Beautiful Mid-Century Modern Reimagined

To meet demand, developers are bringing back the ‘midcentury’ home. The most iconic image of midcentury American architecture is arguably Julius Shulman’s photo of the glass-walled Case Study No. 22 house in Los Angeles, which appears to float weightlessly, almost magically above the city. The appeal of the image—which Time magazine called “the most successful real estate image ever taken” (and which was in fact staged with models in cocktail attire)—lies in the way that the silhouetted inhabitants appear to live in another plane, absent any extraneous furnishings or walls, yet safely enclosed and bathed in the home’s light. The luxury the home evokes is neither gaudy nor accessible; it is desirable because of what and who isn’t there—walls, clutter, crowds, or street. Shulman’s photo and the architecture it depicts have in years since helped stoke a mimetic desire for a weightless, minimalist, perfectly curated life, a desire that now drives an entire industry of midcentury real estate, furniture, and associated lifestyle goods.

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But midcentury modern homes are increasingly rare and can require expensive repairs, while suburban upper-middle-class homes built after the midcentury period, with their thick walls and frequently Southwest or Mediterranean features, tend to be the formal opposite of the Stahl house. With actual midcentury homes out of reach for most, developers and architects are now attempting to satisfy—and of course sell to—this desire with midcentury-inspired construction. But the new midcentury-inspired home does not look quite like the Case Study house in Shulman’s photo. Comparing Case Study House No. 22 and its ilk to new midcentury-inspired homes tells us not just what was so appealing about midcentury architecture, but also what architecture has lost since that period.

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Midcentury modern architecture has been less popular with practicing architects than with homebuyers, since architects are incentivized by their trade and its publications to architect forward, not backward. Several architects I spoke to said that even as the midcentury fervor has grown, many refuse to rebuild the old styles, favoring new work in organic and futuristic forms over repetitions of old designs. According to architect Ray Kappe, who is known for his glassy, transparent midcentury home designs, “most graduates of schools of architecture since the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s have wanted to move architectural ideas forward. They are interested in having their work published in the magazines and books, [and] most publications are presenting other work.”

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Skinner House – Beverly Hills, California

“We would rather design for this era than a 70-year-old era,” says Palm Springs architect James Cioffi, who worked in the ’70s with iconic midcentury architects like Hugh Kaptur and says he is often called a midcentury architect but doesn’t consider himself one.

But even when architects are amenable to reproducing them, certain classic features associated with midcentury modernism are no longer allowed by construction codes. “As we [got] further along in time the thinness of structural elements tended to change,” Cioffi says. “A lot of that was code-driven. We can no longer use 2-inch square columns to hold up overhangs.” That’s only one reason why the seemingly sky-high glass-to-column ratio of the Stahl house cannot be replicated. In California, where many of the most famous midcentury American homes were built, new homes must use tempered glass for windows fewer than 60 inches from the floor, meaning that the midcentury’s untreated, single-pane floor-length windows have been left behind. California codes also require ever-increasing measures for energy efficiency to reduce the amount of solar heat that can penetrate the window. According to Kappe, “In the midcentury there were no energy codes or limits on glazing sizes so the detailing of glass could be simpler and, in my opinion, better.”

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Kaufmann House

So what happens when the market demands architecture from a 70-year-old era? The resort town of Palm Springs was the site of many iconic midcentury developments and is now at the center of a wave of what developers are calling “midcentury modern” homes, though they are being designed and built today. Looking at these replica midcentury homes from the street can be a bit hallucinatory at times: They look like something out of a photograph from the 1960s, except that everything is smoother, thicker, and brighter, with perfectly sculpted desert landscaping and hardscaping out front in place of the midcentury’s well-watered green lawns.

The degree to which new midcentury developments attempt to remain faithful to midcentury models varies. “It’s a choice between whether you want 70 percent midcentury with a contemporary inspiration, or 70 percent contemporary with a midcentury inspiration,” said Tyson Hawley, an agent with KUD Properties, who is developing a collection of houses in Palm Springs called the Desert Eichlers.

