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Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Taste Northwest Living Now & Then

Northwest Living
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At the end of Bart Fite's work day, his daughter, Alexia, joins him in his home office on their Leschi property. Separate from the house, the office is the Seattle home for Bart's Hong Kong-based business.
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Apart and hidden are the secrets to a home office that works

ON A TYPICAL workday in Seattle, Bart Fite heads out to face his morning commute.

After breakfast with his wife, Ramny, and their 5-year-old daughter, Alexia, he will travel down a staircase that seamlessly connects their four-level, 4,000-square-foot Leschi home to the outside terrace and garden. He'll walk across the courtyard, navigate his own private S-curve around a bank of trees and shrubs in the well-landscaped back yard, and arrive at his place of employment. Rather than having to worry about drive times and bridge traffic, his biggest concern is "how bad the squirrel traffic is that day."

The comfortable space, with its wall of bookcases and radiant-heated flooring, is the Seattle connection to his Hong Kong-based business. And, thanks to the "good luck and magic of modern-day communications," Bart will check his e-mail using a broadband connection, return phone calls on a separate business line and, if the sky is clear that day, catch the spectacular views of Mount Rainier and Lake Washington. The one thing Bart doesn't have a clear view of from his office is the house he's left just a few minutes ago. The main reason the office is a detached building, says Bart, "is to keep work separate from the life in the house. I can't see the house from the office, or the office from the house."
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The open kitchen adjoins the dining room and overlooks Lake Washington. The kitchen sink, left, designed by the Fites, is made of black granite with a hammered finish.

Below, the shoji-like Douglas fir windows offer breathtaking vistas from the master suite. The sliding wood-and-glass shoji screen, right, was a creative design solution that allows privacy when needed.
The office is perfectly situated on their hillside property, but the spot was determined serendipitously. "The office would only fit in one place, and it just happens to be the perfect place," says Bart. The landscaping was already there and the exposure was good, so they decided to go ahead.

Much to their surprise, the Fites are on the cusp of an emerging trend in home-office spaces. As Baby Boomers begin making the transition to self-employment and retirement, they are also creating designated work spaces in their homes to compensate for years of hosting their laptops, rather than dinner for six, on their dining-room tables. The transformation of these areas accommodates both the desire to stay productive and to have the Internet connections they want to keep in touch with family and friends.

For the Fites, decisions were driven by that desire to stay productive. After eight years in Hong Kong, Bart, a native of Seattle, and Ramny, who is Chinese-French, wanted to return to the area with their daughter, so they purchased a home not far from Bart's parents. Their approach to remodeling started with the office structure, even before beginning the plans for remodeling the house. Focusing first on the backyard, patio, office and lookout, says Bart, allowed him a base to keep his business going.

And it gave them an opportunity to experiment with the unique materials they hoped to use in building the main house — materials such as the aluminum commercial-grade storefront-window system and the curved-metal roofing. "The wheels had already been turning when I arrived on the scene," says architect Ben Trogdon of Ben Trogdon Architects, who was introduced to the Fites by a mutual friend. "They had originally started with a more traditional aesthetic, but we saw potential for a more Pacific Rim approach."

"It turned out that each of the material ideas we had discussed with Ben worked great, so we didn't change a thing for the main house," according to Bart. "Originally, I had a much, much simpler idea for the office, but Ben enhanced my thinking. And that's the same type of thing that happened with the main house."

After completing construction of the office in the fall of 2001, they began the eight-month remodel of the house in spring 2002, using materials they had prototyped with the office. Contractor Rocky Keuhney from Woodmasters Construction managed both projects. Bart was able to keep the business running out of his new backyard space, but the Fites did not live in the house during construction. Bart arranged his schedule to include business travel to Asia and Hong Kong, and visits with his wife and daughter, who lived with her parents in France during the work. Meanwhile, when Bart was in Seattle, he lived with his parents just down the road.
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The built-ins, these made of Douglas fir, are a signature of architect Ben Trogdon's design and offer ideal display space in the passageway alongside the living room.
Bart willingly confesses that he was more interested in the materials and that Ramny had a clearer vision for the space inside the house, including the balconies and the mezzanine area. And, as both architect and home owners had hoped, the storefront windows that had been used so successfully in the smaller structure just as successfully opened up the main residence to the incredible light and vistas the property had to offer. The design of the spaces brought all the pieces of the property — house, office, gardens and lookout — into harmony.

"With the previous house, everything was out of scale. With the new house, everything came back into proportion," says Bart. "It really was astounding how well Ben integrated our ideas and made something that exceeded our expectations — on an architectural scale and detail scale. There are a lot of thoughtful touches, from traffic flow to where you put the groceries when you come in, to closets being in the right place."

Not to mention creating a well-orchestrated relationship between work and life, connected by a staircase and a garden path, but a psychic world away.
The Fites love the open floor plan, saying it allows easy communication between family members. "From anywhere in the house, you can call out and someone can hear you," says Bart.
The four-story structure sits on the back side of a hill facing east. Architect Ben Trogdon used storefront windows to take advantage of the natural light.

Robin Fogel Avni is a free-lance writer specializing in lifestyle issues and trends affected by technology. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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