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.




13 thoughts on “Driven to distraction … by Modernism

  1. Africadayz

    Hi D’Arcy. Thank you for sharing this. I loved it. I think my favourite is the old ‘Dutch’ house though. I think that glass roof is absolutely spectacular. It transforms the house and yet hasn’t interfered with the external appearance from the street at all. I do have a bit of a think about glass roofs and skylights. And I also have a think about cats. My poor kitties have been in a cattery now for 3 months while we wait for our house to be finished. I’m getting quite desperate.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      I think the Dutch colonial is my favorite, too. What an amazing house! How much longer before you can move in? I’d be so sad not to have my pets with me! Hang in there!

  2. Jessica@CapeofDreams

    Thanks for sharing your tours of these incredible houses. There was a lot that I liked about all of them. However, I have a feeling that there is more than one neighbor bothered by the fact that guy tore down a Tudor to put in something so out of place.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      I didn’t mind the modern house being in the mix, but I didn’t like that he bought a classic house and just tore it down. There’s a lot of that happening in Seattle and it’s sad how many historic homes are falling victim to this kind of thinking.

  3. Cathy Lee

    I loved this tour! I guess when you have money you can be a bit callous about your neighbor’s view. I really blew up the picture to find the gargoyles. And the guys sunning! What a great picture! Yep, houseboat.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      The tour was such fun … writing about it helps me digest it all. Took forever to write this, though, with all the photos. Whew!

  4. Karen B.

    The first home is very nice design-wise, not my taste, but I can see how someone cold desire the clean lines and simple furnishings. Then you mentioned the poor neighbor that lost his view. I immediately changed my thinking…how insensitive and selfish the homeowner must be to build a box in front of someone else’s view! In California that is solid grounds for a lawsuit. Interesting homes and home tours are always fun. Love the kitty! I’d totally enjoy a houseboat over these homes.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Karen, I know you’re not a Mid Mod person (or minimalist). And as much as I do love it, I don’t think I could pull it off — I have too much stuff! I can see you in that Dutch colonial, though … I’d arm wrestle you for that one!! 🙂

  5. Jo

    Loved the tour. The modern boxes are truly not for me. I live in a historic neighborhood and they just wouldn’t be permitted. I would think blocking a neighbor’s great view has reduced the value of neighbor’s house as well as the entire neighborhood. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  6. Nine Dark Moons

    My grandparents lived in a Dutch Colonial house my whole growing up and I spent a lot of time there – it was really cool to see a very similar house to theirs but with modernized things like the glass roof and new kitchen – loved seeing that! Brought back some nice memories for me 🙂 Great post!


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