Inspired by de stijl master Piet Mondrian’s early drawing Pier and Ocean (1915), the Tables of Water at the Lake Washington Art House define placid, geometric planes that stretch beyond themselves to integrate interior, exterior, and natural spaces into a seamless whole. These earth-embedded plinths evocatively capture the classic modernist conceit by breaking down the membrane between indoors and out, yet the Tables of Water go beyond to mediate between the land, lake, and sky to harmonize and funnel each into the home’s interior. As the ultimate experience of the arrival sequence, the Tables of Water distill the visitor’s experience into one unified gesture of connecting arrival, entry, and expansive release.
Like the arcs of Mondrian’s internal color field, the rigid rectangularity of the Tables of Water are balanced by softer, organic edges, where the designer’s hand in the garden is less modern and more painterly, harkening to the roots of our romance with gardens. These soft frames oppose and highlight the more severe geometries at the center of the property.
Situated on a remarkable south-facing lot overlooking Lake Washington that affords spectacular views of Mount Rainier, this parcel has always had a special engagement with the natural world beyond its property lines. After several years of living on and modifying the grounds and existing buildings, the owners decided that a new residence and with significant changes to the grounds would better accommodate their lifestyle. The owners charged the design team with the task of making the new home and landscape interact with the site and showcase the owner’s love of art and entertaining.
The site slopes from the northern edge at the street to Lake Washington, giving the ground plane a natural rake that propels circulation shoreward. For the renovation, many of the major site elements and relationships within the northwestern portion of the site remained largely untouched, such as the guest house, tennis court, and driveway.
The southern half of the site, including the house, main lawn, and water’s edge, was the primary focus of the new design work. Responding to the proposed architecture, existing site features and an extensive plant collection, the landscape design sought to extend the inside of the house to the outside - creating rooms, framing views, and devoting spaces to sculpture and social gatherings.
Vehicles enter the site on an existing gravel drive that weaves past the sinuous forms of an extant 130’ long Richard Serra rolled steel sculpture. Coming to the autocourt, the visitor’s entry sequence to the home first passes through a bosque of Persian Parrotia, which create a canopy for the sculpture courts. On the ground, these rooms are framed by truncated lines of Boxwood and Black Bamboo.
Accentuating the inside-outside relationship of the landscape and home, the exterior, stone-paved entry walk continues through the home to a large window wall with a view of Lake Washington. Mondrian’s abstractions are made visible and their obfuscating effects are literal as the planes of water stretch out from the home’s central axis to engage the water that laps at the southern shore of the property some 100 feet away. In so doing, the waters of Lake Washington appear to touch the home, creating a seamless visual path from the internal, to external, to natural.
Tables of Water
Without an apparent edge, the spatial dislocation created by these Tables of Water distill the essences of modernism and de stijl art to a contemporary landscape that, though rooted in the land, evocatively engages the lake and sky in an essay on the elements. Clouds are captured by the still waters in their race across the sky; ground becomes air, still water becomes dynamic, and heavens enter the home.
Beyond these central tables, the strong linear ticks borrowed from Pier and Ocean, create the overall structure for the landscape to the south of the house by defining spaces and terraces for outdoor sculpture. Other Tables of Water are located within these terraces that offer a chance to touch the water, including a swimming pool and spa. Since each of these pools has an infinity edge of solid black granite on its lakeside face, the domestic swim connects to the open water of the lake beyond.
The terraces are gracious in scale yet simple in detail. Keeping continuity with the front of the house, a small bosque of Persian Parrotia repeats itself on the eastern terraces and a triptych of stately Katsuras shade the southwestern façade of the house. Using the same stone found within the house, the designers created an unbroken plane that extends from living room to patio. A series of steps with lawn treads and stone edging connects the main terrace to the lower Great Lawn, which is a precisely-sloping tilted plane, punctuated by a singular 30’ tall Japanese maple. Sited next to the maple is a Howard Ben Tré glass bench oriented towards Mount Rainier.
Visible from the house and overlooking the southern terraces and lake, the outdoor dining court on the north side of the house is walled from the surrounding landscape. Adjoining the formal interior dining room, this outdoor dining court features unique plants, including two extraordinarily beautiful weeping cut-leaf Japanese Maples and a sculpture by Anthony Caro.
The Winter + Moon Gardens
Meandering along the eastern and western edges of the property, two less formal gardens create intimate spaces that serve as a foil to the austerity of the central space.
The Winter Garden, on the west end of the house, provides year round interest especially needed during the rainy days of Western Washington’s winters. The design showcases a number of rare, tropical plants in one location rather than disperse them throughout the site. The Winter Garden features a number of New Zealand tree ferns, palms, and a wheel tree. These tropical plants, unusual for the Pacific Northwest, are complimented by ferns, viburnum, rhododendrons, and mosses.
On the opposite side of the house, the Moon Garden is a “secret” garden connecting the northeast and southeast sides of the house. The crescent moon shape of the path references James Turrell’s skyspace located just inside the home. The space is a lynchpin connecting ground to sky (vertically and metaphorically), and land to water (horizontally and experientially). With a carpet of white blooms and reflective foliage, the garden offers a quiet place to wander, especially in the evening. In addition, a mix of hellebores create seasonal interest in the winter.
The house and landscape design also incorporate sustainable design elements. The green roofs of the house and garage are planted with Blue Oat Grass, native strawberry and forbs which help to reduce the heat island effect and control stormwater runoff into Lake Washington. The trellis and sun-shades encircling the house are covered with climbing vines, further integrating the home within its garden setting and providing more sun protection in the summer.
From environmentally-friendly practices to the siting of extraordinary art, this project creates a dialectic between landscape, art, and architecture that challenges the autonomy and insularity of each discipline. Integrated and yet independent, the landscape design creates a place of discovery, of calmness and order. The setting is a place where the distilled, cubic precision of the “Tables of Water” offer a striking but complimentary contrast to the ebb and flow of the waters of Lake Washington. The results create minimalism with panache, a unique expression of the site’s complex design history, the owner’s unique preferences, and the influencing talents of the other design team members.