'There was more than 20 feet of bad landfill and weeds,' says seattle architect Clint Pehrson of the vacant one-third acre in the Queen Anne Hill residential neighborhood adjacent to downtown Seattle. But appreciating the spectacular views of the city skyline that the property offered, Pehrson purchased the land, reworked it, and designed a 5,900-square-foot, three-story home for himself, his wife and their two small children.
Pehrson based the home's architecture on three broad concepts-the juxtaposition of 'heavy' and 'lightweight' elements, the views, and his commitment to art-each of which influenced the lighting design created by Christopher Thompson, principal and project designer and James Sultan, studio manager and assistant project designer of Seattle-based Studio Lux. The home's massive masonry exteriors are counterbalanced with expansive window walls and aluminum framing. Opacity is blended with transparency, and the lighting projects warmth from within. Thompson explains, 'In any approach we take, we listen to the client's needs, then study the architecture, and that dictates what lamps and fixtures are selected. The exterior of the structure is sparse, constructed with gray cement blocks. The client wanted the home to be like a lantern; and because of the glass walls, the whole interior can be seen illuminated at night.'
Another key feature of the house is its commanding view of Seattle and the mountains beyond. 'The house deals with the notion that humans have a primal need for shelter, and to seek high ground and inhabit a place of refuge that protects and offers a commanding view so you can see what is approaching,' Pehrson explains. The lighting scheme developed by Studio Lux had to leave the exterior views unobstructed by both bulky fixtures and offending reflections in the myriad of window walls.
Pehrson's involvement in the arts community and passion for fine art led him to incorporate a variety of original pieces into the home. Artwork not only adorns the walls suspended on stainless-steel rail systems custom designed by Pehrson, but is embedded in the floors as well. Artist Jack Mackie set the tone for the residence in the floor of its entryway by depicting multi-seasonal maple leaves in saturated, vivid colors using mother-of -pearl and exotic granites on a background of cobalt-blue terrazzo. The lighting designers had to illuminate the array of both wall-mounted and floor-imbedded art, while respecting the clean lines of the architecture.
To create a consistent yet effective lighting system, Studio Lux developed a palette of fixtures that when combined, achieve customized results throughout the house. Ceiling-recessed downlights fitted with halogen lamps provide the bulk of the lighting. The designers opted for this solution because it offers the ability to adjust a fixture and lock in the focus, preserving the integrity of the lighting. 'After the lighting was installed, we studied the artwork, added lenses and filters, and locked down the adjustments,' Thompson says. 'The fixtures don't have to be refocused after relamping.'
'One of the interesting things Clint Pehrson did in his design was pay attention to focal points. He studied each focal point, how one would move toward it, and then what the next visual composition and focal point would be as you moved throughout the house,' says Thompson. 'We made sure the lighting design addressed this.' In addition to considering how the rooms would look when all the lighting components were illuminated, the lighting designers also studied what would happen if only individual layers of light were introduced. 'The visual compositions for each room were choreographed and programmed in the control system so they can be accessed any time,' says Thompson.
The layered approach to lighting is apparent throughout the house. The dining room includes two levels: Ceiling-recessed downlights positioned above the table focus on the food and the diners, and a second level, provided by a pendant that warms the room, distributes light gently throughout for an inviting atmosphere. 'The selected pendant doesn't overwhelm the space or interfere with sightlines,' explains Thompson. Recessed halogen downlights have also been carefully planned here, as in the rest of the home, to spotlight the art on the dining area walls. The fixtures highlighting artwork have been fitted with UV filters to protect against fading and material damage.
In the kitchen the challenge for the lighting team was to provide task illumination at countertop level while simultaneously highlighting artwork in the floor. Spun aluminum pendants suspended above the central island provide task light on the wood counter. In the cooking area, halogen fixtures are mounted under the maple cabinets to light the terrazzo countertops. The designers installed fixtures that would cast pinspots of light onto the stainless-steel backsplash to create sparkle in that area, which is recessed between matte concrete pillars.
In the billiard room there was no capacity to recess fixtures in the ceiling above the game table, so the designers opted to include pendants for task lighting, which allows a clear view of the vistas beyond the window wall. Two downlights above the sofa area and two low-lying table lamps complete the task and general illumination for the space.
The two-story library, which soars 18 feet, was a particular challenge. 'It was difficult to get vertical footcandles on the books,' says Thompson, who specified the same spun aluminum pendants used in the kitchen. 'That gave us good reading light, and the solution complemented the architecture, emphasizing the vertical aspect of the spiral staircase.'
'The interior structure of the home includes clean-lined finished wood, masonry, stone and glass elements that are well detailed, but without ornate embellishment,' Pehrson explains, 'and the tectonic, substantive backdrop is awakened by the artwork, people and furnishings that inhabit the house.' Artistry abounds in this stunning Seattle home, not only in the artwork it contains, but also in the skillful orchestration of the architectural and lighting details that enrich the art of living.