AIA Home of Distinction: Turning Up the Brightness in a Mercer Island Split-Level

A practical, tech-minded homeowner focused on light, lifestyle and seamless design
  • Exterior of a modern Mercer Island house
Plate-glass railings and a steel-grate deck maximize daylight on both floors of this home

When Jeff Parham began envisioning his brand-new home, he knew precisely what he wanted: a top-of-the-line media room, ample natural light, and a master suite on the main floor. “I was in my last house for almost 18 years, so I plan to be here for a while,” says Parham, a partner software engineer at Microsoft. “As I age, I imagine going up and down stairs all the time won’t be my first choice.”

Working in close collaboration with Parham, Lane Williams (of Lane Williams Architects in Interbay) conceived of the nearly 3,500-square-foot Mercer Island home as three distinct but connected boxes wrapping around a central courtyard on the property’s sunny, private south side. Thanks to the home’s sloping lot, the main floor comprises all three boxes, while the smaller lower floor, containing Parham’s office, laundry room, storage, and guest bedrooms and bath, fits neatly underneath the central, largest segment. On the main floor’s north side, a cantilevered, steel-grate deck with plate-glass railings allows the maximum amount of light into the floor below. And, Parham adds, when the upward-facing lights embedded in the lower-floor patio below kick on at night, “it [feels] a little like floating.”

 “The goal of the house, aesthetically, was the integration of all the parts and pieces, rather than just letting things float on their own,” says Williams. That seamless design aesthetic manifests in details large and small. More plate-glass railings on the interior stairs eliminate any visual barrier between front door and main floor, which houses Parham’s essential living spaces: media room, kitchen and master suite. There’s also not a door hinge in sight on this floor; pocket doors disappear into walls, and massive sliding glass doors whoosh quietly open to the courtyard and deck, flooding the space with fresh air as well as brilliant daylight.

In the kitchen, granite countertops flecked with royal blue inspired the azure back-painted glass behind the stove (also a sleek disguise for the kitchen exhaust hood) and coffee bar. These saturated colors sizzle against the muted blond and dark wood cabinets, which conceal a staggering amount of storage space. Customizable LED track lighting above the kitchen and living areas enables Parham to continually tweak his illumination, and a tomato-red light fixture (a dimmable, 4,000-Kelvin color temperature LED, which appears much closer to natural light than the traditional Edison bulb) pops like a piece of contemporary art, complementing the Saarinen Tulip chairs and table below. “I’m very particular about my lighting,” says Parham, who says he prefers natural daylight whenever possible. “So, every fixture in the house is dimmable, unless it’s in the garage or the mechanical room. Even the closets.”

Through another light-sealing pocket door, the media room, built to Parham’s own design specifications, features a full Dolby Atmos sound system, four cushy movie-theater-style chairs, a bar with stool seating and well-vented rollout racks for storing all the necessary A/V equipment. (LED lights are set inside those tech cabinets, so nothing distracts from a film should a cabinet be opened during a screening.) “I spend a lot of time in this room every day,” says Parham, a self-described movie buff. In the master bedroom, another projector screen can drop down from the ceiling at the touch of a button, as can motorized shades that obscure the wall-size glass door that opens from the bedroom onto the courtyard. “I’m kind of a home-automation buff, too,” he says.

Materials inside and out were chosen for their durability, sustainability and simple “as is” beauty. Unpainted concrete and clear-coated aluminum exteriors are juxtaposed against a backdrop of greenery, and brick and cedar accents combat what Williams describes as a perennial aesthetic problem with suburban lots: the street-facing garage. Look closely, Williams says, and you’ll notice that, in addition to the overhead doors, there’s a main door leading into the garage, but all those edges meld into the pattern of the cedar, making the garage a less prominent design feature. “We’re trying to draw people’s eyes to the front door and the main body of the house,” Williams says.

Four years into his residence here, Parham is never quite done making adjustments; he says the new acoustic panels he recently installed in the media room have greatly improved the sound quality, and he’s always modifying his lights. But not to worry, says Williams, while sharing with Parham a beloved proverb of unverifiable origin: “‘The man who finishes his house, dies,’” Williams says, with a laugh. “So you’ve gotta keep at it.”

This Mercer Island home was selected by a panel of architects for the AIA Seattle Home of Distinction program for its level of detail, quality of craft and its exceptional specificity of design to this particular client. Dreaming about a home design project and not sure where to start? AIA architects can help:

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