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Originally published Friday, July 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM

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SkB Architects designs a family home that welcomes a crowd

At every turn in this waterside Mercer Island home you'll find subtle artistic touches, a signature of architects Kyle Gaffney and Shannon Murphy Gaffney. Thom Schultz of Mercer Builders built the home.

IT'S A LOVELY welcome. Three steps down and rushing water burbles its hello. Another three steps, grasses wave. Three more and it's "yap! yap! yap! yap!" from behind the massive pivot door.

Nobody sneaks into Chris and Vicki Pallis' house. Bandit, a snowball of a shichon (take one part shih tzu, one part bichon, blend well) sees to that.

And when the door swings open it's like being greeted by Lake Washington itself. The pull of it is irresistible. We head there straightaway.

No point asking Chris and Vicki Pallis to name their favorite part of the home. We're sitting in it. The outer sanctum. An outdoor living room with a comfy sofa, chairs, kitchen and heat. It's covered and cozy and open and breezy. Lake Washington rapping at the dock across the yard. A decoy coyote stuck into an emerald lawn as smooth and flat as a putting green. Fending off geese.

"My wife and I are Greek, so we both have an affinity for the water, and we entertain," Chris says.

Yes, yes, lots of homeowners say they like to entertain. But do the math: Chris and Vicki Pallis grew up here, plus both their families are here, and, multiplied to the 10th power, there's the Greek thing: "We had, I don't know, 85, 90, 100 for Greek Easter," Chris says.

And while their house — 5,250 square feet with four bedrooms, six baths — was designed for just such occasions (open living spaces on the lakefront floor; bedrooms nestled upstairs; media room, gym bunkered down), the kitchen was cleverly crafted to welcome guests but also to discourage them from congregating there.

"I would prefer not to have everybody in with me when I'm cooking," Vicki says.

"Which is what Greeks do. They go to the kitchen," says Chris, who works in commercial real-estate development.

But the pull of the lake and the comfort of the living terrace pair up to lure the crowd from the cook.

The Pallises had previously lived on Mercer Island, but they were pulled to live at lake's edge. They also wanted a flat yard, easy entrance and a place where their twin sons could ride their bikes. Not an easy feat on the edges of this island with its nearly vertical driveways. The perfect spot turned out to be five houses away.

"There was an old, rundown house overgrown with trees," Chris says. "We hadn't even noticed it."

"All of a sudden we realized we could stay in the neighborhood we already loved. The boys even go to the same bus stop for school."

They rented a place two houses away and watched as their new home rose. The family moved in February 2009.

At every turn in this steel-strong contemporary, you find subtle artistic touches, a signature of architects Kyle Gaffney and Shannon Murphy Gaffney of SkB Architects. Thom Schultz of Mercer Builders, contractor and now friend, built the home, adding craft to contemporary.

There is repeated use of reclaimed Rhodes stone from China. SkB had a hand in blending the interiors with the structure, rich and peaceful earth tones. Family friend Madeline Condon at Susan Marinello Interiors helped select the furniture.

The Randy Allworth-designed landscape street side is so lovely that visitors attempt to look in two directions at once; at the lake and at terraced steps of water and grasses, a slender waterfall cut across them and spilling toward the living room.

This is a family home, first and foremost. For four, 40 or 400, and you can tell that from the driveway, next to the basketball hoop.

Rebecca Teagarden is associate editor of Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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