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A Sailor By Design

by Kate Calamusa
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Giammarco
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Giammarco

When it comes to local architect Steve Hoedemaker, it could be said that building design flows through his brain as much as boating runs in his blood, the two passions combining to create an artful expression of the Pacific Northwest’s genetic make-up. 

A partner in the Georgetown-based architecture firm Hoedemaker Pfeiffer (hoedemakerpfeiffer.com), Hoedemaker is a third-generation sailor who grew up exploring the waters of the Puget Sound region with his family, often voyaging back and forth from the city and the familial lodgings on Lopez Island. His father David was also an architect, and Hoedemaker fondly recalls father-son time learning the intricacies of sailing, first on his grandfather’s boat and then on the Norwester, his father’s 1963 50-foot Kettenburg—and the vessel Hoedemaker still sails on to this day.

“Even in my earliest memories, I was never not on a sailboat,” Hoedemaker says. “Sailing to me is a soul position, the place I go to recharge and find inspiration. It’s where I’m happiest.”

Photo Courtesy of Steve Hoedemaker
Photo Courtesy of Steve Hoedemaker

Perhaps it’s little wonder that his professional portfolio now often includes nods to this most-personal passion. The Hoedemaker Pfeiffer team is well-known and -regarded for designing soulful, light-filled spaces that blend beautifully with the landscape and bring the outside in. Thus, over the years, the firm has been tasked with crafting many second family homes, which in the Pacific Northwest means they are frequently situated near the water—a match made in design heaven for Hoedemaker.

The symbiotic relationship between land and sea is at the forefront of many projects as you scroll through the design house galleries: There’s the hanging art installation comprised of Japanese fishing floats and nautical rope spied in the living area of a rustic-glam Whidbey Island retreat; the island home tucked just perfectly into the sloping hillside to maximize the sweeping water views; or, the folding accordion-style doors in one family cabin that open to allow for pass-through lake peekaboo views, starting at from the entry and gazing on through the living room out to the glorious deck.

The West Seattle home that he shares with his husband, Thomas Swenson and their two dogs, littermates Tonka and Tripp, is similarly in tune with its surroundings, especially after the polishing the pair applied after purchasing the 1966-era gem. Perched on a cliff’s edge, the floor-to-ceiling windows in the cantilever living room almost beg you to escape to the water, boasting glittering views of Puget Sound, Blake Island, and Vashon Island. The firm’s other managing partner, Tim Pfeiffer, collaborated with the duo on the interiors, which are both fresh and welcoming, while maintaining a sense of sophistication and place. You will find a similar aura inside the nearby Harry’s Beach House restaurant in West Seattle that the firm helped to bring to life.

“Here in the Northwest, there is a deep appreciation for modernism that is filtered through the lens of our natural resources, like fir and cedar, and then the water,” he says of the Hoedemaker Pfeiffer design philosophy. “When we design a space, we really think about how it will both connect the people within it, but also how it can connect those same people to the landscape that surrounds it.”

When he steps away from the drafting board at the end of the day or on the weekends, it’s time to sail again, bound for the San Juans or other local haunt with Swenson, some friends, and occasionally, Tonka and Tripp in tow. (Hoedemaker jokes that the pups would be classified more as “landlubbers” than natural sailors, but are so beloved they often still tag along.) Additionally,the classically adorned, wood-accented Norwester, which is actually owned and (very successfully) shared by a group of friends, is not the only one moored at the dock. There’s also a 30-foot Grady-White fishing boat the pair hops aboard for Swenson, an avid fisherman from his earliest days, to nab his next catch; and then the 15-foot Skipjack Chris-Craft motorboat they use to zip around the lake for an afternoon. 

But, it’s always the idea of the next sail that tugs the most at his heart strings. “I consider myself a sailor that makes use of powerboats when I have to,” Hoedemaker says with a chuckle. His dream vessel is a sailboat he could take off-shore or up to the colder waters of Alaska, but for now, the Seattle native is planning to continue to explore the stunning home waters and ports that have always inspired.  “I’ve always enjoyed how the water gives us a differing perspective, as we look back at the land from a new viewpoint,” he explains. “It’s very instructive to thinking about how design can connect to the natural world around us.”

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Giammarco

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