Stuart Silk Architects

Stuart Silk Architects

Seattle, WA


Washington Park Hillside Residence: A Contemporary Waterfront Retreat

Our clients came to us with a vision for a contemporary home that would stand the test of time and respond to the needs of their family of four. The site, an east-facing bluff property overlooking Lake Washington, offers sweeping views of the lake, Mt. Rainier, and the North Cascades. The neighborhood, typical of early- to mid-twentieth century Seattle, presents an eclectic parade of styles, from Tudor Revival to neo-Mediterranean. Our approach was to consider and respect the context, while seeking to create a design that embraces the traditions of contemporary Northwest architecture rather than adopting a stylistic pattern.

The H-shaped plan puts the entry, living, and dining areas in the center in a high-ceilinged, pavilion-like room. These primary gathering spaces feature floor-to-ceiling glass to take full advantage of the lake and mountain views. The north and south wings contain most of the home’s private spaces, including bedrooms, bathrooms, and den. These wings are separated from the central pavilion by channels of water features that appear to flow under the house—everyday reminders of the beauty of water and its changing nature. They also serve as metaphors for the nature of passage, both in the sense of physical movement through the house and one’s navigation through life. The water features provide constantly changing light effects, and orient views to the mountains in the distance. 

The selection of stone for the exterior walls was one of our most important design decisions. We took the better part of a year visiting quarries and stone-clad buildings around the country as research. We then built mock-ups to study different colors, textures, stone size, coursing, and even the width of the joints. The stone we selected is from Spain and was chosen for its soft, warm, yellow-and-rose coloration. It was cut to our specified sizes, thermally flamed to provide a tactile textural quality, and laid to exacting standards. To reinforce the minimalist aesthetic and the horizontality of the roof forms, the stone was coursed in three different heights, ranging from three to eight inches with random lengths of up to five feet. The warm color of the stone provides the house with the timeless expression we sought, and the random lengths break down the symmetry of the plan just enough to soften its formality. We brought the stone into the inside of the home in several key locations to emphasize its structural and aesthetic qualities, and to blur the distinction between interior and exterior. In the entry, the stair treads are cantilevered from the stone and seem to float, defying gravity. A continuous second-story skylight floods the interior with light.

Exposed steel beams span the living and dining room pavilion, expressing its structure and emphasizing its volume. Long overhangs accent the linear quality of the east/west wings. While the central pavilion is mostly glass, the wings are more solid, providing energy efficiency and privacy. A sculptural blackened steel divider, cantilevered from a steel column, shields views of the dining room and provides a place to stage meals. Horizontal steel lintels have been left exposed. Fireplace surrounds, and a steel mailbox further reinforce the play between stone and steel. The double-sided fireplace features a bronze log cast from driftwood.

Sustainability was an important part of the design, with a number of features integrated into the design. A grey water system captures water for toilet flushing, and a cistern collects rain for later use in irrigation. The planted roof reduces demand for heating and cooling, and limits storm water runoff. An arbor on the south side of the house provides shading in the summer when heat gain is the most intense. All but the lowest VOC (volatile organic compounds) products were eliminated from the project—carpets, grouts, adhesives, cabinetry, and paints. And finally, the stone and steel claddings are virtually maintenance free and capable of lasting centuries.

Though the 6,871-square-foot home is geometrically simple, the elements and connections are complex resulting in a house that explores ideas of solidity, transparency, and movement. It exudes a sense of permanence and timelessness that is both respectful of its neighborhood and of Seattle’s legacy as a beacon of modernity.

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Status: Built
Location: Seattle, WA, US
Firm Role: Architect
Additional Credits: Architecture: Stuart Silk Architects
Interior Designer: Stuart Silk Architects and the clients
Landscape Architecture: Scot Eckley
Construction: Bender Custom Construction

Photography: Derek Reeves; Rob Perry