True North // From Boathouse to House Beautiful

By Alli Schuchman

The rule is that the grandkids can’t come down to the boathouse until at least 7 a.m. But as often happens with children, the excitement of a new day easily usurps any pleas or promises to hush.

Starting around dawn, the squeals of joy and the sound of scampering feet radiate from the main house down the stone stairs to the boathouse, heralding the inevitable incursion of footie pajamas and giggles and snuggling with Grammy and Grandpa.

Alicia and Ralph Siegel don’t much mind. The recent retirees are delighted to wake up early, and during family visits, turn over the main house to their kids—three sons, their wives and six grandkids—while they camp out in the boathouse below.

“It’s actually quite the romantic spot,” Alicia said of sleeping at the edge of Point Monroe’s lapping waves. In fact the boathouse is where “it”—a contemporary seaside estate on the island’s north shore—all began about 10 years ago.

Alicia recalled that on their first visit to the property it poured rain and the original structure was in desperately ill repair—a home for rats and otters. Still, the boathouse’s essential spirit was enough to set the gears in motion for the couple. “It was garbagy, but just being there on the edge of the water showed us the possibilities,” said Alicia. “If we loved it like that, imagine it with sunshine.”

At the time the Siegels were wrapping up the final chapter of Ralph’s work as a CPA in Chicago, but the native Seattleite couple knew they had found the spot where they would retire.

“When we first bought the property, we asked what architects we should talk to,” recalled Ralph. Recommended were Peter Brachvogel and Stella Carosso, principals and owners of BC&J Architecture, who had worked with the property’s previous owner. “We intended to interview them and several others,” said Ralph, “but after we met Peter and Stella, we knew we didn’t need to look any further.”

After hiring BC&J to create the architectural design, and then signing Dave Carley of Carley Construction—who brought an all-star roster of local suppliers—to build the house, the Siegels’ dream team was set and the mission got underway.

Project No. 1, the boathouse, served as an ideal jumping-off point—a sort of last things first approach—to dream up and realize the vision for the entire property. “They didn’t want to build the house until they got used to the place,” said Brachvogel.

Finished in mahogany, the boathouse appropriately feels like the interior of a boat. It now has a small wash area, Murphy bed and accordion doors that open to the water on a nice day. “I’ve been known to come down here and watch a football game,” said Ralph. Sitting at the boathouse, he said, is completely different from being at the main house. “When we have parties we try to get people to migrate to experience the change.”

After the boathouse’s total revamp, next came the carriage house, which sits closest to and serves as a buffer from the road. The Siegels stayed there on visits from Chicago while the main house was being built. After its completion three years ago, the carriage house regained its primary use as a garage with an upper-level apartment for overflow guests.

The main house was designed with two principal parts. “There’s a daytime side and the nighttime side,” said Brachvogel. “The daytime wing,” which houses the kitchen, great room and dining room, “is square with the property line, but the nighttime wing swings out about 8 degrees.”

The design had dual purposes—to make the daytime side of the house feel less constricted and to angle the Siegels’ bedroom suite, the nighttime side, toward Mount Baker. “I have to confess though,” said Ralph, “sometimes I take a little nap in the daytime part of the house.”

Inside the bedroom suite, Venetian plaster columns frame the view of Indianola and the Suquamish dock. The corner windows are particularly intricate. Brachvogel explained that the mullions—the horizontal and vertical bars between the panes of glass—were arranged in an outside-to-in hierarchy where the outermost horizontal mullion is a quarter-inch thicker than the next occurring
vertical mullion, and so on until, the thinnest profile mullion ends in the window’s corner.

The suite’s bath was inspired by the Siegels’ trips to Japan. The muted bands of tile panels are all cut from the same variety of stone, but the textures and treatments are different which gives the room a calm cohesion and subtle depth. Heavy, solid-core walnut doors slide into the walls dividing the bathroom from the bedroom and it from the closets. Brachvogel pointed out the doors have no covering boards or molding, a detail that avoids “suburban language,” he said.

Even as fall nudges into winter, the house is sunny. Since the home faces due north, “we had to buy light by elevating the roof and setting in on a bed of glass so that the home gets the full day of sun,” said Brachvogel. “Since we didn’t want to put a bunch of columns and beams into the view, we ran the cantilevers way out so the whole pavilion acts like a cabana. The cantilever is so high so that we get daylight in around it.”

It worked. “Most days we don’t turn the lights on in the house,” said Ralph. “Plus not turning on the lights helps me sleep better in the daytime portion of the house.”

“We collectively agonized over every detail,” recalled Brachvogel. For example, he explained that the angle of the steel-clad front door replicates the batters, creating a rhythm that plays through the home. The bands of Ipe wood that run horizontally along the home’s exterior walls into the interior walls are cut from the same board so that the grain matches up perfectly on both sides of the glass panes.

That level of detail, skill and artistry was the rule. “When you came to the job site, everyone felt ownership and pride over it,” said Brachvogel. “Everyone had a collective vision and brought their A game. If they didn’t, they were gone in a day. The builder accepted nothing less.”

Although the modernist architecture and construction is in itself remarkable, it becomes more interesting still when contrasted with the couple’s eclectic artwork, much of which was inherited from Ralph’s mother, Marjorie Siegel, a well-known collector and designer in Seattle.

Northwest masters such as Morris Graves and Guy Anderson are hung next to “a painting that’s no one has ever heard of,” said Alicia. “It feels more comfortable to mix.” Pieces by Dale Chihuly, David Schwartz, John DeWit and renowned sculptor Julie Speidel also have special spaces in the home, many of which were designed around the art itself.

Interwoven with the master works of art are hundreds of family photos—some professional portraits, but most simply snapshots of a long and happy life. Weddings, births, vacations. Alicia said that sharing their home with friends and family is ultimately all they want.

“Without that,” she said, “what’s the point?”