THERE ARE FAMILY HOMES … and then there is Mark and Gayle’s beautifully remodeled home in Tacoma’s Proctor District — which could have turned out much, much differently, if not for the way several unrelated family connections came into play:
— Right up until the couple bought it, this was Gloria’s house — designed and built in 1958 by one of her husband’s brothers, who was an architect, Mark says. It’s a classic midcentury-modern Northwest contemporary, which makes it a striking standout among its turn-of-the-century neighbors. “We’d been watching homes,” Gayle says. “The minute we walked in, we said we should buy it. It’s probably one of the only houses with a garage you can drive in. We really got lucky with that.” And maybe with the listing agent: She is Gloria’s daughter.
— When they were ready to remodel, Mark and Gayle reached out to Tacoma architect James Steel (who now lives and works in Idaho) after seeing this NW Living story on the home he designed for his own parents. (We’re counting this as a double family connection, given the happy NW Living inspiration.) “I love his parents’ house,” says Gayle. “Initially, we put everything on the table with the design. At the end of the day, we decided to maintain the original home. We wanted a clean contemporary with a nod to midcentury. We’re very casual. He wanted to make sure this turned out.” Says Mark: “He immediately knew what we wanted.”
— Turns out, Steel has his own family/familiarity connections with this neighborhood and its one-of-a-kind marine and territorial views, and this one-of-a-kind home. “My sister lives just a few blocks away and ‘monitored’ construction while walking her dogs,” Steel says. “Before [Mark and Gayle] had purchased the house, I saw the home listed for sale, and I was so nervous about whether the new owners would know what to do with a house like this. It’s a unique home for the neighborhood, and they gave it the thoughtful renovation that it deserved.”
In the end, this unique home was treated like family by all families involved. Sometimes, family is a lot of work.
“The house had amazing bones but had not been significantly updated since its construction, and many elements were in disrepair,” Steel says. “Like most houses of that era, the home was seriously deficient in insulation and air sealing. It required a ‘down-to-the-studs’ remodel, where all plumbing, heating and electrical could be updated. All the finishes were updated, as well. The remodel also tackled resolving some of the odd architectural shortcomings, including relocating a strangely placed exposed post and removing kitchen/dining walls of cabinets that served to divide an otherwise airy and open great room.”
Yes. Let’s start there. Just inside the entry, through a lovely and large pivot door, exploratory options abound: To the right, several small stairs lead to the upper-level bedrooms, powder room and office; just a step or two beyond, a full staircase descends along a slatted wood wall to the light-filled lower-level, which feels nothing at all like a 1958 “basement.” What really pulls you first, though, is the suspense of what’s on the other side of the entry’s sturdy limestone divider.
Here’s a hint: shining, streamlined wood, on the ceiling, on the floor, around the abundant windows; priceless views of Tacoma, Commencement Bay and its islands; and just so much light. It is truly a great room — but it wasn’t always.
“Unfortunately, the wood decking that formed the ceiling was of poor quality and in rough condition,” says Steel. “The original chase above the fireplace masonry was minimal and off-center with the fireplace opening. An existing wood post supporting the ridge beam created a pinch-point when entering the great room.”
The wood ceiling was resurfaced. The beams were refinished. The fireplace in the dining area was covered. New oak flooring was installed. That chase was expanded, “grounding and centering the fireplace in the room,” Steel says. That pesky pinching post was replaced with a steel one to open the transition from the entry.
In another connection between family and home, Mark hand-sanded those beams — and then some. While the couple’s day job is co-owning Tacoma’s Waffle Stop with their family, they also shared general-contracting duties on this highly personal remodeling project with Kevin Holm of Holm Enterprise.
“Gayle and I have done lots of houses before, but nothing this extensive, and not to live in” Mark says. “We did all the demo. We just like doing that kind of stuff — to have a little sweat in it. Plus, we started and couldn’t stop.”
Even after all the work was done, to stunning success, the family connections continued.
“James’ sister was the first one to come in,” Gayle says. “She lives right down the street. All the neighbors have been very appreciative.”
Adds Mark: “Everyone knew Gloria. We’re living in Gloria’s house. The neighbors said she’d be happy. It’s just a slightly different version of before.”