For added drama, Sparks designed what may be the house's greatest feature, a sculptural stairway of risers that float out of the rock wall. The balusters are simple cedar boards without a top rail. "One carpenter must have spent a month on the stairs," Sandra says. "He just put so much architectural detail into this house," Franklin says.
A sunken conversation pit facing the fire is another Sparks touch—as is the cantilevered hearth. Franklin asked Sparks why the seating in the pit was so low. "When you have low seating, the women's skirts are pulled up," he replied, "and I like that."
Although ceilings soar throughout most of the living area, they are low over the conversation pit. "He said, 'If you have soaring ceilings, you have to have a low ceiling so you have a place where you feel sheltered and protected in.'" Sandra says. "We have had an annual Christmas party for 40 years, a fire going, a Christmas tree," Franklin says. "We'd sit here drinking wine, then have a fine dinner. It's really conducive, so warm and festive."
Sparks, who also designed some of the furniture, provided a large wooden chandelier-planter over the dining table, to provide a sense of intimacy while dining. A wall of glass opens the house to the backyard, with its pool, fishpond, bridge, and gazebo.
In some ways, Sparks had more faith in his clients than they had in themselves. He pushed them to spend more on the house than they thought wise—and he clearly didn't do it to increase his profits. Sparks was known for his lack of business acumen—and an occasional reluctance to bill his clients.
"He said, 'Franklin, in five years, you're going to wish you would have made your house larger and better,'" Franklin says. Sandra adds: "He said, 'Franklin, you have a good future ahead of you.'"
But the Yees didn't listen. About the cost-cutting, Franklin admits, "I'm regretting it."
Photos: David Toerge; vintage photograph courtesy Yee family