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Pacific Northwest | May 23, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineMay 23, home
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Lake Union
Capitol Hill
Queen Anne
Capitol Hill architect
Mount Baker

Spring Home Design

Quality Uncompromised: Through sensitivity to shape and scale, the impeccable standards of 1910 are met

Stephen Sullivan takes his ease in a window seat in what used to be part of a walled-off butler's pantry. It's now the most sought-after reading spot in the house. The kitchen has butcher-block counters, fir cabinets and a center island with cook-top. A bead-board ceiling was installed during the remodel for a vintage touch.

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."
The refurbished dining room blends Far East and Northeast. The table of recycled Indonesian teak is from David Smith and Co., chairs are from Thomas Moser of Maine, and the Japanese drawer chest is from Honeychurch Antiques in Seattle. South light pours in through original bay windows.
There's a creative energy between his work in clay and architecture, Sullivan says. "Clay informs my architecture investigations in terms of how to engage the process fully, with sensitivity to scale and proportion."

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.
What is now an expansive third-floor master bedroom, with 9-foot-high ceilings, had originally been a maid's quarters. Sullivan took out interior walls and added a dormer and windows. Antique Japanese doors slide closed to screen the couple's closet.
The house had been modernized with wallpaper, paneling and the like, but fortunately there had been few structural changes. Even the original hardware, including crystal doorknobs, was in good condition, as were hot-water radiators.

"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."
Sullivan, seated in his garden with his recent ceramic work, finds inspiration in creativity, whether it's through architecture, painting or pottery-making. These are rational yet intuitive activities — one creative energy feeds the other, he says. Although architecture is his present focus, "I see myself in my 80s as a happy potter."
Since the main-floor living room was basically original, the goal was to disguise improvements to keep them from standing out. Sullivan guided a remodeling team that removed wallpaper, replastered walls and ceiling, junked an unattractive woodstove and added large pieces of blackboard slate as a fireplace surround. They kept the windows and refinished the quarter-sawn oak floors.

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.
A living-room desk holds old Chinese and Japanese ceramics along with new work by Northwest artisan Ben Waterman (the round pot with branch), and others by Sullivan (vase at far left) and potter Tom Hoffman.
Most of the couple's downstairs work focused on the kitchen, which they completed in three relaxed stages. First, they enlarged the room by removing a wall in what used to be a butler's pantry and installed a cook-top island opposite the sink. Next came shelves and a view window with a seating nook that looks onto the back garden. They replaced a damaged ceiling with bead board and removed many layers of old flooring, installing black-and-white linoleum tile for a 1920s look. Natural-finish fir cabinets frame the kitchen sink; countertops are butcher-block maple.

Meanwhile, contractors stripped electrical conduit off the outside, and insulated, rewired and replumbed the entire house.
Sullivan added a blackboard-slate fireplace surround and refinished plaster walls to emphasize the clean, classic lines of the living room. The painting over the fireplace is by Bill Brewer.
In time, Sullivan added a third-floor dormer to create a master-bedroom suite. The transformed room receives light from four sides and feels like a cabin in the sky. The new master bath has a soaking tub, hexagonal floor tiles and a vintage air. Windows are high for privacy and skyscape views.

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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