PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — These crazy days, potential buyers hurtle through all sorts of unheard-of hoops to land a home of their own. But even 30 years ago, after professing their interest in a tiny little cabin on a remote Pierce County peninsula, Jim and Carolyn Milgard faced a rather unusual presale inquisition. Of their children.
The peninsula, a spectacular point of tremendously promising property, had been owned by one homesteading family — the Allens — since Washington's time as a territory, Carolyn says. They were not going to turn it over to just anyone.
"We met Mrs. Allen at a little Gig Harbor real estate company," Carolyn says. "She wanted to interview Jimmer [Jim Jr.] and Allison. She said, 'When you're walking on the beach, what do you like to find?' They said, 'Oysters and clams. We pick the oysters up and put them back the way we found them.'"
Turns out, that was not only the right answer, but also exactly the right metaphor for the Milgards' perfectly situated home (designed by illustrious architect George Suyama in the 1980s), and its recent remodel.
"It's respectful of the landscape," says architect Chris Haddad, of Suyama Peterson Deguchi, who led the three-phase modernization project. "George has always had this goal: The places don't need to call attention to themselves. They're just comfortable with what they are. Here, the southwest exposure is the most critical part of the house siting. Our general office philosophy is to use architecture to experience the site. It's set up with two axes, and allowed to engage with the property."
The Milgards' 7,000+-square-foot, Northwest contemporary home always has embraced its dramatic Puget Sound waterfront (and the resulting weather) to the point of seamless assimilation, through sweeping overhangs and rich, natural materials, but the "contemporary" part, all agreed, needed a little attention.
"Over the years, there were things that needed to be cleaner," Haddad says. "We remodeled the two kids' rooms. Since they're not here anymore, we reconfigured them more like a suite. We remodeled the kitchen and the master suite, bathroom and dressing room. Everything was neutralized and simplified. The fir trim had naturally gone orange; all the wood was stripped and restained. We refinished the floors. New paint. We also quieted the house down, to calm, quiet space. The interior is cleaned up and crisper."
With custom-designed pieces by Doug Rasar Interior Design, Carolyn says, "All the furnishings are new in the whole house. Every room has its own personality." And, Haddad adds, "its own connection to the landscape and point of view."
In the "completely reconfigured and opened-up" kitchen, Haddad says, the new black-granite island with an organic brush finish serves as "almost a piece of art, a link between architecture and furnishings" — and as an important anchor. "The grid of structure is what we always start with. When we remodeled, the island centers on the beams and gives an order."
Down a couple gentle stairs, 30-year-old fir columns rise to shoulder exposed beams in the subdued yet magnificent living room, itself a peninsula of sparkling glass ("always Milgard windows," Haddad says) overlooking a horizon of saltwater, and a brilliantly integrated pool.
"I think this is one of the most incredible rooms," Carolyn says. "I love it when you're down here and look up."
In the family room, new steel shelves, a steel box for the big-screen TV and redesigned fireplace doors "add a layer of detailing," Haddad says, while new casework surrounds a giant, glowing aquarium along a wall of refinished and refined storage space.
It's new, but it's not. It's a legacy house, and property, modified and modernized for a new family (big-picture, historically speaking) and its future.
"People can't believe it's 30 years old," Carolyn says. "When you have something like this, people are just kind of overwhelmed. It's a special place. There is not a day I'm not grateful here."