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The big library room is also a grand stairwell.

This is a personal house. Its design evolved more from how the Seattle owners really live than from conventional notions of what a house should be. By being deeply involved in both the design and the construction, the couple not only helped create a house that fits them and their life style, but they were also able to save about 30 percent in the overall costs.

After buying the lot, they engaged architect George Suyama, whom they knew and admired, and who knew their eclectic tastes. This special relationship between owners and architect had much to do with the success of the project.

Suyama took an unusual design approach befitting his clients' tastes. I didn't want anything to fit too well or to match," he says. Rather than defining rooms like so many blocks, he wanted to personalize each living space to achieve "maximum richness."

As is obvious in these pictures, books and art of all kinds are of prime importance to the couple, so Suyama made the center of the house a two-story library. The room also serves as a grand stairwell and occasional dining room. Another unusual design touch was to vary the floor levels of the first-floor rooms to help delineate each space: from the entrance you step down into living room, and up into the kitchen and family room.

Suyama designed the house to make the most of a 50- by 180-foot lot. Facing the street as a single-story structure with a simple gable roof, the house appears deceptively small. The streetside section contains the living room and a small study, guest bedroom, and bath. Behind it, a larger two-story section with a similar gable roof holds the entrance hall, library, and stairs to the second floor. To the right of the library, a kitchen-family room with an eastern exposure catches the morning light. Above the kitchen family room are a master bedroom, dressing room, and bath.

The owners wanted some interior surprises-and the house has them. The generous front hall provided enough space above it for a small study that can be used for sewing, watching TV, or just resting. Windows on the study's interior wall overlook the library. A big walk-in pantry off the kitchen is its own surprise, as is the library's soaring ceiling.

The owners chose to be their own general contractors, counting on Suyama as adviser, consultant, and troubleshooter. Architects can be invaluable resources for materials, craftsmen, and building techniques and as critics but doing some of the work themselves ensured the personal touch the owners wanted. The husband-and-wife team was well equipped to participate in the building of the house: he is an enthusiastic amateur wood craftsman, and she is an artist. While Suyama developed the overall plan, the owners planned the kitchen and bathroom details and designed and built the library bookshelves, the kitchen storage shelves, and the stair railings. Taking these steps slowed the work, but saved hours of Suyama's design time. "This is a house built over time," the wife says. When we moved in two years ago, we didn't even have shelves." Building them was her husband's first job.

The couple also searched antiques shops and recycled-house-parts yards to find treasures like the fireplace face, the 8-foot oak front door and frame, the tall store doors in the living room, the French doors in the library, the carved wood lintels above the doors, and the fretwork and spindlework at the entrance to the living room.

They also elected to do all the interior painting and staining. Floors are unsanded oak shorts, stained walnut and treated with three coats of polyurethane.

The care and attention lavished on each detail gives this dwelling the polished charm of a well-loved and well-lived-in older house-and, like all good houses, it's still in the process of growing. As a personal touch typical of the entire process, the wife kept a daily journal all through the construction, and presented it to her husband as a gift last Christmas.
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Date:Nov 1, 1990
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