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The Desert Palisades

Unlike most of the midcentury replicas that are on the market, the Eichlers are based on original midcentury plans—for developer Joseph Eichler’s Bay Area tract homes—and the final product adheres fairly closely to the original Eichler look, with a living plan surrounding a glass atrium that provides views between several living spaces. Even the thin roofs of the original Eichlers appear to be replicated, although according to developer Troy Kudlac, that appearance is more a matter of proportion than fact. “The original Eichlers were tongue-and-groove with a rolled roof right on top; ours have several layers consisting of foil, plywood, insulation, and foam,” he says. “But they look thin compared to the other midcentury replicas around that are thicker.”

Like other new “midcentury” developments, the Desert Eichlers have a kind of technicolor perfection that differs from the more muted, sunlight-tempered hues of original midcentury homes, utilizing brightly stained wooden ceilings and a new “Eichler” multicolor paint palette co-branded with Dunn-Edwards. The reinterpreted Alexander Construction Company homes that James Cioffi built in 2014 have a similar hyperreal look, like the Palm Springs originals but brighter and weightier: The architecture is nearly identical, but the roofs are higher and thicker to accommodate energy efficiency and a modern desire for higher ceilings. Cioffi’s Alexander homes, unlike the original Alexanders or the new Desert Eichlers, also produce their own solar energy.

The “midcentury modern-inspired” Skye development, also in Palm Springs, creates a less faithful, larger-than-midcentury look that incorporates elements of midcentury design into a contemporary format. In Skye, the ceilings are higher and the rooms are larger than in a midcentury home, but in midcentury fashion, the great room features a slanted roof, an articulated brick fireplace, and a wet bar with views onto the pool. Skye’s preponderance of white tile, white walls, and white beams is in contrast with the more mod, bright accent colors at the Desert Eichler and new Alexander developments, but remains brighter than the original, sun-faded midcentury homes, which seem sepia toned in contrast.

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The Skye development

Kaptur Court is a complex of three homes designed by Hugh Kaptur, the architect of many of Palm Springs’ most iconic midcentury and late modernist buildings. Kaptur Court in Palm Springs makes faithful use of midcentury accent materials like rock-faced walls, square concrete brick, and clerestory windows; however, the heft of the walls and roofline are clearly of the contemporary era. This heft, in service of insulation and energy efficiency, is perhaps the biggest reason why new homes, however “midcentury modern” inspired, can never quite assume the elegance of the Case Study houses. And of course, while Skye, Kaptur Court, and the Desert Eichlers all deploy abundant glass panes to achieve Palm Springs’ requisite “indoor/outdoor” feeling, the use of glass remains limited to areas like patio sliders and windows, rather than entire lengths of the home.

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The Skye development

New “midcentury modern” homes have developed their own dialect for midcentury modern design, raising the question of what the phrase “midcentury modern” means in a contemporary context. If it can’t mean the specific form of Case Study No. 22 and similar architecturally obsolete glass boxes, “midcentury modern” then must become a way of trying to capture the feeling the images from the period inspire. What the Shulman photo depicts beyond the architecture itself are two women in party dresses, appearing to be in animated conversation, surrounded by slim furniture as lightweight in appearance as the home itself. Beyond our insatiable desire to live in floating glass homes, what the Shulman photo engendered is a sense that midcentury modern means effervescent social life, perfectly dressed and curated and yet also apparently at ease, like the women in the photo.

To buy a new “midcentury modern” home, then, is to buy a vision of oneself in such composed yet carefree happiness. What one can’t achieve in full glass walls one can approximate with minimalist decor and large, open entertaining spaces. This is what the new “midcentury modern” developments are building and selling: not necessarily replicas, but homes focused around large, airy entertainment space, with clean angles and unadorned edges in place of what in recent decades were curvy, decorated facades. The new “midcentury modern” housing development, in addition to recreating the sparkling, effortless cocktail vibe associated with the period, is about creating a home that in its sleek, minimalist, sparsely decorated lines works hard to make the viewer imagine that the more ornate ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s never happened.

