I recently posted a few photos of my house in a Facebook group, which kind of opened a can of worms. The limited number of photos led to a lot of questions about the design. People asked for both more photos and an explanation! While there is additional information on the Stargate page on this site, it's also pretty limited, so I thought I would make a few blog entries to provide more information, as well as move the discussion over here to my blog. Facebook got mad at me for commenting on almost every one of the 1.5K comments over there. I shouldn't have that problem here. It's easier for me to add more here in response to questions, as well.
So let's start here. Although there is rarely snow (a few days a year), this photo provides a pretty decent context. There were questions about the neighborhood, and how this house fits into the overall context. As you can see, there isn't any. This is the end of a dead end gravel road off of a dead end road.
No one can see the house from anywhere. Well, almost anywhere. There is one more house up the hill, and the occupants do have to drive past my house.
Also, if you are at the right spot on the West Seattle Bridge, at exactly the right time of the year, you might catch a glimpse up in the green space above I-5. The red lights will appear to be twinkling as you catch sight of it through the trees, but they aren't. It's just that the sight line between you and the house is broken up by tree branches that appear to move across the house as you drive.
Here's a view from above so you get a better idea of the lay of the land. That's the freeway at the bottom, and the closest residential street at the top. While we're looking at this one, notice the relative scale of the Stargate house (smack in the center), and the houses on the street above. It has an 800 s.f. footprint, so it's not big. In fact, it's dwarfed by those older houses crammed onto their 5,000 s.f. lots.
The landscape is a work in progress, as most are, but the approach is to do as little as possible while keeping things under control.
When we excavated for construction, almost all vegetation except for trees was removed. While the pilings were being drilled and placed, it looked like a strip mine.
Within a year of occupancy, nature had taken over again, and there were vines creeping up to the house, and we respect that. This is always going to be a house in the woods, and that's what we intended. Still, certain accommodations needed to be made to direct cars and people to the right places.
To make sure that the road was stable, a rockery was built, pierced through by a stairway with a landing at each garden level. The stair separates the more manicured rockery from the more natural landscape between the rockery and the house.
Some have wondered why these stairs, and the deck are wood, and not steel and concrete. It's because I consider them part of the landscape, not part of the house.
Although it was taken before the rockery was built, this panoramic photo gives you a pretty good idea of the relationship of the house and its immediate surroundings. A gangway-style stair in the design vocabulary of the house drops down to a wooden deck that is not. Although the spatial relationship is carefully considered, and there is clearly a relationship between the elements of the deck and those of the house, the deck is just as much a part of the greenery beyond to the left as it is of the house. Once big composition with multiple elements.
A rodent's eye view of the rear of the house. From here you can see all three decks. The segmented circular deck at the second level is peeking in from the top right, the steps to the wooden rear deck are lower left, and the upper deck off of the master bedroom is seen in the background, supported off of the face of the living room.
This view shows almost all of the exterior materials, and clearly illustrates the overwhelming presence of the "spaceship" part of the house. Even though it's only eight feet wide, its imagery gives it a much larger role than one might expect.
You can almost make out Leonaro's Vitruvian Man embedded in the nearest concrete panel.
Here's a night time view of the back side to give you an idea of the lighting back here. The red LED lights run up the circle, over the top, and back down the other side over the entry.
The blue industrial jelly-jar lights illuminate the roll-up door opening, and other general lighting pours out of the skylights and windows above.
Of course if there's a fire in the fireball, that just adds to the fun.
Moving back around to the front of the house, we can see the entry bridge spanning from the road to the house, with natural vegetation crawling around. Yeah, that ivy can get a little annoying, but it's not a big deal to pull it off that tree every year, and generally trimmed back to five feet from the house. That's where the moat will eventually go.
Whereas the circular form at the rear is allowed to descend at it's full radius on the back, here it's cut short to create an overhang over the front door, and then cut back further in two smaller concentric radii to create mounting points for the bridge and a frame around the door.
The front, or street side of the house faces east, and is fairly severe in its expression. Two Chinese lions, sourced after a multi-year search for just the right ones, guard a ten-foot-long bridge leading to the front door, which is located below the aluminum space ship hull extending from the other side.
The remainder of this side is fenestrated by high windows held tight to the outside of the building, creating a tight skin. These both allow the light to play inside during the day and create an opportunity for cross ventilation utilizing lower operating windows on the other side. There is no need to see out this side or allow the headlights from passing cars to penetrate. The red metal siding continues up and over the top onto the roof and back down the other side.
As we approach the entry, we can see glimpses of the Marc Lindsay painting "Where They Go" beyond. In this picture, both doors are opened to reveal the entire painting. When we moved into the house and I hung this painting here, my daughter asked "did you design this wall for this painting?". The answer was obvious. It wouldn't fit anywhere else.
Moving inside, we see the radius of the outer space ship hull echoed in the walls of the stairway, behind the dark walls in this picture. You can almost make out the stair railing on the middle one.
The sill trim for the high windows on the front has now become the head trim for the larger view windows on the view side, with operable hoppers below for cross ventilation.
In the space through the opening left center, we will find the bathroom door.
And here it is. You found it. It's from a Boeing Hydrofoil, purchased from Boeing Surplus in around 1986.
