Architect Anna Mihkels Remakes a Mid-Century Modern House

A Madison park house gets an apt update
By: Shannon O'Leary | Posted August 24, 2012
Architect Anna Mihkels' fresh reinterpretation of this 1960s mid-century modern house included reinstating its window wall entrance and adding a modern-day porch and landscaping that were absent when the house was purchased in 2009

Never underestimate the value of a good friend, especially, when he’s your realtor. 

Just ask Scott Erickson and Rodger Benson. On the hunt to move up from a Leschi townhouse to a full-size residence, they were continually being pitched one listing—a mid-century modern dwelling in Madison Park. “Our real estate agent, who’s a good friend of ours, kept trying to get us to see the house. And I said,  ‘I’ve seen it online. It’s ugly. I’m not going.’ ”

Thankfully, the realtor friend prevailed, and once the couple saw the house, they were sold.

Built in 1960, the house suffered from some 1980s-era remodeling trends, including entry windows that were covered up with siding, wood paneling that blanketed already too-dark interiors and oppressively lowered ceilings. However, its original, iconic low-slung form and long, angled roofline had survived. “It was very dark [inside], and it felt very boxy…but I knew that there was something there,” explains Erickson. “The problem was that we didn’t know how to fix it, and that’s where Anna came in.”

The fixes that Anna Mihkels, of Seattle’s Group3 Architects, employed were simple yet sublime. While embracing her clients’ commitment to maintaining the structure’s essential 1960s modern heritage (even using its original blueprints as inspiration), her remodeling focus was on eradicating the house’s split-level, dark-basement feel to create a dwelling that was newly open, light and efficient. She dropped in bookended window walls on the front and back, knocked down an interior wall that was blocking the entry from the dining room and uncovered the original vaulted ceilings. She also added an open steel staircase leading up to a floating “nest,” formerly a closed-off bedroom, and to the main suites. The nest perches above a petite dining room that’s appealingly positioned between a latticed wood accent wall and the window wall on the house’s back side. At every point in the main space, Mihkels’ design ensured that the natural world would be on view. The result, she says, “is that now you feel like you’re in this huge volume and that it’s breathing.”

The native Swede’s less-is-more ethic not only gelled perfectly with her clients’ anti-clutter attitude, but was exquisitely executed. “We spent a lot of time thinking about what should be in the home,” explains Mihkels, “but we also spent a lot of time thinking about what should not be seen.” So electrical outlets are mostly invisible (for example, in the bathrooms, they are tucked beneath mirrors), as are the floor vents, which are made of wood in order to blend in with the walnut hardwoods.

“Anna’s not just an editor, she’s a task-master, a penny-pincher and an accountant,” says Benson with a smile. “When we talked about what our budget was going to be, she was serious about that.” So every splurge required an edit somewhere else, he says. (The hardwood flooring, which weaves through the residence like a river of gold, was spendy, but a day-one must-have.) Some savings had a green motive. For example, many materials from the old house were recycled, some reborn as shelving and countertops in the new house (earning the remodel a four-star Built Green certification). But the kitchen is a prime example of Mihkels’ quid pro quo approach: They splurged on an expensive array of appliances, so savings came in the form of basic Ikea components. Not exactly a hardship, says Erickson, “We wanted plain, clean cabinet fronts, so why would we have those custom built?” (The Miele refrigerator, “which makes me happy every single time I see it,” he says, cost about the same as all of the cabinet boxes.) Since Mihkels designed the kitchen with the Ikea goods in mind, including inserting space for undermount cabinet lighting, the space looks anything but scrimped upon, and instead has a decidedly high-end, modern aspect.

In the end, the architect delivered on her clients’ design challenge and brought this mid-century modern dwelling stunningly up to date. 


