A Mount Vernon remodel stays true to Henry Klein’s 1954 vision while making a midcentury home much more modern.

Share story

THERE ARE COINCIDENCES. And then there’s kinda spooky.

Pacific NW Magazine: Oct. 30 edition

International Stunt School student Vincent Johnsson practices a fire-burn exercise — ISS instructors kept reminding the students to look more dramatically agonized while on fire. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Exhibit A (for Ack!): Mary Kay Gannon and B.J. Larson bought a classic one-level midcentury modern home in Mount Vernon. It was designed by noted Northwest architect Henry Klein in 1954, and only one family had lived there since its completion.

Gannon and Larson adored Klein’s original design — sloping cedar ceilings, oodles of built-ins, beautiful flow — but, well, it was slightly more midcentury than modern (sunshine yellow Formica in the kitchen, screaming teal on bathroom counters, a teensy-weensy master bedroom).

We need to renovate, they thought. We need an architect.

Larson knew of only one: Julie Blazek, with whom he’d volunteered at the Children’s Museum of Skagit County.

We should research Henry Klein, too, they thought.

Huh, they soon discovered: There’s a firm right here that’s named for him: HKP Architects. As in Henry Klein Partnership.

Check the staff! Check the staff!

“I love the kitchen; it’s my favorite place,” homeowner Mary Kay Gannon says. “I wanted to do quartz. We went looking, but nothing seemed rich enough. I never would’ve thought shiny black granite, but that’s where we ended up.” Architect Julie Blazek covered the island post with stainless steel; added a second skylight and a sliding pocket door to the family room; and created separate, functional work areas for dinner parties. The only upper cabinets are over the cooktop and against the second sink. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Ack/yay/ohmygoodness: Julie Blazek, partner.

“Oh, there’s Julie,” Gannon recalls thinking. “This weird thing! The one architect we knew, and (her firm) had the original plans!”

“The coincidence was fantastic,” Blazek says.

She was hired, (perhaps super-) naturally. And then, with Blazek and HKP Architects project architect Russ Weiser on board, all that happy happenstance kicked into purposeful action: modernizing, adding on to and renovating this beautifully historic home, using Klein’s archived plans and sketches — all while honoring his vision, and his legacy.

“They wanted to keep the essence of the design always,” Blazek says. “The intent was to keep as close to the original as possible and keep the aesthetic.”

They kept a lot, and they also did a lot.

“It’s the simple things,” says homeowner Mary Kay Gannon: Previously, the fence around the front porch had been at eye level, but architect Julie Blazek added another layer of horizontal fencing for increased height and privacy. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Now new:

• two small additions (600 square feet on the west, with a relocated laundry room, a new guest bedroom, an enlarged master bathroom and walk-in closet, and 570 square feet on the east, for a new mudroom and garage);

• whole-house energy-efficiency, through new air sealing, insulation, glazing, lighting and mechanical fixtures;

• contemporary light fixtures and finishes; and

• light-tossing floor-to-ceiling windows.

Now improved:

The kitchen had been three areas — a playroom/breakfast nook, a built-in wall with bookshelves and a bulletin board, and the laundry — with accordion doors to the living and dining areas. “Back then, each room wasn’t open,” homeowner Mary Kay Gannon says. But now it’s a cohesive, soaring hub connected visually to the rest of the house, with a big island, tons of counterspace and storage, and all new appliances. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

• The original little U-shaped kitchen, which once had laundry facilities and a breakfast nook-turned-playroom attached, opened into a true, singular focal point, with a new skylight, reconfigured cabinetry and walls, and a new visual connection to the rest of the house.

• The carport is enclosed.

• Two sections of the existing roof were raised to add light, volume and function.

Now as then (“Many original materials were salvaged and reused,” Blazek says.):

• Original wood ceilings were retained almost everywhere (new ones in the addition maintain the same look and feel).

• Portions of the original cork and slate floors were restored.

• Cabinet panels from the original kitchen were resized and refinished for the new cabinets.

• Original wood found new life, or blended in with new friends.

“There was such beautiful wood — fir and mahogany and some hemlock,” says Gannon, who’s retired from Starbucks HR. “A lot of that was reused. That was something trying to match it up.”

And that sunshiny yellow kitchen Formica? Now put to use in the garage, says Larson, a pediatric dentist.

The master bedroom changed the most. “It was like a tunnel, like an old motel,” Larson says, but now, with an all-new ceiling, a reframed ridge beam, an alcove and built-ins, “You close the door, and it’s like a sanctuary,” Gannon says.

New skylights and lighting behind the living-room fireplace surround brighten a room that “was really dark before,” homeowner B.J. Larson says. They kept the shelving but took paneling off two walls. “There had been a lot of brown in here,” architect Julie Blazek says. “Switching surfaces adds light and contrast with the limestone surround.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Teenage son Noah’s room changed the least. “This was all Henry Klein,” Gannon says — the shelves are part of the geometric original, as are all the drawers in the closet, one of the built-in desks and a hidden drawer. “We did very little.”

Mary Kay Gannon and B.J. Larson’s Mount Vernon home was designed in 1954 by Henry Klein, a beloved local architect. Julie Blazek and a team from Klein’s firm, HKP Architects, renovated existing portions of the house and added 600 square feet on the west side for a relocated laundry room, guest bedroom and enlarged master bathroom and walk-in closet. They also enclosed an existing carport on the east side to create a new mudroom and garage.  (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

There, maybe. But everywhere else, thanks to one spooky coincidence and one cross-century shared purpose, they did a lot. “This was an incredibly unique opportunity to study, and work to enhance, one of Henry’s homes,” Blazek says. “The task was to modernize this architectural treasure without compromising. The original 1954 residence was brought into the 21st century.”