Planed To Perfection: A Vintage Northwest Modern Home Gets Spruced Up

Whether truly midcentury or designed long after Modernists Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra departed the scene, classic modern American residential architecture is characterized by the open plan and lots of windows. But these homes can be snug and cozy, too.

Noted Pacific Northwest architect Ralph Anderson, a dedicated Modernist with a pronounced preservationist streak (he was instrumental in revivifying Seattle’s Pioneer Square), designed homes that bore a firm imprint of the region, with the extensive use of wood on the interiors.

vintage northwest home kitchen

In the 1970s, Anderson created this suburban home replete with cedar-clad walls, ceilings and soffits. Recently acquired by a Microsoft product designer, it has received a sensitive refresh from Seattle’s Graham Baba Architects. The job included laying new rift sawn white oak flooring, installing custom LED lighting and, most important, conducting a keen assessment of all that cedar. While the wood was in good shape for the most part, with its original silvery stain still intact, there was a lot of it. “This was not an historic restoration,” explains project architect, Leann Crist, “and all that cedar was overwhelming in certain spaces. There were places where we chose to remove it to lighten and brighten things up. But we were very surgical about this.”

In the kitchen, drywall replaced paneling, allowing natural light to bounce more effectively about the room. “Again,” notes Crist, “we wanted these interventions to be understood as new – contemporary – but also fitting and harmonious with the existing house.”

vintage northwest home living room

Although the living room received some cosmetic attention, too – the old, glazed tiles surrounding the fireplace were replaced with an attention-getting steel surround – the home’s public spaces were the least mediated. One small but significant touch is manifest in the soaring skylit entry with its sharply pitched ceiling. Here, two pendant lights designed by the homeowner add a dramatic but completely compatible touch to the space.

“As a product designer, the homeowner wanted to take on designing these, building mock-ups that we looked at and then took to Resolute Lighting for fabrication,” notes Crist. “The pendants that originally hung there were chunky wood pieces with a single, low-watt incandescent bulb. These new LED ones are made of wood, aluminum and a polycarbonate with woven texture.”

Although outfitted with iconic period pieces, such as a Barcelona Chair and Eero Saarinen’s Womb Chair, Anderson’s architecture remains the star of the show. With its celebration of natural material, rigorous geometry and Pacific Rim sensibility, it remains a solid exemplar of Northwest Modern.

Photography by Haris Kenjar, Ross Eckert.

For more like this vintage Northwest home, be sure to check out this hillside sanctuary off the coast of Washington.

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