Home of the Month Architect: Anna Mihkels, AIA, LEED AP, Group3 Architects, Capitol Hill, 123 Boylston Ave. E, Suite C; 206.428.1973;; Landscape architect: Karen Kiest Landscape Architects, Queen Anne; 206.323.6032; Landscape install: Rob Stetson, Artistic Eco Design, Snohomish; 253.310.2205; Structural engineer: Ivan Tsang, Malsam Tsang Engineering, Pioneer Square; 206.789.6038; Realtor: Jonathan Himschoot, Windermere Madison Park; 206.324.0000; Electrical: John Roberts, Maple Valley Electric; 425.413.5212; Metal fabrication (fireplace mantle/hearth, stairs): Caleb Carlson, Dyna Metal, Ballard; 206.297.6369; Concrete: Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel, Ballard; 206.784.1234; Concrete install: Tom Smith, A-1 NWP Concrete; 206.440.5790. Windows, skylight, exterior doors:  Leslie Chessler, Goldfinch Brothers, Everett; 206.275.2272; Windows/doors: Cabinetry: AKURUM system with NEXUS brown/black wood, RUBRIK white/aluminum glass fronts (kitchen); Ikea, 601 SW 41st St., Renton; 425.656.2980; Custom cabinetry (including floating bath cabs): Steve Bettinger, Bettinger Wood Products, Renton; 425.226.0587; Custom stairs, accent wall: Keith Cash, Abacus Fine Carpentry, Interbay; 206.730.2771; Hardwoods: American walnut, Jeff Blessner, Accent Flooring, 13101 SE 151st St., Renton; 206.914.1558. Carpets: Tom Fossum, Fossum Interiors, 13400 NE 20th St.,Bellevue; 425.643.7887. Kitchen countertops: Appliances: Lindsey Miguelena, Albert Lee, Bellevue, 1038 116th Ave. NE; 425.451.1110; Tile: Park Avenue “Argento natural” floor tile, Pental Granite & Marble, SoDo, 713 S Fidalgo St.; 206.768.3200;; Metro Bella-Vita wall tile, United Tile, 301 E Valley Rd, Renton; 425.251.5290;; Stepstone cast exterior concrete pavers “Granada White”; Plumbing hardware: Blanco Precision kitchen sink, Grohe Minta dual spray kitchen faucet, Duravit “Starck” toilet, Toto Acquia II elongated dual-flush toilets,  Lacava “TANK” vessel sink, Kohler “Verticyl” undermount full bath sinks, Whitehaus “Luxe” wall-mount bath chrome faucets, Kohler “Purist” chrome showerhead, handles, body sprays, Best Plumbing, Wallingford, 4129 Stone Way N; 206.932.7900; Lights: Juno haze cone recessed lamp, George Nelson cigar pendant lamp (entry), George Nelson Saucer Criss Cross Lamp (dining); Philippe Starck for Floss KTribe S1 pendant (powder room); Gammalux GB35B G-Beam Series bi-direction luminaire (kitchen), LumenArt linear recessed wall illuminer (master bath); Furnishings: Living room: Bensen Canyon sofa sectional and bolster pillows, Inform Seattle, South Lake Union, 300 Dexter Ave. N; 206.622.1608; Arden ivory/gray low shag rug, Room and Board; Walnut Minimalista coffee table; Saarinen red boucle Womb Chair and Ottoman, marble side table; Jonathan Adler Hippo pottery; Office: Eames Lounge Chair; Dining room: Saarinen 54-inch round marble table; Eames molded plastic dining chair;  Paint: Benjamin Moore Eco Spec “Blackberry” No. 2128-10 flat (exterior);  Benjamin Moore Eco Spec “Rumba Orange” No. 2014-20 flat (entry soffit); Sikkens Cetol “Butternut” No. 072 wood stain; Benjamin Moore Eco Spec “Raccoon Fur” No. 2126-20 flat (fireplace);  Benjamin Moore Eco Spec “Smoldering Red” No. 2007-10 flat (office nest); Benjamin Moore Eco Spec “Midsummer Night” No. 2134-20 satin (interior doors and trim); Benjamin Moore Eco Spec “Moonlight White” No. OC-125 flat, satin and eggshell (interior). Artworks: Most works were rented and later purchased at the Seattle Art Museum Gallery, Downtown, 1220 Third Ave.; 206.343.1101; Jody Bento was the expert curator/guide; Dan Hawkins’ Arnold House #1 (family room), McLouth Steel #3, USPS Book Repository #1, Fisher Body 21 #3 (master bedroom); Kim Sciarrone’s California Ave #1, California Ave #2 (staircase); and Warren Dykeman’s Ramsgate (office), SAM Gallery. Pulp (Joni Harbeck and Neil Krug), Bonnie Series 1 and Bonnie Series 2 (dining room), direct from artists. Jonah Samson, Swamp Car” (guest room), direct from artist. Assorted 1960s-era oil and pencil portraits;