Design Team: Robert Hutchison (Principal-In-Charge), Tom Maul, Joyce Puri
Structural Engineer: Jeff Albert
Landscape: Bruce Hinckley, Alchemie
Contractor: EH Construction
Text description provided by the architects. The site for this residence is a steeply sloped, 50-foot-by-400-foot site on the western shore of Mercer Island. A challenging site, several landslides over time led to the demolition of former residences on and adjoining the site, while remaining houses neighbor the property just a few feet to the north and south. While specifically designed for a husband and wife and their two children, the owner requested that the residence also be designed as a speculative development should they wish to sell the property in the future. Strict height limitations imposed by zoning regulations necessitated that a large portion of the residence be placed below grade.
The design was shaped by three primary objectives: 1) Enhance the visitor experience as users descend into the site and residence; 2) Maximize the amount of natural light into the residence, especially in open living areas located below grade; and 3) Open the dining and living spaces to views of Lake Washington and outdoor courtyards, while maintaining privacy from the neighboring houses.
To address the issues of circulation and natural light, outdoor rooms and terraces were carved into the slope of the site, creating private outdoor courtyards that allow daylight to penetrate below grade, while also establishing a series of cascading levels that facilitate circulation into and around the residence. A formal entry sequence leads visitors through and across a collection of stairs, terraces, bridges, and water features. After descending a final stair, the visitor arrives at the front door, literally in the center of the house.
Utility and ancillary spaces are housed in below-grade rooms created by site/retaining walls. Private bedrooms and associated bathrooms are situated in a floating wood volume that hovers above the site. Everyday dining and living spaces are located in the glass-enclosed open level sandwiched between these two architectural elements. The primary courtyard space is set at this main living level, with large expanses of glazing allowing views through the open level of the house to the lake beyond.
A refined exterior and interior material palette includes exterior wall finishes of cast-in-place concrete at below-grade conditions, and a custom wood siding system stained dark at above-grade conditions. Interior walls and ceilings are gypsum board painted white. Windows are wood with conventional trim detailing, painted white to amplify the light entering the opening. Casework is recessed and painted white to blend into the walls. Floors are a wide-plank white maple. Exceptions to this palette occur at the main living and dining spaces, where the kitchen cabinetry is dark Wenge, the custom fireplace is clad in blackened steel, and the ceiling is white oak to match the floors and to enhance the notion of a space bounded by volumes above and below.