Tidy cottage meets tall contemporary in one vibrant-peaceful place
There wasn't a thing wrong with Sally Nelson's little cottage: a classic Bungalow built back in the day when woodsy-watery Three Tree Point was a weekend destination.
It was just missing that Nelson pizzazz.
So she hired architect William Witt to give it some.
"Before I wrote the check, I needed to find someone to say to me, 'So, what do you want?' Bill didn't want to hide the original house, it's too charming, in the character of the houses built here in 1904. They were vacation houses.
"So he said, 'Why don't you build something next to it, incorporate the braces and beams and peaked ceilings?' "
Those ties now bind the squat cottage to a tall, contemporary addition that seems to be standing on its tiptoes for a look at Puget Sound. A sage-green living room, fir trim, jatoba floors and a vertical black-slate fireplace marry the peaceful and the vibrant. The whole package wrapped in aubergine paint. And the walk and garden spill down her hillside in cheery, organized disarray.
"It's all me," she says. "It's fun."
"People have said to me, 'What's wrong with your architect? You can still see the original house. And I say, 'You got it!' "
Nelson knows from architects. She was married for many years to architect Albert Nelson. He designed their previous Three Tree Point home in Burien, and it was featured here in 1984 as an example of innovative Northwest contemporary architecture. When he died in 1997 she moved from their 4,000-square-foot home to the 940-square-foot cottage nearby.
Nelson has said of her husband, "He didn't see Seattle's forests, ravines and bluffs as things to conquer, but as beautiful settings for one-of-a-kind homes. He used natural woods and earth tones, and captured views from varied levels."
The same may be said of Witt in the case of Nelson's new home, this one built just for her. The single bedroom sits high on the hillside upstairs in a bedroom-bath-office suite. The new great room (kitchen, living and dining rooms) features soaring ceilings up to 12 feet and, in the dining room, big, arched windows that reach to the garden beyond.
French doors close off the beach cottage's original living room that Nelson calls "my cozy room." And it is: a cobblestone fireplace, low ceilings, a mirrored wall all in quiet whites and creams. It also serves as a guest suite. A deck wraps around to knit together the old and the new. Inside that mix continues with contemporary furniture and art paired with family antiques.
"I really enjoy my house," Nelson says. "There isn't a room I don't go into every day."
Standing on the deck, surveying the gardens, designed by Tom Zachary with plants selected by Francine Day, Nelson spies a couple walking along the road at the bottom of the hillside. "Hiiiiii!" she hollers with a wave. "Hiiii!" they holler back, waving, too. Then it's just birds chirping. A car every now and then.
Leaving the area southwest of Seattle is out of the question for Nelson. She has served on the City Council since Burien became a city and was formerly the mayor. She is arguably Burien's biggest booster, having lived in the area for 45 years.
"When we became a city we didn't have a Starbucks. You know you're somewhere when Starbucks looks at you and says, this place has possibilities. Now we have four, five, whatever.
"And I'm 20 minutes from Seattle. Shhhh, that's a secret."
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Ken Lambert is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Balancing old and new
"People come to us guys assuming we have expertise, but in theory we're only doing what they want," says architect William Witt. "It's a delicate balance of who's going to offend whom.
The notion up front, Witt says, "is we had this cute little Bungalow, and she wanted to add onto it and have that not be cute.
"Sally didn't have a whole lot of money to do that. We had two options: tear it down or add on and leave it alone. Having a guest suite met her needs, and that was the big thing that made it work. Sally's fairly modern in her taste, and she's got this traditional Bungalow. How do you blend the two? By keeping them kind of apart. And when you're inside you can have the two different characters.
"When you remodel you're always compromised by the site. When you build new you can do whatever you want. Here, the place where you live you can get the new stuff; the guest suite can be the older Bungalow."