It was the door to the back room at my office for about ten years starting in around 1988. It is aluminum, and was coated with a lime green protective coating until we sprayed it with Hammertone when we installed it in the house.
I took a class in fused glass so that I could create the glass "bathroom" signage, which is combined male and female figure in a DaVinci-inspired pose. It was considered a little unusual in 2008, but I could probably sell these today.
The head is low and the sill is high, being a portal more than a door, so you have to be on your toes when you go inside if you are visitor. Also, the handle confuses most people, so that's probably got your attention as well.
The result is that people aren't really too aware of the room itself until after they are inside. When they look up to see where they are, they see themselves staring back from all directions.
The bathroom is almost as small as I could make it. There are mirrors on all four walls, so the entire room repeats into infinity in all directions. It has been compared by visitors to the Tardis, as it is bigger on the inside than on the outside.
There is a grid of LEDs on the ceiling that also extend in all directions to enhance the effect.
If you have seen prior pictures of this bathroom you will note several changes:
The cheap IKEA white paperboard counter has been changed to clear Lexan.
The hanging light has been swapped out for a smaller one and raised to a higher elevation so you don't bump your head on it.
The ceiling grid is not working. I am rewiring it so I can better control the lights.
Mr. Potato Head is wearing a party outfit.
Opposite the bathroom door is the main interior stair. The hallway outside the bathroom also serves as the mid-level landing for this stair.
In this photo, you can see the open risers that allow light to filter through from the round skylights of the Stargate from the West.
The center wall is sponge-painted in layers of purple, blue, gold, and silver. The net effect is very metallic, although it's really just drywall and paint.
The handrail runs continuously from the basement to the top floor without interruption, including no interruption from vertical sections of handrail, or flat areas that are not adjacent or parallel to landings. Those are a pet peeve, and I very carefully designed the stair, the stairway, and the railing to avoid them.
In fact, eliminating a vertical drop in the handrail while allowing it to turn the corner to the next run was one of the considerations for the rounded cut-outs in the center wall.
Moving back out of the bathroom, we return to the largest room in the house, the living room. This photo has been the subject of a lot of commentary, so let me respond to a few things.
The photo is pretty "hot". The wall, while red, aren't quite that bright. They are more of a ketchup color, rather than tending toward fluorescent orange.
The light over the painting, while movable (it's a low voltage cable light), is more or less centered over the David Chula Tupper painting over the fireplace, it's just out a ways in front of it, so it looks off center in the photo. It IS slightly off center to avoid direct glare.
This picture was shot around Christmas, so there is a Nutcracker on one end of the mantle, and a bunch of troll dolls dressed up as elves on the other end.
The bear is named Fred.
Yes, the furniture is eclectic. The two chairs on the left are Swiss architect Mario Botta's "Seconda" armchairs, while the zebra-printed benches are from IKEA.
All of the artwork is original. Portrait is my wife's father, painted in Hong Kong. Dog/hand piece by Bill Ritchie.
Ah yes, the off-center fireplace. The "box" and mantle are centered in the room. However the wood-burning fireplace is not. Perhaps the next photo will explain it.
There are many places where alignment is more important than symmetry. The fireplace is on a direct axis with the stair hall between the living room and the dining room, where the bathroom door is located.
The astute observer will note that while it is no longer Christmas, the Nutcracker is still there. We can't decide what do do with him. Other things around him have changed, however. There is more art, a new CD and music center, and the zebra stripes have given way to a geometric cow print.
You can more clearly see the stair railing in this photo, as well. The near stairs go up to the bedrooms, while the far stair goes down to the basement.
The colors and finishes in the central zone are all dark and on the colder side, as opposed to the warmer hues in the "house-shaped" portions of the house. Note the change in flooring, for instance.
On the other end of the short stair hall/landing is the dining room.
A word about the colors. This yellow wall extends up into the bedroom above, as does the red wall of the living room. Red to the north, yellow to the south, and grey and white to the east and west.
All windows trims on the east and west wall run continuously until they hit a perpendicular wall. All head and sill trims are the same, with the head of these windows serving as the sills of the windows opposite. I have made this point twice. It is important.
Dining table by Le Corbusier, dining chairs by local industrial designer Gideon Kramer. This is the same chair that was used in the Space Needle's restaurant when it first opened (a leather-padded version), and these particular chairs have been displayed at the Tacoma Art Museum and the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle.
Artwork by Tommer Peterson and Ingrid Matthews.
I am sure that everyone reading this will be happy to know that handrails have been added to the deck access stairs.
It took a long time to design these simple handrails, because I wanted them to be consistent with the visual image of the retractable stair. I finally took my inspiration from the retractable handrails on Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. I am quite happy with them. I even got to 3D print a couple of parts.
Sorry for the mess. As you can see, I already have the hose out getting ready to pressure-wash the stairs and deck.
The railing is made from electrical conduit and fittings, rubber pipe insulation, cable, custom 3D-printed parts (the black fitting), springs, and other miscellaneous hardware (yes, those are springs).
A correction: Some on Facebook have erroneously referred to the Living Room upstairs as the "Music Room". That is incorrect.
THIS is the Octothorpe Memorial Music Room.