'Unclassified Classy' : In a subtly elegant suite, the wine room glows

The house was furnished when they bought it, so they just told the decorator, "Give us a couple of great throw pillows, and we'll be fine."

Silly couple.

You don't stop at throw pillows when you could turn that basement mother-in-law apartment and the dusty old crawl space nearby into a comfortable entertainment suite with a lush little wine cellar, cozy home theater, sturdy workout space and genial game room. Which says nothing about the smashing sunrise-sunset view just waiting to be captured in the remodel. (Think flaming Lake Washington sunsets and pastel Olympic Mountain dawns.)

William and Patti Savoy had bought two neighboring (and highly private) properties on Lake Washington in the late 1990s, intending to do little more than settle in. They called Laurie Chriest, a Fall City-based interior decorator, for "just a little help" on the upper floor.

"Then we started saying, 'Well, if we're going to do this, then let's do that,' " says Savoy, who was billionaire Paul Allen's longtime right-hand man in technology investments before resigning last fall to pursue other interests. Chriest says it was obvious from the start that "I needed reinforcements."

So she called Dan Pence, a Bothell architect she'd worked with before. The finely detailed suite they created out of the dusty basement has become the Savoys' favorite space in a house that brims with lovely spaces. It was one of 35 design projects honored last fall by the Seattle Design Center and the American Society of Interior Designers Washington State Chapter, winning a first place for Chriest in a design category called "Unclassified Classy."

The classy wine room is the jewel in the suite.

"We wanted to capture a grotto look in there," says Chriest, "an old European feeling of casual elegance. It's a challenge to give new spaces the feel that they've been there for a long time."

It's the look Pence says he always strives for, "even in more traditionally designed projects. That kind of casual elegance is very Pacific Northwest as well."

The space used for the wine room, at the foot of stairs leading from the upper floors, is naturally dark. Chriest used subdued lighting and a pale, sandy palette to carry out the natural grotto theme.

The Savoys are avid art collectors, but Chriest chose to decorate the sipping area along the far wall with a small rustic gate, its copper finish dulled by patina, its outline muted by dried flowers and hops vines.

"Artwork was difficult," she says. "It's a constant 56 degrees or so in here, and they wouldn't want to put something there that would be affected by low temperatures. We didn't want it to be too trite, with grapevines, but the display is reminiscent of vineyards."

Chriest's choice of décor in the rest of the suite further carries out the wine room's softened Tuscan hues. In the adjoining entertainment center and game room, cabinets of clear maple provide light contrast to walls washed in a faux finish that reflects neutral shades of gray-green and warm sand. Floors are a wide-plank maple.

Heavy camel-colored drapes can be drawn to darken the entertainment center for movies, shown on a screen that drops in front of the fireplace. The fireplace, of Montana ledgestone, hints at colors including dark plums and golds. To make the entertainment center even more cozy, other drapes can be drawn to close off the game room and wet bar. A bank of blond maple cabinets hides a refrigerator and dishwasher in the bar area.

Decorative tiles forming a backsplash are reproductions of designs by Ernest Batchelder, a leader in the American Arts and Crafts movement in the early part of the 20th century. In this case the tiles — in the same sandy colors that appear elsewhere in the suite — blend a grapevine motif with whimsical rabbits, birds and squirrels. The tiles are "a way of tying all these new spaces together with a bit of history," says Chriest. "People rarely make tiles like these anymore."

Pence used few doors to separate spaces, closing off only the exercise room, powder room and wine room, which has to be kept at a low constant temperature. A series of arches ties most of the spaces together and forms a repetitive decorating touch. Arches hover over the fireplace, between the game room and entertainment center and over the bar. The result, in particular the wine room, was an engaging surprise for everyone concerned.

"Obviously, the amount of time you spend in a wine room is limited," says Pence. "But this is a whole space they can use and enjoy beyond that. We wanted it to be visually as beautiful as we could make it, so that whenever they walked past it into the rest of the entertainment area, they'd be happy with it."

As for Savoy, the tranquil little wine room, with the space at the far end to gather and have a sip or two, is a reflection of one of his favorite theories:

"Life is nothing more than a collection of memories," he muses. "Certain occasions matched with the right wine become memorable. I don't necessarily remember a particular bottle of wine. But I do remember the moment, the people, the place. It's the way I approach life, too. In the rocking chair, that's what you have, memories."

Sally Macdonald is a former Seattle Times reporter.