Monthly Archives: May 2015

Driven to distraction … by Modernism

A few weeks ago The Seattle Times featured a stunning Midcentury modern home in its magazine section. A side note mentioned that this home and four others would be part of the Seattle Modern Home Tour. We (well, I) absolutely had to see this house. That meant allowing Eric to spend a Saturday above ground instead of in the shop/dungeon, where he purportedly has been constructing our new bedframe. Heck, the bedframe can slide another day.

So we set out on a beautiful sunny morning to buzz around Seattle, gawking at homes we will never be able to afford.

Midcentury modern

And here it is … three bedrooms, a simple, L-shaped floor plan, terrazzo floors, George Nelson bubble lamp. Perfection. Floor-to-ceiling windows look onto an enchanted forest backyard. The brick wall of the living room starts outside and flows right in through the glass.

mcm livingroom

mcm dining kitchen

mcm backyard

Wouldn’t you love to wake up to this? No, I mean the view!!

mcm bedroom

The bedrooms have built-in vents below the windows. I had never seen these before, but Eric said the West Seattle house in which he grew up had them … they drove his dad nuts because they whistled in the wind.

mcm vents

The floating-stairs split-level entry, which, regrettably, we didn’t photograph, leads down to a long, narrow room that runs the width of the front of the house. With its ground-level windows, it would make a perfect art studio. Weeks later, I’m still thinking about this perfect little house.

Dutch colonial

What would you do if you had a gracious 1920s Dutch Colonial with a sunroom facing the street, natural mahogany trim, and a warm, traditional (if somewhat dark) interior? Worth a cool million or two?

DC exterior

You’d slash away the roof over the central staircase and replaced it with … glass!! Of course!!

DC glass roof

DC stairs2

The transformation is actually shocking. I was prepared to dislike what the architects did to this classic house, but oh, man, it’s spectacular!

The living room and dining rooms remain original, except for sunlight-emitting portholes and fresh, light-colored paint.

DC living room

DC dining room

But that’s where tradition ends. The kitchen is sleek and new (hmm … should we have done that?). I’m a sucker for kitchen windows that meet the countertops, and that leafy view.

DC kitchen

I couldn’t take my eyes off the wide-open NanaWall folding glass wall and the lovely courtyard beyond.

DC nanwall

Upstairs, each of the kids’ bedrooms had cool lofts for the beds. No doubt a favorite feature for the kids, but I’d hate to be the mom who has to climb a ladder to change the sheets.

DC loft

The grown-ups have a huge bedroom with a vintage-tiled fireplace.

DC bedroom

I bet the neighbors find this bathroom interesting.

DC bath

French doors flanking the fireplace let out onto a deck above the first floor sunroom. Holy cow, what a view! You could almost watch the UW Huskies play football from that deck! Do they know how lucky they are??

DC view

Glass box

On a Magnolia Hill street lined with charming brick Tudors and manicured lawns, you’ll find a big boxy house of metal and glass. Peek-a-boo, see-through views and long sight lines made me want to run through its bamboo-floored halls as if it were a carnival fun house.

GH kitchen

gb green roof

The living room’s green chair and pillows echo the green of the lawns outside.

gb green roof

The wild rug with its 3-inch wooly worms would hide our whole colony of cats! (How do they clean it?)

gb rug

A view like this from the bedroom? Yes, please! We especially liked the asymmetrical layout of the windows.

gb bedroom

But the north side of the house has only one window (the two women are standing opposite the front door).

gb exterior

Perhaps this explains it. Um … are we in Disneyland? Or Las Vegas? Click the photo to enlarge, if you dare. Extra points if you find the gargoyles. Yes, gargoyles. OMG.


I asked the owner how his Tudor neighbors felt about having a mod box on their street. “They don’t care,” he claimed, “Except for the guy behind us,” who now has a view of said box instead of Puget Sound. “What was here before you built this house?” I wondered. “Just a small Tudor,” he replied, implying it was a shack not worth saving. (There are no shacks on this magnificent street.) As impressed as I was with this modern masterpiece, the preservationist in me was put off by the arrogance of razing a classic Tudor and building a new house in its place. Were there no empty lots to be had on Magnolia Hill?


The next house also had been featured in The Seattle Times a few months back. At four stories (in the back), it was incredibly tall on its narrow lot. And it stretched from setback to setback, covering virtually the whole property … towering over a much smaller, abandoned-looking Queen Anne next door. (Maybe its owners didn’t want to live in the shadow of a skyscraper?)

skinny exterior


skinny back

I couldn’t see us living in such a house, with open stairs that went up, and up, and up to one bamboo floor after another—too much climbing for aging Babyboomers! Although the view from the top deck was expansive, the seven guys sunning themselves on their rooftop “beach” just didn’t resonate with me. Their stereo certainly did. I know … I’m no fun.

skinny view


Backyard house

Our last stop was a small house built in the subdivided backyard of century-old home. I imagined this was a pretty nice backyard until a house popped up.

by drive

Turns out, the new house is a little gem. Polished concrete floors, oak plywood panels, full-length windows, and another pretty courtyard (I’m a courtyard fan, you can probably tell).

BY living room

BY rear

Or, did I like this house because of the cute kitty who ran from everyone else but befriended me? I had been away from my cats for hours and needed a kitty fix.

