A Seattle home uses floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize water views and natural light.
Being a contractor, Terry Miller has a great eye for properties. But it was his wife, Debbie, who came upon a secluded piece of property not visible from the main street while walking with friends. A for sale sign beckoned her in, and five days later, Debbie and her husband owned the land and the breathtaking views that extended straight out into Puget Sound.
“It’s an incredible property, we fell in love with the views to the West and the mountains and all of the trees. We always looked at it as something that you could put a tent on and be happy with,” says Miller.
The home they built on this property would be Miller’s last (and perhaps greatest) project before retiring from Schultz Miller, the contracting firm he helped found. He asked longtime friend and partner, architect Rick Sundberg of Sundberg Kennedy Ly-Au Young Architects, to help design every detail of a structure that would respect and celebrate the spectacular site.
“A project like this starts because I’m invited to help work on someone’s dream,” says Sundberg. “I’m not interested in the kind of door pulls, or drawer pools they want, I am interested in how they live, and how they see themselves in a space.”
Over wine and cheese, the Millers talked with Sundberg about how the house would be built, the craft of it, the warmth, the wood, and the feeling they would get when they were inside.
“The home was designed around their lifestyle,” says Sundberg. “They like to entertain, but they are also informal, and the house reflects that.”
The resulting design is simple and open, with an exposed structure that facilities a feeling of connectedness. The spacious common areas act as a social center for impromptu art shows, a living gallery for their talented network of friends. Debbie has a studio and Terry has an office just a few steps apart from each other, fulfilling a need for open space to be together, but also separate spaces to retreat to.
Where the Millers had originally envisioned a Western-facing wall with windows on each side, Sundberg had a different vision—a wall of glass that would harness daylight.
“I’ve always liked the idea that we live in an overcast place. It intuitively makes you want to bring more light into a space and manage that light more carefully,” says Sundberg. “I’ve been fascinated with this for most of my career, and there’s enough data now about how people live better with plenty of good daylight.”
Sundberg’s firm relies on computer programs to measure the intensity of light, the spectrum of light and its behaviors to consider how glazing and windows can help harness or control the flow of that light.
“Here, you need to have light. Light is critical to our well-being, to be honest with you,” he adds.
Miller worked with his long-time Marvin distributor to design 9-foot sliding glass doors with narrow profiles to keep sightlines clean. Combining the doors with direct glaze windows and specialty-shaped transom windows from Marvin’s Signature Ultimate collection created a Western-facing glass façade that maximizes daylight even on the most overcast Pacific Northwest days.
For Miller, looks and performance were equally important.
“I’ve been amazed with the insulation qualities of them in the summer. It stays cool, and in the winter, you can walk up to them and they’re warm on the inside,” he says.
Infusing their home with meaningful, artisan touches was also important to the Millers, and their creative network meant they could rely on experts in unusual materials. A friend helped them source Eramosa Limestone from Canada, and a small mill tucked away in Southwest Oregon provided Port Orford Cedar for the extensive woodwork and exposed beams. A strong, lightweight timber with “straight as an arrow” grain, this wood species grows only in the Pacific Northwest, and Miller hand-selected the logs that would later fill his home with the inherent warmth of natural wood, complementing the stained pine interiors of the Marvin windows.
In some cases, the Millers looked no further than their own land to build the unique story of their home. In the Northeast corner of the property, the Millers found a Big Leaf Maple that had grown over 100 feet high. When an arborist identified rot within the tree and recommended removing it, loggers cut the tree into 10-foot sections, dried it, and milled the wood into slabs. Two years later, the Millers picked a special slab for the front door and the dining room table, and used remnants for a custom stairway, flooring, and a few small pieces of furniture.
“In room that’s in the space where the tree was actually cut down, we built a headboard from three of the slabs,” says Miller. “The tree has given the house a lot of life and we’re happy to keep that as a reminder of what was here before.”
On a lot that was once just vacant land looking out on the water, the Millers have created a forever home that expresses their personalities and their love for natural light and the outdoors.
“To sit outside in the evening and look out over the West is amazing. The house is incredible. We can really live here,” says Miller.