A Light-Filled Oasis
Mercer Island residence embraces natural beauty by drawing it inside
By Sean Meyers November 15, 2023
When Kent and Lisa Sacia decided to put a bow on their latest remodeling triumph, they turned to a trusted collaborator, Sander Groves Landscaping President Dan Groves. He was more than happy to take on the project, a reimagining of a 1972 Northwest contemporary by a noted Mercer Island architect.
“I am in a position to be associated with a lot of very beautiful homes, but I think this may be my favorite, with its incredible updated architecture and interior design,” Groves says.
Many of the original features were intact when the Sacias purchased the 6,400-square-foot waterfront home in 2015.
“On the main floor, there is no framing on the corners of the windows. Even if you don’t notice that when you come in, it feels like you’re walking on air,” Kent says. “The bottom floor seems lighter than the top floor, and that’s a very cool feeling. There was real intention, real forethought in putting the home together when Reid Morgan built it.”
A view across the water to undeveloped Seward Park enhanced the sloping 19,500-square-foot lot’s Google-eyed connection to Lake Washington and its busy wildlife. Despite its somewhat westerly orientation and expansive bank of windows, the goldilocks-zone home never seemed too warm or too sunny.
Moreover, the structure was less than 40 feet from the water — roughly 50 feet closer than what would be allowed for new construction under current setback restrictions. “We didn’t really want to change the house from the way it was designed, but there were things that needed to be modernized.”
In adherence to 1970s style, the snug interior design was more forest than meadow — a lot of walls, a lot of cedar, a lot of doorways converging into the kitchen. Lowered and dropped ceilings, vaguely in the manner of Frank Lloyd Wright, further contributed to a mild sense of entombment.
The house, one of the first built in this neighborhood on the southwestern part of Mercer Island, was commissioned by the Walter Schoenfeld family, and held until 2013, when it was sold to a couple who intended to convert it into the style of Newport Beach.
With its calcium-enriched Northwest contemporary bones, the house proved ill-suited to the proposal. They abandoned their dream, but not their designer, Studio AM Architecture-Interiors, which they recommended to the Sacias.
“Studio AM was emotionally invested. We were impressed with their level of knowledge about the house and its intricacies,” Lisa says.
One intricacy was that while it was an unassuming two stories viewed from the water, the house contained seven interior levels. Michael Troyer, principal at Studio AM, had been working with the previous owners on a unification plan that included construction of an elevator. That plan was scrapped when the Sacias purchased the home.
“Our philosophy is that we’re designing the home for the clients, so we strive to meet their expectations,” Troyer says.
The Sacias have similar design aesthetics.
“We like natural, organic, fitting into the environment, simple, clean, minimalist,” Lisa notes. “Warm contemporary vs. cold contemporary. We like happy; we like pops of color in almost every room.”
A core concept was creating destinations throughout the property.
“Where you go on a cold, cloudy, rainy day,” Lisa says. “Where you go to sit and watch eagles flying. Where you go for reflective time. We have spaces in our home — whether intentionally or unintentionally — that are different destinations that our family and friends, when they come, all take advantage of in different ways.”
Lisa’s favorite destination is a lavishly glazed second floor gallery that overlooks an outdoor courtyard featuring Steve Jensen totem carvings, which came with the home.
“If I need time to think or process things, that will be the place I go,” she says. “My second favorite destination is always the family room because I love the fires. I feel safe and protected.”
Kent’s favorite destination is “the wine cellar,” followed closely by a well-worn perch in the living room’s ultra-plush chairs (Michael Berman Ltd.), where he can swivel as necessary between wildlife performances, the golf channel, and two-legged curiosities — a “catio,” of sorts, but for humans. “The doors are usually open, and the shades are usually up, so you feel like you are outside. The squirrels are like four feet away.”
Danielle Krieg led Studio AM’s interior design team, which tied color accents such as the azure Berman chairs and flame-orange midcentury modern chairs (Dennis Miller New York) to water, sunsets, landscaping, and other natural elements.
In a concessionary tip of the cap to the magnificence of nature, waterfront home designers are generally reluctant to stray wildly from a neutral palette.
Studio AM and the Sacias collaborated on curating art for the entry, dining room, and living room, while much of the rest of the home is adorned with fruits of the Sacia’s acquisitions, which began 20 years ago in Pioneer Square and includes a work by Erik Renssen, a Picasso devotee who works in the figurative tradition.
They met Renssen in Amsterdam’s Spiegelkwartier and immediately fell in love with one of his paintings. “We said, ‘Well, we’ll wait a couple of weeks after we get home, and if we still feel the same, we’ll call Erik,’” Lisa recalls.
A mixed media piece by a San Francisco artist is an homage to Lisa’s South African roots.
If Dante had been an interior designer, he might have written instead about the circular torment of moving furniture up and down seven stairways. A circuitous route had to be mapped for an imported table that required 10 men to move.
Plumbing, electric, and HVAC systems were upgraded, which required stripping the home to its birthday suit. “You could see bare dirt below the floor,” Lisa says. “That was probably the least fun part of the project.”
Exterior parapets were heightened to obscure the roof from the elevated street-side view. Tinted windows were upgraded and stopped-gap glazing replaced with energy efficient and stronger frames.
The original cedar siding was cupping, so was updated with horizontally-oriented boards. Spot treatments of plaster provided lightness and blackened metal panels helped reduce the volume of cedar. Kent advocated preserving the interior cedar, which was reduced in volume in favor of gypsum and refinished with lighter stain. The most dramatic changes occurred on the second floor, which hosts the master suite.
“It was chopped up before with odd rooms, including a secret room behind the office, and a secondary room that was kind of a panic room,” Troyer says.
Panic abatement measures were taken in the remodel, including installation of a dinosaur-egg-shaped reclaimed marble bath from an Australian manufacturer aptly named Apaiser, which is French for appease or soothe. The tub had spent several months bobbing in Puget Sound, presumably gathering its chi, a hostage of the container traffic crisis.
Peace is also abundant in the landscape, where Sander Groves (Redmond) sought to soften the home’s inherent boxiness with contrasting textures and foliage, including spreading yews, privet, honeysuckle, and arborvitae. Trees were lighted from below, landings created, and potted annuals strategically stationed in an effort to arrest visitors on the long walk to the front entry.
“We worked to incorporate plants in large masses, rather than a plant here, a plant there,” Groves says.