Thomas Isarankura and Jennifer Meisner's house in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood is a Midcentury modern designed by Hawley Dudley. The couple seek to keep the character of the original but modernize for a young family.

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THE MEN are doing their very best Don Draper, looking so smart in shiny suits, skinny ties, playing with their cigarettes. The women land somewhere between Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway, depending on hip swing, heel height and hair-spray tonnage. Rhinestones catch the light, martinis lighten the mood. Pearls always the right choice. The shrimp cocktail looks divine there on the coffee table near the onion dip. Is that Frank on the stereo?


It’s Saturday night at Thomas Isarankura and Jennifer Meisner’s house. A groovy Midcentury modern designed by Hawley Dudley in the Magnolia neighborhood. The characters adding the seductive and slightly dangerous period charm are parents and neighbors and the auction winners of a “Mad Men” evening to support nearby Catharine Blaine K-8 School.

The house is the perfect setting (it has shag carpeting!). And the event is always a hit. The hosts work hard to make the evening memorable (beef wellington!), but it’s the house that’s the star.

“A lot of Midcentury moderns have a Japanese influence,” Isarankura says, waving toward the shoji screens between entrance hall and living room. “And the rigor with which Dudley took that idea and expanded on it. Those guys were constantly trying to develop ways to design modular. In this house everything is on a 6-foot module. The footprint of the main residence is 24 by 48. The beams are on a 6-foot grid, the office is 12 by 12. The garage is 24 by 24. The bedrooms are 12 by 12 by 12 by 12.

“I like that.”

It’s clear that not just any house would do for this couple who know great design when they see it. Both hold degrees in architecture from the University of Washington. She is executive director of Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and teaches preservation planning at the UW; he designs houses from the home office as Baan Design.

“I appreciate older buildings, but I’ve always wanted a Midcentury,” Meisner says.

They found theirs in 2002, hunting around Magnolia where they already lived and wanted to remain. Their 850-square-foot cottage would no longer do as one kid and a dog became two kids and a dog. And then three. They called friend and real-estate agent Darleen Noonan to help. She lived in a pretty cool Midcentury herself.

“We saw so many houses, but we told her, ‘You know, Darlene, we’re never going to be happy with any house but yours. You should sell us your house,’ ” Meisner says. “And you know what? She did!”

Dudley designed the home for Noonan’s family, and it was built in 1964; 4,125 square feet over three floors descending down a hillside, the bottom floor a rental unit. A few pieces of furniture are original to the home, a few came from the 1960s Portland ranch Meisner grew up in. The rest is a Midcentury name-dropper’s paradise: Eames, Knoll, Noguchi.

Isarankura and Meisner seek only to preserve their home’s character, modernizing as needed and as budget permits.

The kitchen needed it.

“We didn’t want to lose the feel,” Isarankura says. “But that’s the beauty of Midcentury — it laces in so well with more modern design.”

Now there are Caesarstone counters (cut around an original built-in countertop blender/mixer) and dark-stained rift-cut oak. A fat kitchen island serves all who enter.

“Jennifer and I have this discussion about who designed the island,” Isarankura says.

“I designed the island,” Meisner says.

“The kids do their homework here, projects get done here,” Isarankura says. “And we made sure there was room for six, because my mom comes for dinner once a week.”

“We just don’t want to clutter up the house,” Meisner says.

“We just don’t want to lose the character.”

Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.