Jeffrey Taylor visited the house on a hill overlooking Lake Washington, he was off the clock. Taylor was there not as an architect, but as a boyfriend, helping the woman he was dating search for a new home for herself and her three children. While the residence itself didn’t fit her needs, the property was stunning, and his girlfriend, who was seeking a fresh start, knew she had finally found the one.
Upon deciding to tear down the original structure and start from scratch, the next order of business was to hire an architect. “It wasn’t a given that I would hire Jeffrey,” she says. “But ultimately, I knew he was the right person because he believes in building the house that his clients are asking for, not the one that feeds his ego.” The client was clear on three points: She wanted the dwelling to be family-friendly, to maximize natural light and to include a dance studio, where she could invite her friends over for weekly dance or yoga classes, a tradition she had enjoyed in her previous home. “I told myself, I’m going to treat her like any other client,” says Taylor, who asked her to fill out an extensive questionnaire and to peruse inspirational photos to identify the styles she found most appealing. “What’s fascinating is he was able to translate all my abstract responses into specifics,” the client recalls.
They ultimately decided upon a traditional-style home with a modern twist. For his design, Taylor drew inspiration from the work of architect Robert A.M. Stern, as well as local legends Arthur Loveless and Carl Gould. Extensive millwork and moldings and dark-oak floors bring a classic vibe to the airy, open-plan interior, which features high ceilings, wide hallways, white walls and tons of windows to let in the light. “It’s kind of like a guy in a tux with tennis shoes on–less stuffy, a little more playful,” quips Taylor.
The architect recruited two of his frequent collaborators, general contractor Klaus Toth and designer Deena Rauen, to join the team. “We packed in lots of gingerbread details on the exterior, and box beam ceilings and paneling on the inside,” notes Toth. “It all had a warming effect.” For Rauen’s part, she brought a subtle hand to the home’s hard finishes, using the ample light and lake views as a starting point. “I wanted to keep it very timeless and classic,” she says of the surfaces appearing throughout the home, from marble tiles with a hint of blue on the master bath’s walls and shower to the charcoal-hued limestone flooring in the entryway.
Designer Graciela Rutkowski, a friend of the homeowner for many years, who also worked on her former residence, tackled the soft furnishings. Because she knows the client and her lifestyle so well, she was able to hit the ground running, aiming above all else to make the house conducive to both family living and entertaining. “My philosophy is that anything that’s going to be touched and sat on a lot needs to be a workhorse,” she says. “So, we chose mostly indoor-outdoor fabrics and high commercial-grade double rubs.”
For the palette, Rutkowski also took her cues from the lake, washing the interior in whites, blues and grays with the occasional pop of orange. “Instead of competing with the outdoors, we decided to bring the outside in,” she notes. As for the furnishings, she mixed family heirlooms, mostly Asian antiques, with newer pieces, like a backless sofa that cleverly integrates the kitchen and family room, a piece which has since become a family favorite.
Rounding out the team was landscape architect Kenneth Philp. Among his notable contributions to the program is a striking pedestrian procession that leads from the street up to the front door. “I wanted it to feel like a series of movements rather than one long stretch of stairs, which can feel overbearing and uninviting,” he says.
From outside to in, the finished house and its surroundings are completely inviting. Perhaps that ineffable quality that only some homes possess has something to do with the love and friendship that went into creating it. While Taylor vowed to treat the project like any other, he poured himself into it. “I just really wanted to do something special for her,” says the architect. Adds Toth: “Their relationship was the central theme of the project. We all knew the undercurrent was that they were falling in love right in front of us, and it was fun to be part of that.”