Stephen Sullivan is an architect with a keen, well-organized mind and a gift for listening. He is more interested in a creative collaboration with his clients than in a design bearing the architect's signature style.
As a principal in Sullivan Conard Architects, he and his partner, Peter Conard, count a number of this area's wealthiest citizens, with names such as McCaw and Nordstrom, among their clientele. The firm's residential projects frequently have classic proportions, express traditional notions of beauty and are built to last.
Sullivan also is a longtime potter who is inspired by archetypal shapes and the nuances of slips and glazes. He's a man who can look at a teacup and see "a dialogue between the rational and the intuitive."
Born a New Englander, Sullivan loves old houses. So it follows that he and his wife, Peggy Bill, own a well-lived-in 1910 English Arts & Crafts-style home, which Sullivan has remodeled over time. It embodies many of the qualities he admires.
The house holds the highest position in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, resting like a friendly grandma at the top of the stairs.
When he first walked through it 10 years ago, Sullivan felt a sense of ease in the large living room, which has east-facing windows positioned for morning sunlight unusual for a house of this style.
"This was not one of those grand houses you'd be afraid to work on," Sullivan says. "Yet it was built with such impeccable standards and materials that we didn't want to compromise craftsmanship."
Sullivan bought the five-bedroom, 2½-bath residence in large part so his two daughters from a previous marriage, who lived nearby, could have their own rooms. He also liked the extra space for guests.
With remodeling and restoration in mind, he first made drawings of the house and studied proportional relationships. "I worked with those drawings literally for years."
They scraped, plastered and painted the adjacent dining room. A large deck and railing that loomed over the pocket-size back yard was replaced with a low viewing platform a few steps from the dining table. Sullivan pruned old garden plantings to reveal pleasing compositions of twists and curves.
Meanwhile, contractors stripped electrical conduit off the outside, and insulated, rewired and replumbed the entire house.
To achieve all this, cheap paneling from the 1960s was removed and the ceiling in the bedroom raised to 9 feet. Windows made to match those downstairs open to a Lake Washington outlook, while new bead-board wainscoting in this room and in the stairwell help tie the house together visually.
Bill, who is Snohomish County conservation director for the Cascade Land Conservancy, shares her husband's aesthetic vision.
Sullivan earned a master's of architecture degree at Harvard University in 1981. He was an associate with Ibsen Nelsen & Associates in Seattle before starting Stephen Sullivan Architects in 1986. Now as Sullivan Conard Architects, the firm has garnered a number of professional honors, including three American Institute of Architects/Seattle Times Home of the Month awards.
After graduating from Connecticut's Wesleyan University in 1973, Sullivan, now 52, won a one-year grant from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation to explore the folk tradition of Japanese potters. He studied with Tatsuzo Shimaoka, whom Japan honored as a National Living Treasure.
If anything, his passion for making ceramic art has flowered over time. He refreshes himself through pottery and painting, and that inspires him to work deeply with clients, whether they come to him for an artist's studio or a home to entertain the rich and famous.
"To me, it's like speaking several languages," Sullivan says. "Discovery is my idea of fun."
Dean Stahl is a Seattle free-lance writer and editor. This is his 10th installment in a series on Pacific Northwest architects at home. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.
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