As a child, Shaleesa Mize liked to draw floorplans of her dream home. It had big windows and rolling hills beyond, with various features she'd mentally tack on as she grew up and pursued becoming an interior designer for real. As a young adult, Mize interned with Spokane-based Integrus Architecture PS and HDG Architecture and completed her interior design degree from Washington State University. In 2017, she opened her own firm: Pacific Design Co. (formerly Little Pacific Design Studio).
At that point, at least part of her dream had come true.
But designing her own home proved elusive until 2019. After years of renting, living with others — friends, her husband's parents — and even a fantasy about buying her childhood home and moving it onto a piece of property, Mize got to design her first home, start to finish. And as she did so, she learned that big dreams come with big challenges.
"It's given me a lot of empathy," Mize says, noting the process has spanned years.
Mize spent a long time perfecting the house's design while she and her husband, Connor, searched for the perfect lot. "The concept was there pretty early, of what we wanted, but there were lots of little tweaks over the years while we were waiting to find land," says Mize. Ideally they wanted 10 acres and – if the stars aligned – a stream. Over those years of tweaking, as Mize clicked away at her home computer, adding and subtracting from the design, "I was (working) night shift," says Connor, "so I bought her a silent mouse."
In fall 2019, they found the land they had been looking for: an 11-acre plot in the Wandermere neighborhood known as Dartford Creek. "We had actually been looking for probably five, six years before finding something close to town," Mize says. And yes, there was a creek.
But they were too late; someone beat them to it. The Mizes experienced the roller coaster of disappointment followed by elation when the original buyers backed out and the couple's offer was accepted. "It's a blur," Mize says with a laugh.
With the land secured, and financing – after a few hiccups – lined up, it was time at last to finalize the house plans. Although Mize says the single-story home she designed looks nothing like what she remembers drawing as a kid, it does thoroughly reflect her concern with how people move through and use each space in a home, as well as how those spaces are connected.
"I remember daydreaming about how I would welcome people into the entry or gather in the kitchen and living room," Mize says of her childhood sketches. And indeed, the entry of the new home offers a gentle landing zone, before opening gradually to reveal an expansive great room with eight-foot windows. "A lot of natural light was important to us," Mize says, easing open the three-panel, 13-foot sliding doors that span the width of the living room and allow unfettered access to the back patio. "I love sitting here in the evenings," Mize says, noting the house is oriented to allow sunset views year round.
A fireplace anchors the room, flanked by large windows, with purposely low sill heights that Mize designed to allow their young children to peek out.
On the opposite side of the great room, the kitchen highlighted a classic challenge in home design: how to proceed when couples have different design aesthetics. Connor preferred a more modern "ultra stark" look, says Shaleesa, while "I'm personally more inspired by Scandinavian stuff, so I just wanted it to be all kind of uniform, a quiet modern feel."
"So we're like, 'OK, how can we blend it to feel like warm and cozy, but still have those modern lines?'" Mize says.
The couple settled on wood cabinets with inset, single-slab front panels set in matching boxes. "I was like, 'Oh, this is a really clean simple look. This should be easy!'" Mize says, but as she learned, "Nobody does this and it's for a reason." The veneer doors took stain differently from the solid wood boxes, leading to an unanticipated and, to Mize, unacceptable "two-tone" look. "I finally found a cabinet guy who understood what I was wanting to achieve, and basically we had to do veneers on everything so that the stain would read consistent," Mize says. "So they did a beautiful job grain-matching everywhere."
The counters are a subtly polished quartz, while the Fisher Paykel appliances include a smooth top induction range instead of gas. "I got to go down to the Fisher Paykel showroom in California, and the chef there talked a lot about it, and that's where I first kind of decided on that," says Mize. A trip to the Monogram Design Center in Chicago confirmed her choice, as the chef there told her, "Induction is where you need to be," she says, noting she appreciated its safety features. "It's good to hear their opinions when they're cooking on stuff every day, but for me it just came down to cleaning it. Like, I'm not cleaning out those grates every day, and I know he won't either! So it's really nice for that."
At the far end of the kitchen, somewhat tucked away, is a little pantry, one of Mize's favorite elements in the home. Rather than being closet-style, the pantry also opens on its far side into the large mudroom as well as the bedroom hallway. "I loved that on the floor plan, our house is a circle... It's great for Nerf gun fights," Mize says.
The hallway to the bedrooms features a windowed breezeway, with a carefully crafted surprise along the way: a small courtyard. "When we were laying out the angle of the house we factored in the view from here and what it was going to capture... It's going to feel like a separate, little more intimate courtyard here, that's right off of our primary suite, and then it will come out to a more public, outdoor seating area," says Mize, who's waiting for the final finishing touches on the courtyard areas.
The private zone of the home features three bedrooms, although one room was originally slated to be Mize's home office. "Right when I was like, 'Yay! I finally get an office,' then I found out I was pregnant, and I was like, 'OK, this will be an office for six months,'" she laughs. She quickly altered the original floor plan that had featured a guest bath in the private wing to include instead a Jack-and-Jill bathroom between the two kids' rooms, and then she added a powder room for guests near the front entry.
At the far end of the hallway is one of Mize's favorite spaces in the 3,250-square-foot house. "This is another example of what was important for us layout wise," Mize says. With Connor working the night shift, being able to close off the room during the day was important. "We can feel like we're out there living a normal life and not tiptoeing around while dad is sleeping – but also...basically as he is coming home and going to bed, I am getting up and getting ready, so I wanted to have our bathroom and closet all in space that I could come in, get ready, close it off and then sneak out," she says. With sweeping views from the tub, and yes, even the toilet, Mize says, "I love starting my mornings here and ending my days here. It's probably my favorite room of the house."
Mize is the first to note that even after more than two years, there are a number of projects left to complete at the home. The basement is unfinished, and while a garage is planned, it's not even started. And that's OK. Mize says the couple prioritized finishing elements that would be hard to change out later, such as the windows, while recognizing their home could mature along with their family. It's a philosophy she also conveys to her clients. "You can have what you want that's really important to you ... And then the things that are easy to add later can be done ... It doesn't have to be a masterpiece right when the construction is completed."
Additional reporting by Carrie Scozzaro.
Designer Shaleesa Mize's tips for designing your dream home
Daydream! Designing a home can be overwhelming once you get into the logistics of things, so I think it's really important to spend time just being free with your wildest dreams before starting.
View your home as a work in progress. Not all of those amazing things you daydreamed about will fit within your budget. Oftentimes, there are many ideas that can be completed at a later time or easily added on.
Build a cushion into your budget.
Find the right team. Everyone gets to a saturation point where after that point hits, decision fatigue is REAL. Have an architect and/or designer do the heavy-lifting of sourcing and bring your visions to life!
Be realistic. Our current building climate is a whirlwind of many less-than-ideal factors, and those preparing to embark on a building journey during this time should be over prepared ... with extra funds, extra time and extra patience.
— SHALEESA MIZE
Appliances: Ferguson (Fisher & Paykel brand)
Cabinets: Faber Built
Counters: Capaul Stoneworks
General Contractor: Timofey Solodyankin, Solo Homes Co.
Hardware: Spokane Hardware Supply, Inc.
Paint: Miller Paint
Tile installation: Design Tile & Flooring
Windows: Andersen Windows