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Originally published Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 7:01 PM

Northwest Living

Architect Helen Hald's humble Kirk home still awes

The Seattle-area architect lives in an entire neighborhood of Midcentury ramblers designed by revered Northwest architect Paul Hayden Kirk.

"LOOK AT these posts!" says Helen Hald, stroking the supports of her living room's glass wall. "They're milled 3-by-4s, not conventional lumber. You sense that there's something about them that's a l-i-t-t-l-e bit different.

"Those subtle, subtle differences; it's amazing how they change a place."

You will have to excuse Hald. She gets very excited about her house.

That's because Hald is an architect who lives in an entire neighborhood of Midcentury ramblers designed by revered Northwest architect Paul Hayden Kirk. Outside those glass walls she sees a parklike yard designed by the guy who used to live down the street: William Teufel, considered, in his day, to be one of the most accomplished landscape and golf-course architects in the nation. He designed the grounds for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, now Seattle Center.

It was 19 years ago when Helen and Ed became the second owners of their home in what was called Little Finn Hill, South Juanita now. But Hald still can't get over their luck.

"This house is very simple, but it's very unconventional. The header is framed up into the roof so the glass can go up to the ceiling," she says, marveling. "The ceilings are 8 feet, but because the glass is flush to the ceiling it is flooded with light all the time!"

See?

At first glance, the Halds' neighborhood appears modest. That is the beauty of it. Each of the 16 houses here began their lives as Kirks. Humble, simple, private, flexible, featured in the Sept. 15, 1958, issue of Life magazine as More Livable U.S. Homes: "The houses have almost a quality of being sculptured in wood — the small community is redolent with the flavor of pleasant living. Wives gather weekly in each other's homes for coffee and neighborly chitchat, and once a month there is a whopping big Saturday night party for everyone. This is a community that parallels, sociologically, the talent that has gone into its architecture."

Life was almost as enthusiastic then as Hald, who has taken a preservationist's approach to her home, is 54 years later.

"Victor Steinbrueck lived next door from 1956 to '58," Hald says. "It was kind of architects' row."

The homes here were drawn to be 1,190 square feet, sharing one L-shaped design. Roofs are either sloped or flat (the cheaper option). Lots are large, 15,600 square feet on one side of the street, 12,000 on the other. Some of the original carports, including the Halds', have been made into rooms. In their case, an office.

The Halds found their gem after searching for a year and switching real-estate agents. She tossed out Hald's criteria for location (near Interstate 90) and price ($150,000). And for $160,000 Helen and Ed Hald had their piece of Northwest architectural history.

"I got there in the dark in the rain," Hald says. "The place was completely cleaned out. And I knew. I was back over here the next morning.

"These houses have no ego. They're these quiet, understated containers, yet there is this sense of discovery in that L-shape."

Most of the home is as it was: tongue-and-groove fir walls, oak floors, cabinets of sen and oak-ply veneer, wood-slat accordion closet doors. Some of the glass walls (across the entire back of the house) were reduced before the Halds bought the home, but they remain in the living room. The bathroom has been updated with care.

"This place has taught me so much about architecture: It doesn't have to be grand. It doesn't have to be expensive," Hald says. "It's the size of a double-wide, but it's magical. The proportions and the lines are just so pleasing.

"I still get that flutter in my heart."

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

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