A midcentury house in Laurelhurst is modernized, beautifully.

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KRISTIN AND HER HUSBAND had no plans at all to move from their first home, a 1911 Queen Anne bungalow they had meticulously remodeled to the period. But the kids were conked out in the car, and the family randomly had driven by an intriguing midcentury-modern open house in picturesque Laurelhurst — and really, what could possibly happen if Kristin just peeked?

The dining-room ceiling used to be higher, but with a lower profile came a direct connection to the kitchen and living area, and giant view-framing sliders that open an entire corner to the extended patio. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)
The dining-room ceiling used to be higher, but with a lower profile came a direct connection to the kitchen and living area, and giant view-framing sliders that open an entire corner to the extended patio. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times)

Wanna guess?

“We pull up, and I run in,” says Kristin, sitting in the impeccably renovated and newly modernized, open house she and her husband now share with their three young children. “I loved the lines. It felt very geared toward nature and outside — very calming, very Pacific Northwest: outdoorsy with a hint of Asian influence. It was set back off the street. (My husband) comes in and goes, ‘That could be it.’ It was cool, but an enormous project.”

Here’s why it was so cool: The home was designed in 1961 by famed local architect Ibsen Nelsen, a dedicated historic preservationist.

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Here’s why it was such an enormous project: For one, it’s 4,800 square feet over three levels. For another, not much had changed since 1961.

The entry used to open to a wall with three windows, and one divided view of the courtyard’s “kidney-bean pond with a fountain,” homeowner Kristin says. “When you entered, you didn’t get, ‘Am I inside, or am I outside?’ ” You do now. Eric Walter says <strong>mw</strong>works “reconsidered the openings around the courtyard, reframing it as a tranquil organizing element of the house, central not just to the living room but also to the entry, the daily circulation paths and the more informal spaces of the home.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The entry used to open to a wall with three windows, and one divided view of the courtyard’s “kidney-bean pond with a fountain,” homeowner Kristin says. “When you entered, you didn’t get, ‘Am I inside, or am I outside?’ ” You do now. Eric Walter says mwworks “reconsidered the openings around the courtyard, reframing it as a tranquil organizing element of the house, central not just to the living room but also to the entry, the daily circulation paths and the more informal spaces of the home.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“In the 1960s, it probably was super-swanky for the era: a fireplace in the kitchen, a rec-room bar, a dumbwaiter,” says Kristin. “Downstairs, wood paneling had been taken down, and kids had painted a peace sign. The kitchen had been redone in the early ’90s, but nothing else.”

And here’s how it transformed from classic potential into 21st-century perfection — all while preserving Ibsen’s own storied history: “Technically, we touched everything,” says Eric Walter of mwworks Architecture + Design, who collaborated with mwworks’ Campie Ellis. “These guys clearly felt connected to the original design, so the task was to renovate the home while respecting its soul and extending its life span. We were building on what Ibsen was doing, but with better systems: opening more windows and walls, insulating, stiffening the frame, introducing a lot more glass.”

Transparency, literally and conceptually, is a key theme here: “High on the owners’ wish list were increased physical and visual connections between rooms and with the outdoors,” Walter says: The formal entry opened to allow end-to-end views through the re-imagined central courtyard/garden; sunlight rakes down flight after flight of floating, open stairs; and single-pane windows were replaced with bigger, more-efficient ones (and, where possible, extended floor-to-ceiling).

“Everything’s built into the woodwork and cabinetry” in the newly open kitchen, says Kristin: the dishwasher, the linear cooktop, the refrigerator, the pulls, even the sink. The kitchen is walnut with absolute black granite countertops — “the flamed version,” she says. “It’s more organic and natural, like we just dug it up.” Eric Walter and <strong>mw</strong>works designed all the cabinetry; it was crafted by Park Avenue Construction. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
“Everything’s built into the woodwork and cabinetry” in the newly open kitchen, says Kristin: the dishwasher, the linear cooktop, the refrigerator, the pulls, even the sink. The kitchen is walnut with absolute black granite countertops — “the flamed version,” she says. “It’s more organic and natural, like we just dug it up.” Eric Walter and mwworks designed all the cabinetry; it was crafted by Park Avenue Construction. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

That old, disconnected kitchen might have been updated once, a long time ago, but it’s actually what jump-started the entire renovation, Walter says (as in, “This kitchen’s gotta go.”). A full solid wall had separated it from the dining area, cutting off the prime entertaining hub and some pretty spectacular views. “Limited structural changes united these spaces, and sliding glass doors expand the family’s activities onto the new deck and patio,” he says. “Detailing the casework like free-standing blocks rather than walls allows the spaces to flow into each other more freely.”

The master bathroom used to have a couple of skylights, Eric Walter says. “We put structure back in. And by pushing it out 18 inches to the side, it gave plenty of space.” Homeowner Kristin says, “When you don’t have windows on the walls, it’s nice to have natural light.”  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
The master bathroom used to have a couple of skylights, Eric Walter says. “We put structure back in. And by pushing it out 18 inches to the side, it gave plenty of space.” Homeowner Kristin says, “When you don’t have windows on the walls, it’s nice to have natural light.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

A warm, modest palette of natural wood, concrete and stone radiates warmth and comfort, and strengthens that vital in-out connection. “Everything inside feels natural; the color from the outside is what’s vibrant,” Kristin says.

It’s a feel, a sense, a design centered on transparency — so transparent, in fact, you can see all the way back to 1961.

Coming from a bungalow, homeowner Kristin says, she and her husband wanted to stick with materials that evoke softness and comfort. Eric Walter was firmly on board: “We’re modernists, but we love warmth and craft and detail that breathe life into the clean lines of modernism,” he says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Coming from a bungalow, homeowner Kristin says, she and her husband wanted to stick with materials that evoke softness and comfort. Eric Walter was firmly on board: “We’re modernists, but we love warmth and craft and detail that breathe life into the clean lines of modernism,” he says. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“The home is updated and more livable but still respectful of the best elements of the original design,” Walter says. “What’s most interesting is how much it held to the spirit of the original. We took this down to the studs; half the framing went away. To put it back feels like we kept with the outline laid a long time ago.”