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WRITTEN BY VICTORIA MEDGYESI
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER
For a man who works as much at home as he does at the office, the designers created a work space that seems to hover above the water. A favorite architectural feature: the "butted corner" glass windows, arranged to take maximum advantage of the view.
For years, Rick Ledoux could have easily called the Microsoft campus home.
Sure, he had an Eastside condo nearby. But slowly it became merely a repository for his things: musical instruments, computers, electronic gear. What occupied most of Ledoux's time was his work as a development manager on the Encarta Class Server, a software package designed for school-system use.
It was the quintessential, thirtysomething, high-tech bachelor existence.
Not that he minded. He loved the work. And besides, a house - especially a custom-designed house - was the last thing on his mind. Eventually, Ledoux concedes, "too much stuff" started pushing him out of the condo and into a new world.
So he looked at houses. And more houses. And it just wasn't working.
He did find one Tudor-style he liked, but after he discovered the high-tech wiring he lusted after would ruin the interior wood paneling, that idea went, too. Eventually, he realized that what he really wanted was a "test bed" for his home-automation ideas - and that only a custom house would work.
In other words, a high-tech prototype. Now that was something he understood.
Being a good researcher but knowing next to nothing about house design, Ledoux interviewed a number of architects. In the end, he settled on the same architect who'd designed the home next door: Lane Williams, AIA, of Seattle. "He didn't 'freak out' over the amount of technology I wanted to build in," says Ledoux. "He was also tops in terms of explaining the process, walking me through it, and in showing that he does a variety of styles - not just the same house over and over."
Indeed, the house that Lane Williams Architects designed for Ledoux bears no resemblance to the waterfront space next door. For this client - a focused, energetic sort of guy - Williams designed a classic modernist house with a variety of natural materials. A house with a neutral palette and an unusually strong relationship to natural light.
At first glance, it seems as if the house is floating above the lot. Two structures (one with 4,000 square feet of main living space, one a 500-square-foot guest suite on top of the garage) are connected by two bridges. One bridge is enclosed, one open to the elements.
Ledoux didn't have a laundry list of architectural "must haves," but he did want an open plan that wasn't overly compartmentalized. He also wanted room for his pool table and a performance space for his musical endeavors. Williams says Ledoux's willingness to experiment and take chances inspired the team to do their very best work.
"Rick went from being pretty unsophisticated about the process to just the opposite by the time everything was finished," says Williams. "Once he decided on something, he seldom changed his mind."
"I was willing to take the path that wasn't necessarily safe," says Ledoux. "I mean, what's the risk? I knew I was going to have a nice house when it was done no matter what." The biggest surprise? How much work went into the details. "I thought custom houses were built off the shelf in terms of hardware, but I soon learned different," he says.
Although the site, the design and the finish materials certainly weren't inexpensive, much of the cost of Ledoux's house is hidden in the walls. In fact, his desire for maximum home automation was the only part of the project for which he had a specific list.
Ledoux admits he's still working the bugs out of his self-engineered system. "This is a wonderful playground for me, a big toy that I can tinker with for years and years," he says.
His favorite automation functions? For one, with the press of a button, Ledoux can walk from his bedroom up to the kitchen as overhead lights illuminate his way - fading on as he goes forward, fading out on his way back. If the house "senses" he's out of a room for a pre-programmed amount of time, the lights go out by themselves. The same for heat. When a car turns into the driveway, a computerized voice makes the announcement that a visitor has arrived. And Ledoux's all-time favorite: If he's watching his DVD player in the living room and decides to watch the program in his bedroom instead, he can push a button, walk downstairs, and proceed to view the program there with no transfer of the DVD, no break in the action.
"As a technical engineer, Rick was astute beyond anyone on the team," says Amy Baker, a Seattle-based interior designer who collaborated with Williams and Ledoux on the interiors. Having worked for 10 years on commercial design for the Seattle architecture firm NBBJ, Baker was familiar with the kind of clean, functional design that accommodated and complemented technology.
She was also aware of her client's extremely casual style, taking that into consideration as she looked for (and sometimes designed and had built) oversized, comfortable pieces. Baker says she had great latitude when it came to making decisions. Her only instructions: Use good judgment, keep the color palette minimal, think modern.
Given the rural feel of the neighborhood, planting on what was essentially a naked site was a matter of less-is-more. Landscape designer Bruce Hinckley of Alchemie wanted to extend the area's natural woodland landscape down into Ledoux's property. Native hazelnut and vine maples, small, tree-like shrubs that can be pruned to a variety of heights, were the main vegetation of choice.
"We wanted a very simple, calm, tightly edited composition with a handful of plant materials," said Hinckley, who has offices both in Seattle and Sun Valley, Idaho. "In the Pacific Northwest, there's a lot of landscaping chaos, and we wanted to do just the opposite of that."
Eventually, the client's need for "bigger green" took over, and Hinckley arranged for a 50-year-old Conifer pine to be transplanted onto the property. Given its 29-foot, 11,000-pound size, the tree was floated in by barge across Lake Sammamish. It took a backhoe and a number of workers to set it in place. Thanks to the bulk of the tree, there's now a bit more privacy between Ledoux's home and his good friends next door. Today, Hinckley laughingly refers to the landscape as a "woodland in transition."
Transition or no, Ledoux says the small lakefront community has been very welcoming. "The process of building a house puts a big strain on your neighbors, and they were great about the entire thing," he says.
"I love the sense of space here, the feeling that I'm hovering above the lake. It calms me. I feel as if I have a lot of privacy even though I have neighbors 10 feet away."
Ledoux is at home.
Writer Victoria Medgyesi regularly reports on architectural and interior design trends.
|Cover Story||Plant Life||On Fitness||Now & Then|