C’mon along on the 2017 Seattle Modern Homes Tour! Every spring Eric and I look forward to this tour, which sets us off on a merry chase all over town. Amazingly, Eric seems to know the streets in every neighborhood, so I just sit back and enjoy the ride—and the architecture.
This year we managed to bag all eight of the featured houses, plus lunch and coffee, in the six hours that the tour was open (not always easy or possible).
Seattle is built on hills, so views are everywhere. This year’s tour can be summed up in two words: Views and stairs. Flights and flights of stairs to accommodate steep building lots. Most of the houses on this year’s tour weren’t friendly for aging in place—something Eric and I now keep in mind when we look at a house.
I found myself taking more photos of the windows and views than of the interiors, hence the title of this post, “From the inside out.”
Here are the highlights.
We started on the south end with No. 8, in the Mt. Baker neighborhood. It wasn’t hard to pick out this house amongst its century-old neighbors. It would stand out anywhere. Clad in repurposed wood siding, the rustic wood theme carried on inside. Maybe a little too rustic—running into the rough-hewn posts could leave you pulling splinters out of your face.
I found lots to like about this house: The walnut floors were to die for. The recycled cardboard hanging lamps (which I found online at over $300 apiece) looked warm and beckoning in the open stairwell. It felt open and airy, if a little lacking in color. The garage, off the alley, was up a level from the front of the house on this steep lot, and accessed by a bridge across the back courtyard, which would make every trip to the garage a little special. But that same steep terrain reduced the backyard to a confining, deep pit of a courtyard. I love courtyards, but I didn’t want to linger in this one. What I really wanted to do was check out the cute shingled bungalow next door. (I bet the neighbors weren’t thrilled when this mod box landed virtually on top of them.)
Click on any photo to view the gallery.
House No. 7 in Leschi won the view competition hands-down. From our parking place, I looked right through this house at the Interstate 90 floating bridge (can you see it?). I love a see-through house! I could waste a lot of time just watching the boats and the mountains and the lights of the Eastside and the cars flowing along this artery to the city. I’d never get anything done!
The living area’s wall of windows was just that: a wall. No deck would be built outside these sliding doors—only a railing. I can understand not wanting to compromise that view, but I’d want outside access from the main living space. An awesome deck occupied the rooftop level, but I don’t want to climb two flights of stairs up or down to get to my outdoor space. Bright light from outside made photos difficult. I remember the master bedroom as my favorite room. But that view … I could wake up and go to sleep with that view.
For No. 1, we drove to Madison Park, a truly lovely Seattle neighborhood that’s way, way out of our league. (Truth be told, we can’t even afford to think about moving anywhere within the Seattle city limits. The median house price has shot up to $772,000.) But back to my fantasy …
The only view this house has is a spectacularly landscaped central courtyard, around which the house is built. Somehow, that’s all it needs.
We fell in love with this Zen-like house, and from the comments we overheard, everyone else did, too. Besides the courtyard, our favorite features were several high, long windows that made slices of outside into framed pieces of art.
Over the ridge in Roanoke, house No. 5 was a grand old Seattle foursquare. What was this one doing on a modern home tour? The streetscape didn’t give anything away, but I knew something special had to be behind that bright aqua door.
The bright and light-filled living room featured a beautiful original fireplace that I wished I could have taken home. I loved the mod touch of the chandelier over the dining room table. If you look closely, you can get a sense of how the wallpaper I plan to order will look above my plate rail (more on that another day). Originals flourishes coexisted comfortably side by side with updates. And the original lacy stair railing under the leaded glass window was pure joy. The remodel was confined to the kitchen, the upstairs bedrooms, and the basement. My favorite room in this grand old house was the sleeping porch-turned-office. We liked how the custom storm windows were cleverly installed on the inside. Outside, another courtyard effect with a brick patio.
No. 4 was just a few blocks away on the shore of Lake Union (not far from some of the floating homes I’ve written about). In fact, some high-end homes floated right in the front yard of these condos. Eric commented that when he was in college, he lived at this exact address in a floating home. Back then, according to him, you lived in a floating shack if you couldn’t afford an apartment. Those shacks are long gone, and million-dollar homes have bobbed to the surface in their place. On land, the end unit of this condo building was our destination.
Right off the bat, the entry turned us off. I would be nervous to come home at night to this pinched-feeling narrow passageway. Inside, we climbed up … and up … and up. And then looked down. This view is entertaining all day, every day, with boating traffic passing right in front of your windows. The house had a narrow footprint, so few rooms occupied each floor, but for well over a million dollars, it did include an elevator. From garage to rooftop deck, it’s five floors. Again, love this view, but the extreme vertical layout didn’t work for us.
No. 6 in Wallingford had me fooled. I thought it was new construction, but no—it was a remodel. When we left and I inspected the exterior one more time, I could see vestiges of the original house. But inside it was all modern, all the time. This house was full of color and art. I thought it felt playful and warm, but Eric found it cold. Well … I guess we don’t always agree.
I particularly liked the dining room, and how its lowered ceiling contrasted with the two-story living room. Its view of the old curly willow tree felt intimate and sheltering. I’m not usually a fan of dark cabinetry, and these made the kitchen feel like a cave, but at the same time, they set off the brilliant green view of the backyard. The countertops were flamed granite: burning bursts out some of the crystals and leaves the granite with an interesting texture.
This modern box, No. 2, was our second-favorite on the tour. The open layout was simple, and the young owner had barely moved in, so there was no staging to look past. The corner lot offered an attractive city view west to Ballard.
A highlight of this house was the grain-matched fir cabinetry. You don’t often see fir as cabinetry (trim is more common). This kitchen glowed with the warm fir tone. The same cabinets reappeared in the bedrooms, in floor-to-ceiling grain-matched glory.
The homeowner had just had the firepit and patio installed. I admired the horizontal privacy fence and the neighborhood ambiance from the deck off the kitchen and dining area.
Queen Anne Hill
Finally, we arrived at house No.3 on Queen Anne Hill, which was another favorite. We liked the dark brick façade—something a little different.
I sped past the sunken living room with its tall windows and fireplace because I spied a big gray cat in the dining area. When cat made a beeline to his backyard, I found myself in a spacious kitchen/dining room with a stunning tiled backsplash. The homeowner told me she had to fight their architect to install this tile, and I’m glad she won. It makes the room, and echoes the aqua color of some of her collected pieces. I’m an aqua lover, too (harkening back to my mom’s 50s kitchen when I was a kid). The layout of the kitchen/dining/family room space was similar to the Phinney Ridge home. This house also featured a serene master bedroom with an expansive neighborhood view and a wood-paneled ceiling, and a really lovely mural in the child’s room.
Returning to our little town in the valley and our humble abode is always a bit of a let-down after a day in Seattle (the south-county hicks go to the big city). Not because the town itself is disappointing, and we certainly love our bungalow; it’s just that Seattle seems to be so much more vibrant and exciting compared to our sleepy little burg. But, we’re close to retirement and we’ll never be able to afford to trade up to a house in hip Seattle. So we look and drool.
Join us for our next tour in June: The Seattle Catio Tour! Yes, this is really a thing, and we’ll be there to experience it all!