29.5.2024

Alden Mason House

The Alden Mason House, crafted for the renowned Seattle artist Alden Mason in 1958 by architect Charles A. Marsh Jr. and builder Tom Paulsen, stands as a true Northwest Mid-Century Modern retreat, nestled in the woods like a treehouse.

Quietly positioned next to a gentle creek in the woods near Lake Washington, it’s almost surreal that this oasis is within the city limits of Seattle. A direct reflection of the artist’s profound admiration for nature, the house is embraced by the serene ambiance of its surroundings. Inside, one is welcomed by the interplay of light filtering through trees, the soothing melody of creek water, the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze, and the dance of light and shadow through skylights throughout the day.

Acquired by the current owner after Alden Mason’s passing in 2013, the couple instantly fell in love with this Mid-Century masterpiece. Yet, like many homes of its era, it faced challenges—cold winters and a compact kitchen and bathrooms. The house was desperately in need of a modern touch to meet the needs of today’s family.

As architects, our usual joy lies in creating something entirely new or transforming old structures into contemporary homes. However, this project was a departure from the norm. The home’s unique beauty deserved to be well preserved. The owners wanted to maintain its original character, leading us to approach the project similar to a historical restoration. We honored and celebrated the house’s essence, listening to its history and envisioning its future needs.

HOUSE TRANSFORMATION

A charming pathway alongside the creek leads to the house, serving as a perfect transition from the outside world to the warmth of home. Upon opening the entrance door, the eye-catching open-tread stairs extend a welcoming gesture. The original foyer lacked storage, a challenge for this family of four. To address this, we seamlessly integrated shoe cabinets and a coat closet into the original walls. Using materials similar to the original, we ensured the new additions complemented rather than overwhelmed the original design.

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Adjacent to the entrance foyer, an office on the west side and a music room on the east side now occupy spaces once dedicated to the artist’s painting studios. While the art form has evolved, these rooms remain creative studios—a contemporary nod to the artist’s legacy. During the removal of laminate flooring in these studios, the discovery of paint stains on the concrete floor allowed us to connect with the house’s history, envisioning Alden Mason immersed in his artistic endeavors—a reflective moment.

Ascending the stairway takes us to the main level, where a skylight above provides ample natural light. The presence of a wall sculpture by Alden Mason is an immediate and artistic greeting. Through the windows, a view of abundant trees and the gentle sound of water form a captivating backdrop for this beautiful art piece.

The living room takes center stage, harmonizing a close connection with the outdoors, the presence of the artist’s sculpture, a steel fireplace, and modern furniture into a beautiful and timeless space.

The kitchen underwent a complete transformation, aiming for timelessness, elegance, and functionality. Mindful of the various wood species already present throughout the house, we opted for a combination of walnut and white laminate for the new cabinet. This choice seamlessly ties the kitchen to the rest of the house while maintaining a bright and elegant atmosphere. A new skylight over kitchen contributes to this atmosphere, and a tube-type kitchen exhaust hood cleverly ties the kitchen and the fireplace in the living space together.

All three bathrooms received thoughtful updates. The primary bath saw expansion, with a new shower positioned under the existing skylight, once reserved for a primary closet. Dark tiles were selected for a serene and dramatic ambiance, complemented by the glow of brushed bronze shower fixtures and faucets. The addition of a dark wood screen wall enhances the sense of privacy in this intimate space. New cabinets have been added throughout the house, respecting the original character for both style and choice of materials.

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COMFORT

Ensuring the comfort of this 65-year-old Mid-Century house has been our paramount objective throughout this project. Operating within the given budget, our primary focus was on enhancing warmth during winter. We introduced hydraulic radiant floor heating on the main level and installed wall radiant heaters on the lower level. The addition of these new radiant heating, HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation), and roof insulation, has significantly improved the house’s thermal performance. Now, it remains comfortably warm during winter months.

ARCHITECTURAL APPRECIATION

As architects, we take pride in being a part of the team entrusted with remodeling this beautiful and historically significant residence originally built for our beloved artist. The synergy among the owner, builder, and architect was evident throughout the project—we all shared a deep love and respect for the house.

Our admiration extends to houses that age gracefully. Some homes retain their beauty over the years, while others become even more enchanting, gaining depth in space, richness in materials, and the distinctive aromas of wood. The interplay of light and shadow further enhances their allure. We firmly believe that this house is one of those timeless gems that only grow more captivating with the passage of time.

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