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Beautiful Mid-Century Renovation

I love the before and after image of this mid-century modern home renovated by Nest Architects. The home now has a chance to live another life. The beams are a fantastic architectural statement and at the same time giving the house volume and openness. The built in bench on the wall is a nice addition. If you haven’t heard of Nest you should go check them out, they have some great renovations.

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The home is a high-quality example of late 1950’s era residential architecture that was in disrepair. The client’s vision to salvage the house and restore the existing architectural details guided the renovation. The original home features iconic roof geometry, exposed beams, and large expanses of glass that address the views. Strong datum lines emphasize the horizontality of the home’s massing and views of the low-lying landscape.

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Beautiful Magical Staircase and Interiors

Strathmore House, by InForm Design, is richly textured with amazingly beautiful detailing. This gorgeous residence features a lofty side entrance where a large herringbone pivot door opens to reveal an eye-catching sculptural, magical, spiral staircase. I am obsessed with this staircase – simple elegance personified. And that herringbone pattern – swooning over.

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Gorgeous pivot door!

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Inside, a palette of luxurious marble, timber and brass awaits, creating a balance of warmth and drama that is juxtaposed by subtle injections of light marble, putty greys, and crisp whites. Inspired by the home’s robust exterior blend of concrete and black steel, the rich material palette was carefully chosen to create harmony between the indoor and outdoor spaces.

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Marble and timber elements carry through to the elegant open plan living areas, providing a warm and textural backdrop for the beautiful furnishings, lighting and artwork. These include the iconic Beetle dining chairs by Gubi and Platner arm chairs by Knoll. 

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Known for their unique, considered design, InForm have thoughtfully created the home to meet the needs of a busy family. The incredible staircase leads up to the bedrooms, where the generous master suite features a calming palette of soft greys, and delicate textile elements. The grey hues carry through to the bathroom with a tactile mix of marble surfaces, mosaic tiles and brass accents. The gorgeous Workstead Signal Pendant illuminates the space.

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Photography by James Geer

Beautiful Interiors

Little Venice Residence by Originate + GL Studio is exquisite. Formerly two adjoining townhouses, this stunning mid-19th century property in West London was completely restored by Originate Architects and GL Studio. Now a Victorian stucco-fronted villa, the original features were reinstated and married with contemporary elements to fulfill the needs of modern family. The details are gorgeous!

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The restoration process included the installation of new fireplaces and arched openings in keeping with the historical period. New joinery units were designed by Originate using a unique finish to enhance the natural grain of the timber, while a fairly neutral colour palette was chosen to complement the client’s extensive collection art and furniture collection. In particular, a love of mid-century design that can bee seen with the iconic Pierre Jeanneret chairs, a beautiful Jorge Zalszupin table, and the Carl Hansen & Søn’s reissue of the Hans J Wegner CH22 lounge chair from 1950.

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Images via Orginate and GL Studio

Beautiful Mondrian Inspired Buildings+Interiors

To honor of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s 147th birthday, here are six buildings inspired by his abstract, geometric style.

Artist Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) was introduced to art at an early age by his father, a drawing teacher at a local primary school. At the age of 20, formally began his career as an artist and teacher. His artistic career began with more traditional, representational paintings, however upon moving to Paris in 1911 his style was greatly influenced by Cubism and his work began to turn more abstract. Later, alongside painter Theo van Doesburg, Mondrian created the De Stijl movement, which embraced an abstract, simplified aesthetic. The De Stijl artists sought to devalue tradition, and they greatly impacted the rise of modern art during the 20th century.

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Considered a pioneer of 20th century abstract art, Mondrian is best known for his paintings featuring basic forms and colors. The artist limited his paintings to the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) and the two primary directions (horizontal and vertical), thus creating colorful and geometric compositions. He hoped that these simplified subjects could transcend cultures and become a new common language. Mondrian’s impact on modern art is visible in the work of other artists and subsequent artistic movements, as well as in contemporary art and design. Here are six projects that embody the spirit of Mondrian’s work.

