From Midcentury to Modern
A couple buys a circa-1960s lodge-style home around the corner and turns it into a minimal, contemporary space. Peeling away four layers of carpeting in the basement
By NANCY KEATES
image by Erik Johnson for The Wall Street Journal
PRESERVING OLD BONES At first, the couple debated tearing the house down. But the original home structure was retained for its vaulted roof and high-quality post-and-beam construction.
After 16 years and four renovations, Erin and Tom Neubauer had done everything they could to maximize their small home in the Madison Park neighborhood of Seattle. They didn’t want to leave the street, which is a few blocks from the pricey shoreline of Lake Washington, but they longed for more space and a yard.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING The owners changed design several times before coming back to the architect’s original. The living area, which is punctuated by two brown Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs.
Out walking her dog one day in 2009, Ms. Neubauer saw a house around the corner that was for sale. While she’d never previously noticed it—a cedar-clad, lodge-style home from the 1960s—Ms. Neubauer realized it was on an unusually large, quarter-acre lot. The couple logged on to their computer that night and bid the full asking price of $985,000. They sold their old home and lived in the 3,250-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with their two teenage kids for two years, to get the sense of the house’s flow and to save their money.
In 2011, the couple dug in. The renovation, which cost about $700,000 and took a year, was finished in June. Now 4,080 square feet, the redone house has the same frame and foundation as the original but with an open, modern, slightly industrial twist.
At first, the couple debated tearing the house down—Ms. Neubauer estimates that would have cost $50,000 more. Joe Herrin, a principal at Seattle-based Heliotrope Architects, liked the original home’s vaulted roof and noted that replicating the home’s post-and-beam construction—exposed timber framing—would be very expensive. So the “bones” of the house stayed as-is.
Ms. Neubauer, a 46-year-old stay-at-home mom, and Mr. Neubauer, a 48-year-old partner in a real-estate development company, also changed the design several times before coming back to Mr. Herrin’s original sketch, a process Mr. Herrin says happens with most of his projects. “Even though I know that, it is important to let people challenge the initial idea. That way they won’t have any ‘what ifs’ when it is done,” he says. Ms. Neubauer says the extra drawings cost about $10,000 but were worth it: “I definitely would always have wondered if I should have done it a different way,” she says.
The most dramatic change is the house’s new entryway, accessed by a $6,000, 6-foot-wide front door that pivots diagonally when it opens; an identical pivoting door is on the entry’s other side. The floors are concrete and the 11-foot ceilings slope up above the main floor, where the dining and living rooms are separated from the kitchen by a partial wall with a two-sided fireplace.
The new kitchen came from what were two rooms and is dominated by an 18-foot-long island made of white Caesarstone quartz. The design is minimal throughout, with the living room punctuated by two brown Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs and the dining room consisting primarily of a long wood table underneath three pendants and a Ligne Roset floor lamp.
The original 8-foot-by-10-foot master bedroom, also on the main floor, and its tiny master bathroom were enlarged by eliminating a 300-square-foot room. Downstairs in the windowed basement are two other bedrooms, a bathroom and a recreation room. The now-polished gray concrete floors were discovered by removing four layers of carpets installed over the years—so thick their removal lowered the floor by an inch. A wall of glass sliding doors opens to a back patio with concrete walls and a water feature to catch the roof water
The new kitchen was created out of what had been two rooms and is dominated by an 18-foot-long island made of white Caesarstone quartz.
To save money, Ms. Neubauer rejected a landscape plan that cost $5,000 and would have meant spending another $100,000 to implement. Instead, she designed her own, getting ideas from the nearby Washington Park Arboretum. Her goal was to shield the house, with its all-glass front, from the street. She bought trees—paperbark maples, Hinoki cypresses and Styrax japonicus—for about $1,000 and paid a landscaper about $400 to plant them.
Along the way the couple installed a new floor on the main level, adding about $10,000. They also nixed some dreams, like a fountain that would have snaked through the interior of the entryway and added $120,000 to the price tag.
Instead of standard aluminum-framed glass sliding doors, with two panes of 3-foot-wide glass, they chose wood-framed glass sliding doors with a single, 6-foot pane. Unlike standard doors, the wood-framed doors slide and pivot along the outside of the house, allowing for a full, 6-foot opening. The cost: $4,500 per door instead of $1,500.
Ms. Neubauer wanted concrete floors on the main level but couldn’t have them because they would have been too heavy. Her husband wanted marble tiles, but they would have cost about $20 per square foot. They compromised with stained oak, which cost about $12 a square foot but scratches more easily. Ms. Neubauer shrugs that off. “I have dogs and kids and a messy life,” she says. “I don’t want to spend my entire life yelling at everyone to take off their shoes.”