AIA Seattle Home of Distinction: Traditional, Yet Modern

Bold colors and shapes define this Leschi remodel

By Sean Meyers

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October 4, 2021

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Although they had recently bought a beautiful home overlooking Lake Washington, Tom and Jen Hobbs soon fixated on a sleeping beauty resting just down the hill. They had to wake it, and were prepared for the moment.

“We’ve been married 20 years. We agreed early on that we would focus our money and energy in two areas: homes and travel,” Tom recalls.

With the Leschi residence remodel , they killed both birds with one stone, breathing new life into a home that travels through time. The 1980 three-story house was originally done in the economical West Coast vernacular of that era, and had undergone a disjointed series of remodels.

The structure vaguely but favorably reminded the Hobbses of the aquatic center at California’s Sea Ranch, conceived in the 1960s. The intentional community featured wood-beam homes, natural exteriors and the sassy “supergraphics” of Barbara Solomon – think a 6-foot-tall “EXIT” sign stenciled next to an exterior door.

The interior of the Hobbs’ home was ripe for a rebuild, and seemed like a suitable palate to express their fondness of the lively, Italian-inspired Memphis design art movement, which crested in the 1980s. Both the Sea Ranch and Memphis styles emphasize modern designs rooted in tradition.

With influences from pop art and art deco, traditional Memphis style combines primary colors and geometric patterns, random arrangements and plastic laminates. The words “kitsch” and “garish” are sometimes bandied about in textbook descriptions. One critic called Memphis “a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price.”

“We wanted to do a modern take on it, while keeping in mind the original intent of the building,” says Tom, a product designer. “We didn’t want it ending up looking like a children’s playground.”

Since the Hobbses had no known examples in residential construction to go by, they would have been left pretty much on their own, but found a kindred spirit in Wilkens Design Studio, whose proprietor, Nicolaas Wilkens, is also an admirer of the Sea Ranch and Memphis movements.

Other interests range from ground-up construction to furniture design. Wilkens won a Red Dot Design Award for a power strip concept and will consider it a career well-met if he remains undefined.

“We work very hard not to get pigeonholed,” Wilkens says. “Our niche is helping people solve problems. We put a lot of faith in the conversations we have with our clients, and what their goals are.”

There is little danger of typecasting with the Leschi project. Under the tender mercies of Wilkens designer Sergio Garcia-Piña, the Memphis movement is reimagined in shades of mauve, coral and lemon-lime that arrest the eye of the beholder. A Jasper Morrison sofa, Rais woodstove and Eames chairs complete the effect of unworried elegance.

“It’s easy to be playful with colors, but we wanted to maintain a certain level of sophistication,” Wilkens says.

This is the fourth major remodel for the Hobbses. They once bought a new home just to take a breather. They didn’t have a plan for their first project and made “every mistake that you could possibly make,” Tom admits.

Thorough planning tempered with flexibility made the Leschi rebuild a “smooth, enjoyable process,” Tom adds. “Our strategy was to give Wilkens clear goals and let them do the work.”

In the spirit of Sea Ranch, this remodel includes multiple-use recreational outbuildings. The garage was converted into a high-octane workout center.

“I was thinking it would be easy to just put down some rubber flooring,” Wilkens says.

Not for this power couple. Jen is CrossFit certified and owns a West Seattle fitness studio, where she teaches capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art featuring dance, acrobatics and music. Tom is a power lifter, and required a reinforced platform. Gymnastic rings and circus ropes are among the many features.

A “horrible” 250-square-foot hot tub plat-form was transformed into an art studio/office with a ceiling peaking at 12 feet and movable screens to jigger the floor plan as needed. Its exterior playfully mirrors the main residence.

Jen comes from a musical family from Detroit, so the couple punched up the hallway to the children’s room with a tribute to the bold cover of Van Halen’s “Diver Down” album, issued in 1982. A custom insert provides album storage.

A complete mechanical systems overhaul eliminated the “stack effect” of heat rising uncomfortably to the upper level, where alterations now allow a partial view of Lake Washington.

The tall home is compact, so it was important to improve connections with the use of translucent materials and by creating new openings between rooms and floors.

Wilkens used economical materials such as polycarbonate and natural wood, and applied colors in paint, tile and wallpaper to create a house with distinct features that interplay with each other.

The Hobbses save time by taking a tag-team approach to supervising contractors.

“We have very, very similar tastes,” Tom says about him and Jen. “There’s not much we disagree on. We trust one another to make decisions.”

This family home was selected by a panel of architects for the AIA Seattle Home of Distinction program due to its creatively changing the experience and views of this home toward a comprehensive design, all within the existing footprint.

Dreaming about a home design project and not sure where to start? AIA architects can help. aiaseattle.org/askanarchitect

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