UNLIKE MOST homes you see on these pages, this one is decidedly unfinished. Probably always will be. Because at the home/studios of artists Sherry Markovitz and Peter Millett it’s all about the journey.
“I like it,” says Markovitz, sitting at the kitchen table covered in one of the plastic pink polka-dot tablecloths she gets for $1.50 from Daiso in the Chinatown-International District. “I like the feeling that it’s unfinished, that there are possibilities.”
Markovitz and Millett are both prominent Northwest artists. Her beadwork pieces are intricate and intimate, the sculptures (often papier-mâché forms, painted and then covered in beads the size of an ant’s head) and her paintings, dances of color. His sculptures are big, bold and sexy; his paintings linear, mathematical.
Markovitz fondly tells the story of how her mother pushed for the couple to find a house. She was afraid her artist daughter, who once traded a car for a sculpture, and her husband never would.
They couldn’t afford much. But, in 1980, they found a lot in the trees of South Seattle and called Millett’s architect brother, Mark Millett.
“We figured it would take as much to remodel a space as to build one,” says Peter Millett. Outside large windows are sincerely blue skies over the rich green fields of Genesee Park and Playfield. Millett’s tour of the neighborhood, though, goes like this, “That was the dump over there. And there was a bar with prostitutes and drug addicts.”
Their box of a house, 1,600 square feet (“We said we wanted a square and we’ll fill it in,” says Markovitz), is covered in galvanized-metal scales. “The tiles, 30-inch squares, came in a stack just 2 feet high, but they weighed 3,200 pounds!” says Millett. “But it was $700 for the whole house.
“My brother, he has kind of a Frank Gehry mind. So we’ve kind of gone Third World Frank Gehry.”
Inside, the kitchen cabinets and island are also galvanized: “We were going for the Pike Place Market aesthetic; utility, workman kind of thing,” Millett says.
Markovitz’s large, bright studio sits a few steps up from the living room. Millett’s studio is downstairs. Garage door thrown open, the driveway is an outdoor workspace. Decks cling to the house from almost every room. “It’s like a treehouse,” Markovitz says.
Along the way and the work, the couple raised another artist here, son Jake Millett.
The home, meanwhile, continues to evolve. There was a bit of a remodel just this year, the living-room ceiling lowered from 22 to 14 feet. Pine from below, a new workspace above.
Every space, though, old and new, is personal. The firepit beneath a large fan palm out back is a memorial to Australian shepherd-mix Abby: a scattering of shells, glass jars, a Buddha head, ceramic dogs; a Scottie and a wolf, some mutts.
Whether it’s about work or home it’s like this, Millett says, “I look for surprises. I really hate when it goes where I expect it to.” For Markovitz it’s “the light, the solace and the spaces, very conducive to creativity.”
Sometimes, though, the phone rings, and Millett puts down the sander or welder or saw for his other gig: courtroom illustrator for local TV and the networks. He’s sketched a lot of the biggies: from the Boldt fishing-rights decision and Wah Mee massacre to the recent murder trials of staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs and staff Sgt. Robert Bales.
“I have my little life here, and then I get the call,” he says. “None of the TV people know I do fine art. And none of the fine art people know I do court sketches.”
Meanwhile, as Markovitz says, their house, like everything here, “is a work in progress.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.