all requests for casual yet gracious from a family that includes 8-year-old twins Jake and Sydney.

"The minute I met them, they got it," Nancy says. "Practical and sensible. They never tried to talk us out of anything."

Architect Kyle Gaffney brought practical, seen in the indoor-outdoor-ready dining room Nancy loves, marshaled along by project architect Craig Knebel. Architect Shannon Rankin delivered elegance in the subtle, strong finishes, seen right at the blackened-steel front door with its leather-wrapped handle. Larry Metcalf of Larry Metcalf Designer served as the Porters' design "safety blanket" for his longtime clients and friends. And landscape architect Randy Allworth of Allworth Nussbaum married both themes in patio exterior rooms, anchored with a massive outdoor fireplace of Chinese fossilized limestone from Richard Rhodes. Thom Schultz and Tim Greer of Mercer Builders put it all together.

Now the Porters have room to play like kids and posh up like grown-ups in their 5,000-square-foot contemporary home on the south shore of Lake Washington.

"This is our vacation home and our home all in one," Steve says.

He is the Porter of engineering firm Coughlin Porter Lundeen and, thus, is particularly delighted by the home's siting. It is tucked just so into the lot — away from the street and reaching for the lake. The Porters' dream house was no drive-by purchase. They waited for the perfect lot on the south end of Lake Washington in a neighborhood nobody ever seemed to leave: level yard, west side of the lake, diverse neighborhood, dead-end street, waterfront, parking. In 1999 they snagged a once-cool-and-groovy brick rambler and lived in it for six years, pretty much like they found it.

They were learning, deciding what to do next — and having the children.

"I was horrified, he was thrilled," Nancy Porter says of the original house. "When we walked in here in 1999 it was exactly the same as when they built it in 1956. And I'm not just talking about the wall coverings. I mean even the couch, which was filthy, the lamps, the curtains. Perry Como was on the record player."

"I saw potential," Steve says.

While they hovered 10 feet over the water in the old house, the new house folds open at lake level. The south wing is for the family; kitchen, dining, wine, mud and family rooms, bedrooms. The north is mostly the play zone; media room, pool room, mini spa, office, deck. Uniting the two is a pavilion of a living room featuring walls of lakeside glass and a massive blackened-steel fireplace.

"Steve always wanted a house on the lake," Nancy says. "You see all those McMansions, but we wanted something that fit the lot, that fit us.

"That all came from living here and knowing how we lived."

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

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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