Less is best for an art-loving couple whose home had been dark and dated.
IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE that designer Michelle Burgess would spend seven weeks in this exceptional Queen Anne home, “just looking,” and studying, and taking things in, before composing a plan.
Burgess is also a classical musician, who also really digs anthropology.
“Every time I came back, I saw more,” she says. “It’s my creative process. I think of design like 3-D compositions. To me, the house has to work first. It’s more about space, light and function vs. ‘decorating.’ It’s like nature: You have to listen.”
Here, Burgess heard a voice-from-the-past plea for help, squeezed out through sometimes-smothering constriction.
“The house had tons of potential but was dark and felt very dated, with a heavy hand on materials throughout the kitchen and the bath areas,” she says. “Despite … amazing large south-facing windows, it felt very claustrophobic and uninviting.”
A previous remodel had left “a significant amount of steel,” she says, along with somber finishes (brown wood and a black backsplash further saddened the squooshed kitchen) amid lots of “olive green and ochre — a Tuscan palette.”
But, Burgess says, “The doors were high, the ceilings were tall and the windows were clean,” and the owners — Kate and her husband — were completely on board with their distinct hilltop home, and a sophisticated total refresh.
“We loved it structurally,” Kate says. “It has an open plan, and light for me is No. 1. We loved the light, the quiet, the inside-out feeling. It sort of has a Pacific Northwest vibe.”
And, now: an updated, sleek, warmly minimalist one.
“Every room was touched,” says Burgess, who worked with Steve Fradkin of Fradkin Fine Construction. “We redid the powder room. We demoed the kitchen and master bath. We pulled out flooring. [There are] all-new furnishings and fixtures. New carpet upstairs. There’s a visual feast going on at a quiet level. Since we didn’t gut the whole house, everywhere we could do something, we used minimalism shapes and form. You can’t hide anywhere with minimalism. It’s not every client who has traveled enough to not be intimidated by minimalist. Less is more.”
Except when it comes to light. So much warm, natural, radiant light.
“We wanted to capture light at the back of the house and let more in,” says Burgess. “Kate and [her husband] love art. When we were deciding the palette, I said, ‘What about just white? Like a gallery. Think of it as a beautiful box of light, and let the light move around and through.’ It’s Snowfall White; we went through five or six shades.”
In the kitchen, where the center island was reoriented to accommodate seating for four, and “glossy cabinets keep the light moving,” a glass, back-painted backsplash acts as its own work of art — and performs brilliantly. “Light can go through the glass,” Burgess says.
More reflective cabinetry shines in the transformed master bathroom upstairs, where the tub reoriented, and one wall retreated 6 inches for a “little sleight of hand to hide the WC” behind a full-height curtain of etched glass, Burgess says. “We’re getting this very cool light box.”
It’s a whole-house plan luminously realized — and composed, as is the most meaningful art, of creative inspiration, exploration and insight.
“For me, this project was really about the materials and how they work. I’m always thinking how to make the space and light work,” Burgess says. “I really like intentional environments — why have anything in your home that doesn’t feed you in some way? My job is to give them an experience of environment.”
Minimalist mission accomplished.
“Left to my own devices, I would create a safe house: so minimalist, it’s devoid of personality,” says Kate. “It’s really important to feel like this is a place of calm.”