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Originally published May 10, 2013 at 10:45 AM | Page modified May 11, 2013 at 12:16 PM

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Architect Nate Thomas designs an island home to showcase Northwest art

From the alder newel post curving around a talking stick, to the grove of moss-topped, concrete rain trees by island artists George Little and David Lewis, the house lives and breathes art.

Special to The Seattle Times

MICHAEL AND Leslie Lebeau have built an homage to art on a Bainbridge beach.

Island architect Nate Thomas designed a down-to-the-studs home remodel to showcase the couple's collection of Northwest art, compiled over many years and trips to Alaska. But the Lebeau home is more a lively visual adventure than a museum. Every room is a celebration of local artists' work, rendered in wood and stone, paint and bronze, plants and concrete.

Perhaps this is because Thomas incorporated art into the very fabric of the place. From the alder newel post curving around a talking stick, to the grove of moss-topped, concrete rain trees by island artists George and David Lewis, the house lives and breathes art, as do its owners. "Pretty much everything you see is a local collaboration," says Michael.

The Lebeaus moved to Bainbridge Island from Mendocino, Calif. They'd boated through Washington waters many times on their way to Alaska, so it felt like coming home to settle on the shores of Puget Sound. While they loved the location of their new home, they weren't so pleased with its lack of light. They despaired over so much paving outside. Now a bluestone patio replaces all that, made permeable with Corsican mint planted between stones.

The layout of the home remains the same; its footprint shrunk by 27 square feet. Thomas describes the original house as being "Nantucket" in style, with little connection to its spectacular view site.

"We wanted a joint art project, and to make the house ours," says Michael of his and Leslie's hope for the remodel.

Key to its success was removing the mullioned windows and replacing them with much larger, mahogany-framed panes. Thomas removed interior doors so light flowed freely between the rooms. And he brought the bluestone paving right through the front door into the entry hall.

The home's materials reflect the trees and water outside, from elm-trunk columns in the entry hall to the blue-green soapstone counters in the kitchen. The sandstone of the hearth came from the shoulders of Mount Rainier; both mantel and hearth hold Native American bird sculptures. The ceilings are knotty cedar left unfinished to mellow with age. Open shelves in the kitchen are live-edge, big-leaf maple, crafted by David Kotz of Coyote Woodshop on the island.

How to create a sense of intimacy in a large home with expansive windows and views? A lowered ceiling of woven alder brings down the scale of the living room, creating a cozy sitting area in front of the fireplace. The lighting, by Seattle's Carol dePelecyn Studio, is divided into five zones that operate separately.

Outside, the garden was so overgrown they could hardly see the water, even though it's a low bank away from the house. Now the southeastern view toward Seattle is fully revealed. Dwarf conifers, succulents and other low-growing, drought-tolerant plantings hug the hillside. Horticulturist Dan Hinkley is designing a fragrant entry garden with mahonia, daphnes and sarcococca to attract birds as well as visitors.

"We wanted the house to be alive, to feel sacred," says Leslie. And the Lebeaus have created a home that's deeply reflective of their lives and aesthetics.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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