Harvard-Belmont Residence by Stuart Silk Architects

Located in Seattle, Washington, this palazzo-style residence built in 1910, has been recently redesigned by Stuart Silk Architects.

Description by Stuart Silk Architects

Drawn to this historic Italianate residence, a landmark in Capitol Hill’s Harvard-Belmont Historical District, the new owners knew they needed a design firm that would respect the home’s historic exterior yet bring a modern sensibility to the interiors, which had long ago been compromised through a series of ill-conceived remodels. The palazzo-style residence—built in 1910, one year after the famed Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, and designed by Washington, D.C. architects Hornblower and Marshall—had been commissioned by noted entrepreneur, lawyer, and railroad executive Samuel R. Hill. The five-story, 11,000-square-foot home is built entirely of cast-in-place concrete. Unique in construction, the house is thought to be the oldest of its kind on the west coast. Channeling the innovative spirit of the home’s original construction and owner, a strategy was devised to bring the home into the 21st century. The multi-phased approach involved preserving as much of the exterior of the house as possible while re-envisioning the floor plans of each of the five floors for contemporary living.

Occupying a one-acre site, the property provides expansive views across Lake Union to the Olympic Mountains. Despite numerous remodels since its original construction, the interiors were a rabbit warren of spaces that defied logic, were poorly connected to the gardens and views, and unsuited to contemporary living. “This was a large undertaking, consisting of five different phases that lasted over a period of eight years. Our clients appreciated our sensitivity to historic architecture, our love for modern design, and our willingness to weave them into a seamless expression,” notes architect Stuart Silk.

In response to the chaotic layout, main floor rooms were opened to create an interconnected plan that flows seamlessly from one space to another. Two large windows were inserted into the north side of the home to introduce views and light deep into the house. Each of the other floors were reorganized to better respond to the family’s specific needs and to take advantage of the sweeping vistas of lake Union, the city, and the Olympic Mountains from windows and terraces. “Given the hilltop location, views are everywhere, so framing those views and taking advantage of them was a critical element of the design,” notes Silk.

Important historic elements were retained and showcased, including the original fir beams in the basement and, notably, the four diamond-patterned structural iron columns, which feature rivets and webbing. The historic paneling and coffering is made of quarter sawn white oak. Custom chandeliers in the entry, dining room, and kitchen were designed by Stephen Hirt and Chico Raskey. An eighteen-foot- long island of Italian marble with burnished nickel legs is the focal point of the kitchen. Floor-to-ceiling sheets of blackened steel panels line the hallways, concealing doors to the powder room and laundry room. The door from the Diebold home safe was meticulously restored and re-purposed to become the door to the wine room. The family room features a custom-designed, hand-carved basalt coffee table.

The carriage house, originally below the house itself, was transformed to create an exercise space. Original board-formed concrete walls were left exposed and cleaned up while fir beams were repurposed for the cantilevered staircase, which was “carpeted” with blackened steel. The highlight of the exercise area is the glass-enclosed spa lined with Brazilian granite in emerald and blue hues that sparkle like a piece of jewelry.

The rooftop terrace provides 180-degree views of city, mountains and nearby St. Marks’s Cathedral (an iconic Seattle landmark). The terrace includes two fire pits and a glass covered trellis for use in less-than-perfect conditions.

Photography by Andrew Giammarco

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- by Matt Watts

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