With meticulous attention to detail and history, architect and architectural historian Marvin Anderson updates and restores a Webster Point home originally designed by Lionel H. Pries.
“DRAMA” HAS GOTTEN such a bad rap lately.
But sometimes, when something is so positively stirring; so emotionally affecting; so brilliantly performed, preserved and perfected … it is truly dramatic. In the best way.
Here, then: the three-act tale of a dramatically uncommon home, its celebrated lineage and its choir-of-angels-heavenly (and respectful) renewal.
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An incredibly angular, midcentury-modern masterpiece on Webster Point, at the tippy-tip Lake Washington edge of Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood. (The stunning-then-and-stunning-now home was featured in this magazine in 1972.)
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
The original architect: The legendary Lionel H. Pries (1897-1968), also an artist and a hugely influential faculty member in the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington.
The original owners: Max and Helen Gurvich, prominent philanthropists, arts supporters and parents of three daughters, who lived in the home for nearly 45 years. After Pries’ death, the Gurviches donated the home’s original plans and drawings to the UW.
The Pries expert: UW Prof. Jeffrey Ochsner, who lives in a house designed by Pries, collects his art and wrote a book on him (“Lionel H. Pries, Architect, Artist, Educator: From Arts and Crafts to Modern Architecture”).
The modern-day architects: Architect and architectural historian Marvin Anderson, with project architect Bridget Hembree-Ross. Ochsner recommended Anderson to …
The current owners: Brent and Katherine, who live among revered history (and two revelatory iterations of brilliant design) with their two kids, one dog and one cat.
The modern-day builder:Darren Patt Construction.
ACT I: 1965
Brent: “The house was built in 1965 for Helen and Max Gurvich. It was the last home Pries designed. … Max bought the Webster Point lot for $45,000 and was looking for an architect — he interviewed with Taliesin, then started asking around locally — Lionel lived just up the street.”
Anderson: “While the home is undeniably Modern in its arrangement and detailing, Pries softened the aesthetic through materiality. A distinctive tile mosaic he designed around the entrance welcomes visitors. Interior walls clad in vertical-grain cedar, tongue-and-groove ceilings with exposed beams, and built-in furniture boasting warm wood tones create a particularly Pacific Northwest palette. One of the most striking design features were Kalwall panels used along the stairway and in the upper second-floor windows.”
Brent: “The house was empty for six years and on the market for two years. We bought it in 2016. … We hired Marvin; his expertise is in historical renovations. … We’d lived in Laurelhurst before and really wanted to get on the water. When we first saw the house, it was out of our price range, but we recognized the amazing layout and style. We approached it as a preservation project. One of the first people I called was Jeffrey. … I went to the UW and looked at drawings.”
Anderson: “It’s very rare to see those early tracing-paper drawings, to study the genesis. It was an insight to Pries’ thinking. This house couldn’t go anywhere else. The view — everything is extraordinarily thought out. There are seven angles in the house. It makes no sense on paper, but when you walk through, you can see it. It’s an absolute response to the site. I have huge respect for Pries. And this house is lucky to have Brent and Katherine. They respect it. How do we make it better? How can we make the house work for you but still respect the architecture? This was a marvelous house. I had restored the Gordon Walker house on Queen Anne. It’s the same approach: You listen to the house and learn from it.”
ACT II: 2016-THE PRESENT
Anderson: “We spent more than a year restoring it. It had been maintained, but it was like a time capsule. … We preserved and modernized. … We updated the kitchen, master suite and overall energy-efficiency, yet touched the house only lightly, creating new spaces and enhancing spatial flow while respecting the original design intent, materials and details.”
Patt: “As with any remodel project we take on, our primary goal is to blend the new with the old in a seamless way. This was especially challenging in this case, where we had to match existing stained-wood finishes that have been aging for 50+ years. Some of the materials did not stand the test of time — for example, the gridded fiberglass windows in the stairwell and high windows. We attempted to replace them with the original product [Kalwall] (still manufactured today). However, the supplier of this product has made aesthetic changes that we did not feel matched the original intent of Pries. We ended up replacing these areas with shoji screens, which match the original look. The original master bedroom/bath area was somewhat dysfunctional, and the redesign of this space was quite challenging but ultimately beautiful.”
ACT III: THE STANDING OVATION
Anderson: “This was a fascinating renovation through which we gained a deep appreciation for Lionel Pries’ masterful design skills. It was also challenging — how to update the house while honoring Pries’ design intent and material choices, and how to work with the seven different wall angles (not including the orthogonal ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’)! But it was fun, and I think the results speak for themselves.”
Brent: “Our neighbor introduced us to [Max and Helen’s daughter] Tina … She said, ‘Can I come see the house?’ We took her through during the remodel and when it was done, and she was genuinely touched with the way we restored the house.”