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The clients for this small bathroom project are passionate art enthusiasts and asked the architects to create a space based on the work of one of their favorite abstract painters, Piet Mondrian. Mondrian, a Dutch artist associated with the De Stijl movement, reduced designs down to basic rectilinear forms and primary colors within a grid. Alloy used floor to ceiling recycled glass tiles to re-interpret Mondrian’s compositions, using blocks of color in a white grid of tile to delineate space and the functions within the small room. A red block of color is recessed and becomes a niche, a blue block is a shower seat, a yellow rectangle connects shower fixtures with the drain.

The bathroom also has many aging-in-place design components. There is a zero clearance entrance to the shower. The doorway is wider for greater accessibility and pocket door installed to save space. ADA compliant grab bars were located to compliment the tile composition.

A small bathroom project inspired by artist Piet Mondrian. Floor-to-ceiling glass tiles re-interpret Mondrian’s compositions.
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Design by Alloy Workshop
The design team used floor-to-ceiling tiles to create the geometric interior. Yellow tiles connect the shower fixtures to the drain, blue tiles are used for the shower seat, and a red block is recessed to create a niche in the wall.

Colorful Painted Home in San Francisco
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The exterior of this home in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco was inspired by the colorful grid-based paintings for which Mondrian is best known. Painted in Mondrian’s style over 20 years ago, this whimsical house has become iconic also due to its location across the street from the beach. The two-story house features two beds and one bath, as well as a recently landscaped backyard—and it recently hit the market.
Update: The Outer Sunset home bearing a paint job a la Piet Mondrian’s most famous work sold over asking, netting $2,050,000. That’s $555,000 over the original ask of $1.495 million. No word if the new owner will keep the exterior paint job.
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The ‘Breakfast With Mondrian’ Apartment
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Breakfast with Mondrian is an experimental project where the use of forms, lines and colors is focusing of the positive impact which has to provoke the space on the people living there. The design concept is inspired by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian for his vision of nature, manifested in his simple and pure abstract paintings. He is one of the founders of the Neo-Plasticism Movement, style which is recognized with the use only of horizontal and vertical lines and the fundamental colors – red, blue, yellow. With these elements the artist developed a new plastic language where he shows how he sees the world, the nature and the human – as one unity. In his paintings he represents the perfect harmony between the elements of this unity.
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Mondrian’s aim is to provoke emotions to the viewers. The viewers should feel themselves dancing while watching his paintings. Through lines and colors the inhabitants and their guests should feel themselves as they are part of a dance. In the dance between forms and colors we use the white and black colors as intervals between them. The white is active, the black is passive. As Mondrian says that through oppositions of color and line one can see the plastic expression of relationships.
The space of this experimental modern house is open and every zone has its own function and in the same time is connected to everything else. The meaning is that the kitchen cannot be without the dining room, or living room. As in nature everything is connected and cannot without its parts, because one unity cannot be unity without its parts.
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Breakfast with Mondrian is a concept by design duo Brani & Desi inspired by the artist’s work and vision. Mondrian saw the world, nature, and the human as one unit, and he expressed these relationships through his geometric and colorful paintings. Brani & Desi aim to provoke the emotions of their viewers and to create unity within every aspect of the apartment.berakfast 3

The ‘Mondrianized’ City Hall in The Hague
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Dutch De Stijl art movement, The Hague unveiled the largest Mondrian in the world. The city hall building is painted with the familiar colors and lines of a Piet Mondrian work.
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Beautiful LA Lifestyle

LA OF THOSE SPARKLING BEACHES, EPIC MOUNTAINS, 300 DAYS OF SUNSHINE. LA OF WORK LIFE BALANCE (A REAL THING). LA OF STILL SEMI AFFORDABLE HOUSING. A PHOTOGRAPHER FRIEND AND HIS WIFE WHO WENT LEFT EARLIER THIS YEAR TRADED A DODGY GROUND FLOOR ONE BEDROOM IN BROOKLYN FOR A THREE BEDROOM HOUSE IN HIGHLAND PARK. THEIR RENT? LESS.

