Olson Kundig Architects Recasts a Home from Mid-Century Modern to This-Century Mod
When it comes to houses—and humans, for that matter—nothing is more inspiring, or potentially elusive, than accomplishing a successful rehab. Possibly the trickiest of home do-overs to pull off is the livable modern remodel, as it’s so very easy to over do.
When Laura and Randy—she’s a Brit, he’s a Bostonian—retained the Seattle firm Olson Kundig Architects, their odds immediately improved. They had hired Tom Kundig, author of many award-winning contemporary projects, for a small renovation on their previous home on West Mercer Island, and had been taken by his inventive approach, such as drilling height-appropriate eye holes in the front door for their two young children.
While the couple was shopping for a new waterfront property on Mercer Island, project principal Kirsten Murray made herself available to vet contenders. “On Mercer Island, there are a lot of development issues: steep slopes, environmentally sensitive areas and sometimes,” she explains, “clients can get into a site that needs a little bit more infrastructure work than their budget can handle.” Says Laura, “I looked at three properties with her and she was just so on it about the issues affecting our budget.” The couple’s ultimate property pick was a wood-and-waterfront-surrounded site on the island’s north side that had a revamp-worthy 1950s house. “It had the kind of bones that you didn’t need to do a lot to,” says Murray. “It had a great ceiling height, for instance, and that’s something that you don’t find in all Mid-Century homes, and it had a generally nice layout and a lot of integrity in the structure itself.”
The home’s major layout liabilities were the complete absence of a formal entry (the front door opened right into the living room) and an abundance of small rooms and light-and-mood-killing walls, which were blocking off the kitchen and the downstairs from the upstairs. An airy, open main floor, combining kitchen, dining and living rooms, was achieved by moving or deleting every wall but one. The three bedrooms and two baths originally positioned alongside each other were converted into a master bedroom and bath, and a small office/guest room and powder room. The most dramatic layout shake up is the small but striking glass-and-metal-clad addition with a tipped up roof, which not only enabled a new elegant entryway, and a small TV room off of the kitchen, but deftly anchored the dwelling’s new-century modern look. “It wasn’t a big addition, but it was pretty strategic and added lots of transparency that didn’t exist before,” says Murray.
Although possessed of a thoroughly modern sensibility, the 3,120-square-foot house is made for everyday family life. “They’re a very informal, young family, and they like to live all in the same space and to be able see where the kids are at any given time,” describes Murray. Opening up the stairway leading down to the kids’ bedrooms and playroom, and installing glass-panel railings, turned the staircase into an experience instead of a drab utility, linking the upstairs with the down. “What impressed me by Tom and Kirsten’s vision,” says Randy,” was that they could create a house that was not only transparent, which I think is somewhat easy to do, but a house that created a 360-degree environment.” Agrees Laura, “In this house, we have used every inch of space.”
The home’s overall modern aesthetic was achieved via simple, inventive methods and mediums. Basic elements were recast: flesh-colored wood siding got a dark re-staining, and exterior and interior sections, such as ceiling beams and the stone fireplace, received stylish new steel wraps. Key contrasts also were created: bright white walls and ceiling set against steely-toned concrete flooring; white kitchen cabinetry blending into the background, allowing the custom walnut island and bar to command the foreground. “When you create a light and dark contrast in a home, it increases the sense of light,” says Murray. The kitchen contrast effect was a particular desire of Randy’s. “There’s a sense of depth I was aiming for that I think most modern kitchens fail at,” he explains, “and we ended up with a bit more sense of drama too.”
Laura and Randy were behind much of the home’s design drama, including its diverse lighting scheme, art collection, much of it collected in Amsterdam where the couple once lived—and some very specific design choices, such as the ban on baseboards. “That was a really big deal,” smiles Laura. “We’ve always been against Victorian, fussy…so we’ve got an aversion to baseboards and decorative detail.” Randy, working closely with the architect team and general contractors, led by Tim Tanner, also conceived many of the cleverest design touches, such as the custom metal door pulls, instead of knobs, hidden light switches and closets and a movable door-wall into the master bedroom. “A lot is hidden,” remarks Randy of the design elements. “There’s a lot of soft geometry, which was important to us.”
The result is truly a group rehab effort between homeowners, architects and contractors. “We would figure things out to create the streamlined, most interesting look,” describes Randy. “That is the essence of what makes this house so special, that relationship between all three parties.”
Open House Stats:
Edition 7 :: Number 35
Architectural Firm :: Olson Kundig Architects
Cost :: Approximately $201 per square foot for a 3,120-square-foot house (total project cost might include additional fees for other services that are not reflected)
Open House Tour:
Our ongoing partnership with the American Institute of Architects Seattle Chapter (AIA Seattle) continues our commitment to bring the experience of Puget Sound–area residential design to our readers. Each issue, we showcase an architect-designed home, selected by AIA Seattle and Northwest Home, which will be open to the public for a Sunday-afternoon viewing. We invite you to tour this issue’s featured home, designed by Olson Kundig Architects, located on Mercer Island at 7430 North Mercer Way, on Sunday, January 16, between noon and 3 p.m. For more information on the tour and the Open House program, please visit nwhome.com or aiaseattle.org; 206.448.4938.
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