Cover Story Design Notebook Plant Life Sunday Punch Now & Then


WRITTEN BY VICTORIA MEDGYESI
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER
 
Fall Home Design

A Box of Color

Skyscraper, Homestyle

Courtyard Woodland

Downtown Oasis

Lake-Union

In the Mountain Mood

A Box of Color

A seriously fun Bainbridge duplex is designed for
(and by) a seriously fun couple


On a sunny morning, David Hewitt and Marcia Wagoner enjoy the compact but lush garden space tucked between (and shared by) each half of the duplex. Dangling from above is "Hanging Salmon" by Seattle artist Buster Simpson.
COLORING OUTSIDE the lines isn't everyone's cup of tea.

Neither is splashing eye-popping chartreuse, ripe-tomato red, mellow plum, jolt-of-lime yellow, sea-foam green and terra-cotta tint all over the residential drawing board.

Of course, not everyone has the nerve to sketch a basic (exterior) box, scribble in angled (interior) walls, and position the entire scheme between rows of (existing) Crayon-green trees, either.

Which, of course, is exactly the point.

Thanks be, an architect-designed, architect-owned house that's not imposing, important, beige, minimal or exotic-wood expensive. Instead, a house that intentionally makes a happy, modern, unexpectedly functional and purposefully economical statement.

Clad in colors and materials that reinforce strong architectural elements, this Bainbridge Island home inhabits its downtown Winslow site with natural ease. More importantly, it's exactly what architect David Hewitt, FAIA, and Marcia Wagoner wanted: A dynamic, creative haven in which to spend quality time.


The plywood, galvanized metal and wood batten exterior elements were chosen for their visual interest, durability and low price. The general contractor was Bianchi Design & Construction, Bainbridge Island.
Durable stairs have treads of hard rubber, risers of vertical-grain fir plywood and fasteners of exposed stainless steel. The illuminated box (home to a ceramic vase by Seattle artist J.J. Rock) doubles as an art piece and a night light. At the top of the stairs is a charcoal-on-paper study by Bellingham artist R. Allen Jensen.
"Architects often become uptight when they're designing something for themselves, but they should remember it's just a project for a client whose program they intimately know," says Hewitt, principal of Hewitt Architects in Seattle. "Personally, we had a great time doing this."

Professionally, he designs a different sort of product every day: high-rise residential projects such as downtown Seattle's Harbor Steps, and public spaces such as the Port of Seattle's headquarters near the waterfront.

When Hewitt and Wagoner found the Bainbridge Island property in 1990, the two were not yet a couple looking to build a shared home. Instead, they'd been searching for a lot on which to develop a triplex with a third partner. Somewhere along the line, the third partner dropped out, Hewitt and Wagoner joined life forces, and the project morphed from a triplex to a duplex. One half would eventually house Hewitt and Wagoner; the other would be purchased by a close family friend.

From the beginning, the couple's basic goals were clear.

First, they wanted a mortgage they could afford. Using that figure as a starting point, they made a list of what they valued most: Open space and natural light over expensive materials, low maintenance over high, extensive wall space for art, a sense of fun.

Two years after they started, the tri-level duplex made its debut. Each home has approximately 3,000 square feet of living space, a two-car garage, shared garden space on the third level, and a private roof-top garden.

"I very much felt like a full partner in this project, although I did depend on David's judgment as an architect," says Wagoner, director of public involvement for PRR, a Seattle-based communications and public-affairs firm. "We discussed, debated, and the end result was a shared vision of what our living arrangement should be."

Hewitt agrees. "There were certain challenges, but we had an almost uncanny shared aesthetic vision."

Putting money into that which is used on a day-to-day basis was the guiding design principle behind the entire project - as illustrated here by the spacious master bedroom/sitting room suite that occupies the entire second level. The suite contains a roomy vanity/bath area (behind the terra-cotta wall), a 16-by-12-foot "closet" and an office. The owners also installed a commercial-quality espresso maker in the compact master suite kitchen, an addition they say makes catching the 6 a.m. ferry a little easier. The "Nos" headboard is by Horm, from Current. The small diamond-shaped window (above) provides an outside view from the bed.
Wagoner, however, did bring something to the design table Hewitt didn't: two sons. Back then, Brady (now 21 and in college), and Chad (17 and a high-school senior), were just kids, but they had firm ideas as to what made a house a great place. They each wanted their own room, each wanted a door to the outside (a design decision Wagoner says she's never regretted), built-in beds and desks, and "checkerboard" tile floors. Both boys put in their two cents when it came to choosing colors and materials for the entire house.

They also had something to do with the "assigned" functions of each level: The ground floor holds the entry, the garage and (to the rear overlooking the garden) the boys' rooms. The second level is dedicated to adult living: bedroom, bath, office and a 16-by-12-foot "closet" (both Hewitt and Wagoner are unabashed fashionistas). The main living area, kitchen and shared garden space occupy the third level.

Happily, there were enough challenges to make the project interesting, even to a highly experienced architect such as Hewitt. First, the 13,000-square-foot lot (zoned for high-density, multifamily use) was already home to a classic Bainbridge farmhouse. Fortunately, the house was situated close to the front road, and the backyard space was extensive — and empty.

Secondly, restrictive city codes regarding height made it a challenge to get the most out of the view for both halves of the duplex. Third, each partner was committed to building the structure without cutting down trees or disturbing the surrounding landscape.

In the end, each challenge was successfully met, including staying within budget. Overall, the house cost half as much as that of most architect-designed houses: $69 per square foot (in 1992 dollars). Today, the original farmhouse sits in front of the duplex, each living area has an expansive view, and the towering rows of black locust and Douglas fir remain.

Without a doubt, providing a good home for the art each had collected as well as for the art they intended to collect as a couple was key. Over the years, both had developed intimate friendships with local artists. Wagoner had worked for both the Seattle Design Commission and the Seattle Arts Commission. During her tenure at Seattle Arts, she helped usher the city-sponsored arts-and-architecture program through its infancy. Hewitt had chaired the Seattle Design Commission, and had a longstanding interest in emerging arts.

"We purchase art from people we know," says Hewitt. "Some pieces are significant, some not so significant, but no piece is without personal meaning to us." Says Wagoner: "Art gives us the daily chance to think about life differently."

Three years ago, the pair were married in their living room surrounded by trees, color, art, friends and family. They ate good food, drank good wine and generally celebrated life's bounty.

A house — a collaboration — that works.

Victoria Medgyesi regularly reports on architecture and interior design. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.


Cover Story Design Notebook Plant Life Sunday Punch Now & Then

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