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“Does it ever stop feeling like a vacation here?” I ask an old friend from New York. He has moved to Los Angeles, and I am visiting. We are sitting in front of the blob of buildings at Sunset Junction in Silverlake. The red paint glows in the sunlight. To our right is coffee temple Intelligentsia, where creative types queue seemingly all day long for a caffeine fix, or set up shop at a grouping of shaded outside tables, laptops clicking. Most people wear sunglasses, most are attractive. To our left, a shop specializes in succulents.

What began with a few souls quietly packing their cars in the night has grown into a full blown westward demonstration. People are leaving New York for LA. And really, why wouldn’t they? LA of those sparkling beaches, epic mountains, 300 days of sunshine. LA of work life balance (a real thing). LA of still semi affordable housing. A photographer friend and his wife who went West earlier this year traded a dodgy ground floor one bedroom in Brooklyn for a three bedroom house in Highland Park. Their rent? Less.

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What happened to the strikes that out of towners used to hold against this place? Of plasticity, of vapidity, of a lack of museums, and mediocre at best celebrity chef piloted restaurants. Those have changed, or are in the process of being obliterated altogether. The revitalization of Downtown LA (DTLA if you speak in acronyms) with its booming Grand Central market, scores of hip hotels, eateries, stores, lofts, and apartments has helped shepherd a young creative class to a city sorely lacking one. There are clothing designers cutting denim at Downtown factories, graphic designers tweaking websites in light filled Culver City studios, and the musicians – everyone young and influential in the music industry is camped out here. Artists, too. The average age of guests who line up to get into buzzy, contemporary mecca The Broad? Just 32.

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At the opposite end of the LA spectrum, the unflappable and bubbled Hollywood neighborhoods have been altered forever. Beverly Hills, with its Ferrari dealerships and 500 USD dinners, has been left to rot in the hands of the blue hairs. And a recent spin through West Hollywood on a Monday evening found every venue but the venerable Chateau Marmont stone dead. While just around the corner, on West Sunset, the dining room at millennial friendly Thai street food spot Night + Market was packed. (I ate my Pad Thai at the counter.)
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“I can’t wrap my head around LA,” my New York fashion friend has said when I’ve brought it up. “Everyone’s eyes are glassed over and they’re telling you: ‘It’s so amazing here!’ Major Kool-Aid vibes.”  Admittedly, I’ve loved LA for some time now. In 2009 I visited a friend who had a whitewashed bungalow set back from Abbott Kinney Boulevard in Venice. We sat swapping stories over kale in the backyard of Gjelina, rode our cruiser bikes to the post office to get her mail, and fell asleep in hammocks watching the waves. Everything we did seemed vastly superior to my New York life, which at the time, included twice a day AA meetings and sharing a glorified dormitory on the Upper East Side with not one, but three roommates. “I can’t believe this is your life,” I told her, probably too many times.
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It took me seven years, but I finally started sending emails one fall day, harassing the friends who had found their way out to California, asking for a place to crash for the winter months. There was my friend the antique rug dealer over in Eagle Rock, the adventure journalist in Echo Park, the comedian in Santa Monica. The first bite I got back was from the asset manager in Manhattan Beach. “My wife and I have a spare bedroom,” he said on the phone one afternoon. “It’s yours as long as you need it.”

When I pulled into the driveway on a January night, a few days after New Year, I couldn’t believe my luck. Their little house was a block from the crashing water. The spare bedroom was slightly damp in that pleasant way that rooms by the beach are. In the mornings, little slices of sunlight bounced off the stucco ceiling and landed on my face, my forearms. The absence of city noise was alarming at first, but became blissful soon enough. The flinching anxiety took a week or two to melt off. I hiked through the hills. I jogged through town. I wrote. A lot. I lived.

And the asset manager seemed to be living, too. In New York, he’d worn suits, his skin tinted a yellowy grey color. Now he was brown, wore rumpled polo shirts, arrived home by three or four o’clock each afternoon, usually with a heaping bag of fish tacos for dinner. We walked his drooling golden retriever along the beach under the fading orange sun. “We just love it here,” he said, his eyes glowing.

