At the end of a narrow lane, on the edge of a pretty intense precipice, historic Renton Hill serves as a sturdy anchor for Clint and Shelly Morse's future-forward family home, and for several generations of their family and its own history.
Some of the elevated neighborhood's elegant World War II-era mansions moved out as the infamous Interstate-405 "S" curves below moved in, Shelly says – but the Morses aren't going anywhere.
Shelly grew up in nearby Kent; Clint in Auburn, Wash. They built their hilltop home in 1992, then added a room and a pool, and remodeled the kitchen, as they raised their four kids. At one point, Clint's parents lived in the apartment above the garage.
Now, the kids are grown – still close by – with five grandchildren between them. Shelly's parents live right next door, their properties imperceptibly connected by a sweet, shared garden. And Clint and Shelly's home is looking toward a whole new era (and, on clear days, spectacular views of downtown Seattle) as a newly contemporary, re-imagined hub for all ages, and all kinds of activities.
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"We're entering into a different phase of life," says Shelly. "We love Renton Hill. This is home."
Before calling in the team from Collaborative Companies – Citizen Design designers including Isaac Greenetz and Jacob Young, interior designer Dana Moore and Valor Builds' Kevin Wall – Shelly says, "The house wasn't taking advantage of the view, and it wasn't conducive to entertaining. We wanted open space, high ceilings, open walls so we could see out."
What a difference a major remodel makes. Emphasis on "major."
"The footprint stayed the same, and we left the garage and apartment," Greenetz says. "But we basically took the home down to the studs. Less than 1 percent remained. We completely rebuilt the second floor."
The result: respectful tributes to the home's traditional touches ("big trim, molding, baseboards," Greenetz says), with strikingly contemporary details, shadows and lines, and bold, central connecting elements ("a custom cast-in-place concrete fireplace, a steel and walnut stair, and an 18-foot-tall basalt tile feature wall").
Oh yes. They also moved the pool.
"It was right on the house," Clint says. "You couldn't get to the yard, and it felt disconnected."
Outdoor/indoor connections, and gathering spaces, were crucial, all agree. "Everywhere, there's a door to get outside," Greenetz says.
The re-imagined media room, for example, opens right up to a sprawling outdoor wonderland of multigenerational fun: an extensive patio, the newly moved pool, a cool new pool house, a putting green and converted garden shed, a hot tub, an outdoor kitchen, a professionally designed treehouse (Clint had built the previous one), a tire swing, a wood-burning firepit and a blackened-steel gas fireplace – all grounded by low-maintenance artificial turf.
"We spend a lot of time outside, and a lot of family time together," Clint says. "We wanted a place we wanted to be. There's lots to do in the summer. It's like a theme park."
"Fun" clearly is a unifying theme, inside and out, as is a new sense of brilliantly reorganized functionality.
Six original bedrooms downsized into three. Because "Shelly entertains and cooks a lot," Greenetz says, "we wanted to blow out the kitchen so everyone could hang out." The formerly closed-off den and office opened into a soaring living area, organized around a unique, doubly cantilevered concrete-and-steel fireplace that conceals two TVs – hidden for interacting with the view or company, or popped up to purposefully separate spaces (or programming tastes).
The apartment above the garage, permitted as an individual dwelling unit, reawakened with all-new finishes, fixtures and appliances – and one special guest.
Clint and Shelly own a consulting firm, and for 15 years also have worked with an empowering Ghanaian-led nonprofit called Adanu, which focuses on community engagement, educational facilities and clean water. Shelly recently co-wrote a book about the experience, called "Adanu: Helping That Helps."
"This organization builds schools in rural villages in Ghana, where there's no opportunity or infrastructure," Clint says. "The village effectively builds its own school. When Adanu leaves, they've done this and can do other things. It's not foreigners coming in and plopping down a village. We're trying to help them interface with donors and volunteers and get some help from outside."
Six leaders of Adanu grew up in the Ghanaian villages they serve, Clint says. On this day, "One of them is upstairs: Richard, who's visiting for four months."
The Morses' re-envisioned home on the historic hill so authentically reflects and honors their work, their family, its past and its future, it seems a little goosebumpingly appropriate that Collaborative Companies handled the re-envisioning.
"Adanu," says Shelly, "means 'wise collaboration.'"