BY tabby kitty

Again, I fell in love with the rooftop deck view. I know a view is not a house, but it certainly becomes part of the ambiance and the experience. I like a water view during the day and twinkling city lights at night. I like to see things going on. No water here, but lots of city. Click the composite photo to enlarge. On the left, the western end of I-90 (a freeway that runs from Seattle to Boston). In the dip between the hills, the arch is CenturyLink Field, home of our incomparable Seattle Seahawks. To the right is downtown. Whenever I drive this portion of I-90, I wonder what kind of neighborhood is up on this hill. Now I know … and I’m envious.

BY panorama

On the way home, we pondered: If we had a choice between a fabulous modern house with a killer view, or a houseboat on Lake Union, which would we pick? The houseboat, hands down. That would satisfy both my water and city view wishes, as well as being a quirky, arty place to live. Then it was back to reality … our valley bungalow with a union hall view, scratched fir floors, pet hair, peeling paint, weedy gardens, half-done projects.

But it’s home, and we’re lucky to live here.




Georgia and the Wayzgoose

Last week, in the midst of our bed-and-mattress madness, Eric and I took a little art break in Tacoma.

I grew up on the fringes of Tacoma, Washington, when downtown was a sad, seedy, and failing prospect. Twenty-five years ago, a branch of the University of Washington moved in and began rehabilitating the derelict warehouse district into a satellite campus. The city transformed the magnificent but down-on-its-luck Beaux Arts Union Station into a U.S. courthouse, added the Washington State History Museum next door, then Dale Chihuly’s Museum of Glass, a new Tacoma Art Museum down the block, and ran a light rail line down the middle of Pacific Avenue. Now, I love coming to downtown Tacoma. This once-sketchy part of the city is now bright and vibrant, and full of people enjoying themselves.

Tacoma's Union Station dome

Ghost signs are still visible on the warehouse buildings that make up the UW Tacoma campus (composite photo; click to see detail).



I’d have loved to live in this apartment building … back in my apartment days.

100-year-old apartment building

Our first stop was Wayzgoose, a letterpress art fair at a bookstore. The word wayzgoose has Dutch roots, and refers to a traditional holiday for printers and bookbinders. Remarkably, Eric and I share an esoteric interest in letterpress printing and typography. Whodathunk? We both enjoyed some letterpress experience in college art classes, and I worked for a printer while I pursued a fine arts degree. (I fondly remember the little Addressograph-Multigraph 1250 press whose care and feeding I was tasked with. In my mind, I remember it as a Disney cartoon, bouncing and chugging and spitting out return-address envelopes for a pair of doctors, while its rhythm seemed to repeat their names: Pogue-and-Duffy-Pogue-and-Duffy-Pogue-and-Duffy.) Anyway …

Eric and I hadn’t even gotten inside the bookstore when we discovered a booth selling (squeal!) entire sets of old lead typefaces! And—OMG—California job case drawers! Hog heaven! A California job case is a layout for organizing individual characters of type. I am old enough to have actually used this system a few times in my youth, although press-on type was all the rage at the time. I’ve always wanted a California job case! How geeky is that? Can you tell where the e’s go?

California job case

California job case layout

I think my fascination with typefaces goes back to my Brownie troop’s field trip to the Milwaukee Journal, waaay back in the dark ages. All I recall of that tour is watching cigarette-smoking men and banging away at the keyboards of their enormous, clattering Linotype machines, casting slugs of type out of hot lead. I loved how the pieces all fit together like a backwards puzzle to make up a newspaper page. (Funny how a random event in childhood can stick with you for the rest of your life.)

Linotype operators

[Source unknown]

Eric bought three sets: elegant 48 pt. Retro script, 12 pt. Bodoni Modern, and 8 pt. Stymie Light—a total of 13.4 pounds of lead. What are we going to do with them? Dunno … keep them until we have enough studio space for our own letterpress, I suppose. Someday soon, an art studio is in our future.

Eric's name in Retro Script

D'Arcy's name in Retro Script

Steamroller printing was a popular spectator event in the parking lot.

large-format printing with a steam roller

Inside the bookstore, several letterpress artists brought their adorable tabletop presses. This is what Eric and I need to buy. Who wouldn’t want one of these little beauties?

tabletop letter press

One of our favorite artists, Yoshiko Yamamoto of The Arts and Crafts Press, was there. (Her gorgeous Colvos Passage—Late Summer hangs in our library.) We didn’t buy another print, but we did get a couple of coffee mugs. Guess which is mine and which is Eric’s.

berry and oak coffee mugs

Hint: The female mug has fruit … the male mug has nuts.

Then we were off to the Tacoma Art Museum to catch an exhibit of Art of the American West and Still Life Art of New Mexico, both featuring paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed in the galleries, but I stood just outside the entrance to sneak a pic of this one. (Actually, mine came out blurry. This is from TAG’s website.)

yellow cactus

Georgia O’Keeffe – Yellow Cactus

Eric’s photography is undeniably influenced by Georgia O’Keeffe. We watched a short film about how she left New York and took up residence in the desert to pursue painting the way she wanted to, which just made me want to retire even more.

Eric’s … or Georgia’s?

purple fowers

Georgia O’Keeffe – Flower of Life II … Eric Shellgren – Purple Clematis

Our next house will provide plenty of gallery space, which we don’t have in our bungalow. I’d really like a place to hang this 24×36 inch print, for instance.

white rose at sunset

Eric Shellgren – White Rose at Sunset

Okay, break’s over. Back to our mattress and bedframe quandary!