My Pipe-Dream House

A former millionaire surveys what once might have been hisand might be again.

If I had only done the smart thing with my 401(k) and stock options instead of believing brokers and behaving like the New Economy equivalent of Richard Brautigan's Kool-Aid Wino, today I could easily plunk down $3 million cash for my dream home. Now it looks like I'll be staying in the 820-square-foot house I bought for $3,000 down back in the day when you could do that sort of thing in Seattle.

But I've always been curious about what my millions would've gotten meespecially now, when the Northwest's economic G�rd䭭erung is actually precipitating some bargains on the high end of the real-estate market. And so, in the spirit of my family on Sunday afternoons in the '60s, when our no-cost entertainment was to tour unattainable Fifty Thousand Dollar Homes, I set out last fall to see the place I could have had if I only had a time machine and a bucket of ice water to toss in my 1997 face. Then it was priced at $3.6 million; now it's $3 million. I like that trendalmost as much as I like the house.

My dream house is at 3635 42nd Ave. N.E., not far from my real house. It's a mutant 1922 Dutch Colonial on the Laurelhurst waterfront across from Husky Stadium. No man has an islandunless he has $3 mil to buy one. That's right, this place has its own island, a proud O of land that surfaced like a little Atlantis when they lowered the lake with the Montlake Cut. The island has a tiny bridge, a boat dock, and a hydraulic boat liftnot one of those unsightly visible boat lifts like nouveau-riche dot-com white trash are wont to build, but a submerged one. The couple that transformed the house had a mania for good taste. They only intended to redo the kitchen and one bathroomthen got carried away. I can relate to that.

There is not one atom of bad taste in this place. From the private island, a neatly terraced lawn leads to a low, trellised sailboard/canoe shed and then up to the garden level of the house proper. Inside (guided by Windermere realtor Barbara Shikiar; I haven't been reduced to housebreaking just yet), I pause to admire the Filtrine sink in the changing room for the sauna. The family room, where Yahoo-enriched yahoos might put a 36-inch Sony Wega shrine like mine, is open and airy. "They think big-screen TV is garish," says Shikiar. Instead, there's a pull-down screen and a Mondial projection system cunningly tucked into the opposite wall.

Sneaking a peek at the little wine cellar, I gaze with longing at the lovely 96-cable line Ortronics system and the industrial-strength heating system. Quips Shikiar, "I don't want to be sexist about it, but a lot of men spend a lot of time down here looking at this stuff." With longing.

Up the exquisite stairway, I rub the nickel newel, which, oddly enough, does not come off in my hand like the one Jimmy Stewart rubs for luck in the It's a Wonderful Life house. On the main floor, my favorite thing is the computer table, which has twin arcs of wood at your elbows that swivel under the desk, permitting one to keep messy papers in a complex piling system and hide them instantly when one's wife walks in. Such a perfect match between house and occupant cannot be an accident; clearly, this place was meant for me.

Now I love to entertain, and the dining room is circular, a veritable mini-Algonquin Round Table, with a concave ceiling rounding it out above. The space opens up graciously into the living room, where I can envision myself holding forth on the advantages of Chateau d'Yquem over my current screw-top Mateus. The chandelier, like the one in the downstairs bathroom, is a swirly Fortuny. These folks were Fortuny when Fortuny wasn't cool (nor available, as now, in cheapo non-Venetian knockoffs). Closing my eyes, I can hear the laughter and clinking Orrefors crystal as my fellow spry tech-sector retirees toast Amazon's close at $111 a sharewait, don't throw your champagne flutes into that limestone fireplace! There's such a thing as feeling too festive.

Bathrooms? Lots of my wiser, a-few- weeks-more-senior dot-com friends actually have heated floor tiles. But how about a heated floor and sea-green Venetian heated tile walls? I also dig the way the people on the upstairs deck can't see the second-floor deck, while both provide a view of the lake as spectacular as the one from the shower. I ask you, what more civilized way is there to begin the day than to step across kitten-warm tiles to panoramic deck, wearing one of those really thick terry-cloth robes like you get in nice hotelsone you've actually paid forcontemplating how to invest your excess millions? It sure beats waiting in the rain for the No. 7 bus downtown every morning.

Ironically, the couple who supervised the transmogrification of the house are now relinquishing it to somebody else to enjoy. "They never lived in the finished product," says Shikiar. "They went to Italy. It was with a lot of sadness that they left this." But not as much sadness as me, walking away from what nearly was mine.

What I really need is the one crucial tool for the modern investor: a time machine, so I could zip back before today's economic Ice Age, cash those options, and get that home. On the other hand, the Amazon options I cashed after Sept. 11 have quadrupled in value since, and my dream home got $600,000 more affordable since last Halloween. Maybe there is a time machine that can save our dreams: It's called "patience."

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