IT WAS THE view that drew John and Elizabeth Morse to the house. But it was a Fluke that they bought it.
“We came and looked at this only because we saw a picture of it in the Puget Sound Business Journal. It was the view,” says Elizabeth. “The house, though, was so dated. We went home and went, ‘Oh well.’ ”
A month later John asked Elizabeth if she still had thoughts about the house they’d seen in the estate-sale ad. She said, “I do.”
They went back.
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Yes, there was Pepto Bismol-pink tile in one of the bathrooms. Walls were dirty, rooms dark and closed off. There was an odd and not-working indoor-outdoor water fountain cut into the living-room floor.
But there was something else about this stone rambler on a North Seattle bluff. It was old, but it was also from the future.
“John Fluke built this home for his family in 1958,” says architect Helen Hald, to whom the couple turned for a respectful update of the house they could not resist. “He was this electrical genius guy, right? There’s nothing conventional about the construction of this house. It’s either concrete or concrete block everywhere. The electrical was all low voltage with little button switches. The glazing is commercial storefront. All the toilets were wall-hung. He put radiant heat in the floor in 1958!”
And more. Fluke’s life was one of exploration and experimentation. He was the owner of patents, friend of David Packard of Hewlett-Packard, namesake of Fluke Hall at the University of Washington and, not the least, founder of the Fluke Corp. in Everett.
His home life was no exception. Fluke designed and built much of it himself. A lover of the railroad (it is said that Fluke would pile the kids in the car and chase trains), he laid track for a line on his three-acre property. In the basement there was a giant switch, which could be thrown to take the house off the power grid. There was also an indoor pool. With the polio epidemic in full swing, Fluke would not allow his three children to swim elsewhere.
Hald was the second architect to work on this project. The first couldn’t figure out how to dig in. The conundrums were many. (How do you rewire a concrete house?)
“We were like archaeologists and investigators. We were just trying to get in Fluke’s head,” Hald says. She is seated in the newly white and open living/dining room, her gaze stuck to the Olympic Mountains.
The main floor, and the sweeping stairs to the lower level, are white terrazzo. Irreplaceable. Before workmen could begin, floors were infrared mapped to prevent drills from piercing the radiant-heat system.
But Hald is something of a mad architectural scientist herself, seeing a problem only as the precursor to the solution. New outlets are hidden from view, soffits serve in many ways, pocket doors fit where they should not. She put the kitchen in the old family room, just off the front door. Installed a new gas fireplace, a new island and prep kitchen. Windows have been replaced, Marlin commercial grade. Cabinets are rift-cut white oak with Daly’s Driftwood stain: “I wanted it to be like the beach.”
Both the architect and the homeowner say they couldn’t have done it without all who worked on the place, particularly Joe Berndsen and Joe McKinstry of Joseph McKinstry Construction Co., and Scott MacDougall of Loewen Electric.
Now, when Elizabeth, an outdoors type, stares out her glass walls she sees eagles and herons, deer and ducks, and a whole lot of old friends.
“I’ve climbed all of those peaks,” she says. “I love that.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.