A Mercer Island classic is updated yet true to its roots
A stunning classic gets up-to-the-minute yet stays true to its roots.
Architect Fred Bassetti studied under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer at Harvard. After graduation he worked for a time for Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Bassetti's projects include several notable private residences and public buildings. Among them are the dorms and other buildings at Western Washington University, the dorms at Central Washington University in Ellensburg and three buildings at the University of Washington. In the late 1960s, Bassetti founded Action: Better City, which called attention to Pioneer Square, Gas Works Park and other overlooked Seattle assets. He was president of Allied Arts of Seattle and served on the Seattle Landmarks Commission, as well as the Seattle Design Commission. Bassetti is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and includes an AIA Seattle Medal among his many honors.
"DO THESE look familiar?" asks Daren Doss, the younger architect handing a floor plan to his elder, Fred Bassetti.
The distinguished architect nods his head. They do, indeed.
"Theo (Caldwell, the builder) and I made a deal," says Bassetti, 92, vividly recalling the time when he was trying to establish himself as a Seattle designer of contemporary homes. "He was going to pay me $25 for the plans for every house he built. I thought he was going to build thousands, but he built probably three or four.
"That was back when I was wet behind the ears."
Bassetti has been invited this day to see what had become of his $25 house plans. Tucked into the trees on the west side of Mercer Island, this house was built in 1962. And while the Bassetti design remains rock solid, the place had fallen into disrepair. Timbers askew. Flat roof shot.
"When we first walked up to this house, it had a spirit," says homeowner Horace. "And whenever there was a decision to be made, we heard that spirit."
Today that spirit is reborn. A team effort from the homeowners, Chadbourne + Doss Architects, landscape architect Bruce Hinckley, contractor David Rohrer and Constantly Building, structural engineer Gary MacKenzie and Swensen Say Fagét.
The goal? Honoring the home's origins and reaching eagerly into the future.
"We kept it very honest," says Horace more than once, a homeowner with a passion for perfection. "I was very much about keeping things intensely architectural."
Dark, dark gray and sleek outside, white, white, white and sleek inside. White Milestone backsplashes, white lacquered cabinetry, white Caesarstone cooking island, satin aluminum appliances, blackened metalwork. The master bath (yes, in white) ethereally bright beneath a long stretch of skylight, 8 feet. At the entrance, 11-foot-tall glass pivot door meets 10-foot-by-6-foot free-standing glass wall.
"Glass is so now," Bassetti says, impressed. "But we couldn't afford it in those days."
"That was not part of the discussion when it came to budget," says Horace, an advocate of do-it-once-and-do-it-right, to his guest.
Lisa Chadbourne and Doss grounded the house to the site with a roof plane that "waterfalls" to the earth. The carport roof was separated from the house roof plane, and the entry was redesigned with a cantilevered concrete landing in a sunken courtyard. Hinckley placed boulders just outside glass walls; natural and strong, ancient and modern.
The inside was opened to create family gathering spaces, including a large galley kitchen, and to reveal the horizontal flow intended in those $25 blueprints. A new metal skin with an interior cedar liner wraps the roof. An aluminum-bar grating screen encloses the lower patio and lines the upstairs deck, filtering interior views and forming a diaphanous wall. Materials are natural, but installed with crisp precision: stained cedar, blackened steel, glass, tinted concrete, stained oak flooring.
"It's amazing how up-to-date it is," Bassetti says, running his hand across the cool, smooth Caesarstone in the kitchen.
"We kept each other very honest," says Chadbourne. "We wanted to keep it to the original intent."
"You did, you did," Bassetti says. "I feel at home here."
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.
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