In the LA evenings, I drove and drove. To a house party in Mar Vista. To a bonfire in Glendale. The jaded, that’s too far mentality of any permanent Angelino hadn’t affected me yet, so I drove. During rush hours, and in the middle of the night. To Palm Springs to spend a weekend writing by the pool. To Joshua Tree to watch the sun come up. By the time February rolled around and I was due back in New York, I had a completed manuscript, one I hoped would become a novel. I also had a quandary: Could this place be for me?

Every morning in that guest bedroom, I woke up to three extra hours of emails fired off from the East Coast. Potentially coronary inducing to my New York temperament, right? Not here. No, I’m convinced those several thousand miles did something to shield me from the urgency. Those frantic pleas for revisions and the do or die deadlines seemed like less of a squeeze from out here, like more of a suggestion.

Now, I have no doubt a certain breed of West Coaster would argue, wave their arms in objection. “LA is fast living, man,” they might say. And yeah, relativity is everything – for some, maybe the pace here is less than relaxed. Maybe if you come from Sacramento, or Sausalito. Or maybe the lack of seasons will sterilize you beyond recognition and maybe your eyes will glow, Spicoli-like forever with the vaguely distant tint of a Malibu resident, whose only decision each morning is this: Surf or smoothie? Maybe, just maybe, the 405 will drive you batty.

But I never told you what my old friend said, that morning outside the coffee shop in Silverlake. The friend who had moved to Los Angeles from New York, the friend who said he couldn’t wait to go back East to visit, to flinch, to feel frantic again. He smiled and shook his head when I asked the question: “Does it ever stop feeling like a vacation here?” He said, “No.”

First published in Cereal Magazine
By Sean Hotchkiss
PHOTOS: Rick Poon

Beautiful Residential Home Design #3

“The buildings recall the agricultural forms of the local built environment, but as is our nature in our designs, we sought to take that context and evolve it to a more emphatic modern language. We sought to design something that was exquisitely proportioned in a quiet, agricultural way.” –Tom Kundig

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This artist retreat, designed by Olson Kundig of Seattle, is located on 18 acres of rural agricultural property in Trout Lake, Washington just steps from White Salmon River. Both owners are artists who incorporate the natural landscape into their work – he is a painter and photographer, and she is a textile artist and designer. A key directive in the design of their new home was that it connect them to the surrounding landscape and maximize opportunities for indoor/outdoor living. It was also important for them to have studio space that was separate from the house, but related in form and materiality. All four buildings recall the forms of vernacular agricultural structures, and incorporate tough and low-maintenance building materials with minimal finishes such as concrete, plywood and steel. Wood siding on the main house was milled locally and weathered by the owners themselves. Corrugated metal roofing was also rusted by the owners.

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trout-lake-or-olson-kundig (11)The retreat contains four distinct buildings arranged in two groupings. The first grouping contains the main house, a woodworking shop, and a carport all contained under a single roof in a T-shape. A covered courtyard connects the three spaces in the middle of the “T”. A separate, free-standing artist studio is located just northeast of the main house, with a covered patio that connects to a guest room. Here, the owners work on their own projects, and occasionally host retreats and community-based arts workshops. In all four buildings, large bi-folding doors and sliding barn doors open up the spaces completely to the outdoors, allowing for the movement of large artworks and equipment, as well as an intimate connection with the environment.

trout-lake-or-olson-kundig (9)trout-lake-or-olson-kundig (8)The main house is minimal in form, consisting of a single double height volume with an open plan living, dining and kitchen area separated from a library by a double-sided fireplace. A set of hidden steel stairs nestled into the concrete fireplace lead to a loft above the library. The home’s single bedroom is located above the bathroom and mudroom and is accessed via a set of open stairs in the entry foyer. Two sets of 30-foot-long bi-fold doors in the main living space allow the home to open completely on both sides, maximizing the home’s sweeping views of the nearby river and Mount Adams.

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Photography Jeremy Bitterman
Location: Trout Lake, Washington
Home is 6,594 sf