Mid-Life Move to Mid-Century Modern

With their two children fully launched into careers and living in different cities, our clients decided it was time to leave their 3800sf family home and downsize their daily lives.  They wholeheartedly embraced this move, especially when they found a modest mid-century rambler in a sleepy east Bellevue neighbourhood with huge territorial views overlooking Lake Sammamish. This much smaller home was in original condition and ripe for a full remodel, offering great opportunities to uncover the structural features that would highlight its mid-century bones.

First order was to remove many of the interior walls that partitioned the house into small dark rooms, and open the living spaces up to each other and to daylight and views. In doing so, we uncovered the big old FIR beams that support the broadly sloped roof, allowing the interior to read as a large open space under a sheltering roof plane as the dominant element – a classic mid-century motif.  We also added large swaths of windows and enhanced the decks.

Our client hails from a Norwegian heritage and was interested in introducing a “Scandinavian modern” feel to the interiors, which we all agreed would be a perfect approach given that region’s great historical contributions to the modern architectural movement! This led to a very light, minimalist palette of finishes and fixtures, and whimsical pops of colour. Cabinets are all clear maple; floors, tile and countertops are all light grey or winter white. Most fun of all was the chance to design a new concrete block fireplace, introducing a very textural and cozy, yet unabashedly modern focal point!

Our clients’ biggest challenge in this project was to make tough decisions downsizing their family belongings;  ironically, including old family Scandinavian furnishings and dinnerware. The tough work done, we’re told it feels pretty good!….kind of like shedding a lot of excess weight! Praise to those architectural masters of the Mid-Century – they really knew what they were doing!


Kirkland Mid Century Modern

One of our latest Mid Century Modern designs is under construction by our friends at Seattle Design Builders. This home resides in the Rose Hill neighborhood of Kirkland; a neighborhood continually blighted by huge “Hardi” houses. Our clients, who are avid modernists, wanted to bring the mid century history back to the landscape. We are excited to share photos of its construction progress!wp_20161026_002

Guiding the design at heart is a number of mid-century principals espoused by Mid-Century greats like Richard Neutra and Joseph Eichler.  Eichler’s influence is seen here in many ways: floor to ceiling glass, thin vertical wood siding both inside and out, post and beam structure that moves from inside to out, walls open above room height to a large expanse of sloped ceilings above; all adhering to his famous philosophy: “bring the outside in!”

Stay tuned for more exiting construction photos as this mid-century modern home takes shape!

CTA Finishes Mid-Century Modern Paul Kirk House

Mid-century home with modern updates

We recently finished an interior remodel of a Paul Hayden Kirk mid century design in Kirkland and are excited to share final pictures.

This home was built in 1957 with over 3,000 sq ft, including a fully finished daylight basement. The husband of this couple grew up in this house in a family of 3 boys, so it was quite a special project for us all, as we uncovered many wonderful memories and mementos buried in the walls!

Mid-century kitchen with modern updates

Our owners wanted to update and open up their closed-off kitchen and rework the main floor full of small bedrooms to include a mudroom, powder room, and master suite; the objective was to maintain the feel of the mid-century original, but remove partition walls and have it more open for views and entertaining.

Mid-century home with modern updates

Design strategies started with acknowledging the very clear linear form of the house with its dominant ridge beam and big roof. This led to a strongly directional floor plan; the new open kitchen aligns with the ridge beam affording views to the lake and to a new front garden. With more and larger windows throughout, the house is much more connected to the exterior… “bringing the outside in”… as was the major goal of all the great mid-century architects.

Mid-century kitchen with modern updates

The interior palette of materials is a limited assemblage of natural stone, fir cabinets and trim, and surprisingly, plastic laminate on the kitchen side of the cabinets! Our owners are true mid-century aficionados, as confirmed by their love of this mid-century classic material!

Mid-century kitchen with modern updates

Paul Kirk was a local, noteworthy architect whose designs have be awarded and praised throughout the northwest. Some of his notable buildings in Seattle include the University Unitarian Church, the Magnolia Branch of the Seattle Public Library, Meany Hall at the University of Washington, and the French Administration building at Washington State University, among the hundreds of mid century home designs his firm produced. This is our third Paul Kirk remodel project; it’s a real honour to work on these great designs. As we work on these unique projects, every house unveils new insights into the design philosophy of this inspired, revered architect!

Mid-century door knob with modern updates


CTA’s Second Story Additions

As the market keeps getting hotter, many Seattleites are investing in their homes, and one of the biggest investments one can make in their home is a second story addition.

Typically this encompasses (and has room enough for) a master suite and an extra bedroom or two. We also like to give the the top of the stair a little breathing room to allow for a light-filled stairwell and a small nook or play area, all to make the addition seem as expansive as possible.

The Little to Big House project’s Phase 1, below, allows for our clients to convert the space above the porch into a balcony off the master when they’re ready for Phase 2.Little House to Big House 6 | CTA Design Builds | Seattle Architects Little House to Big House | CTA Design Builds | Seattle Architects

This View Ridge home, below, was only a small summer cottage until the owners decided to take advantage of it’s amazing Lake Washington views.

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The Greenwood Addition home, below, was recently finished – and at almost double the square footage!


Beyond increasing the raw square footages, a second story addition is an especially prudent investment when you can “add” a view to your home. Many of our second story clients come to us saying, “We would have a perfect view of [downtown Seattle, Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound, etc.] if only our house were a few feet higher!” Maximizing these views and strategically creating private, natural spaces away from neighboring homes is where we set to work in the addition.

6-stair-open-to-skyMid-Century Sanctuary 2 | CTA Design BuildersShown above are “during” and after pictures of the new addition to the Mid Century Sanctuary

In the main floor, we also have to consider Little House to Big House 3 | CTA Design Builds | Seattle Architectsthe placement of a staircase to reach your new addition. It should flow seamlessly with the circulation of your downstairs, so sometimes this means reorienting a few walls. Building an addition certainly gives the exterior a new look, and so it can be a great opportunity to remodel your existing interiors, especially if you’re doing any additional construction outside of the stair.

As the addition itself can stretch a budget (think around $250-$300/sq.ft.), our clients have taken a wide stance on any additional work. In the Little to Big House (right), our clients did very little remodeling on the main floor – just a coat of paint and some trim adjustments to match the new – and in the Subtle Second Story Addition project (below), we just remodeled the kitchen on the main floor.

A Subtle Second Story | CTA Design Builders 10A Subtle Second Story | CTA Design Builders 1

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Comparatively, in the Mid Century Sanctuary (below), we extensively updated the main floor interiors from the kitchen to the powder rooms to match the master suite. In this project and the projects above, the second story was an addition on homes that already had a distinctive style that was worth preserving and integrating with the new, but that’s not always the case and we’ll see one below.

1-before-exteriorMid-Century Sanctuary 1 | CTA Design Builders

Mid-Century Sanctuary 10 | CTA Design Builders

In the most extensive type of second story addition, shown below in the Big View House, there is huge opportunity for an entirely new appearance. In this remodel, the entire house came down to its bones and was built anew into a contemporary, sustainable home. This type of remodel is usually on a home that doesn’t have many qualities the owner wants to preserve or can’t easily be replicated in the new, or more frequently, is a home that the owner purchased exclusively for an extensive remodel – see our blog on Speed Design Services. The outcome of this house was a contemporary 3 1/2 story livable, functional home with open, light-filled spaces that our clients love and were able to customize to their liking.


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Mid-Century Modern in Seattle: Tips on Transforming a Typical 60’s Rambler

As we have been remodeling so many Mid-Century Modern homes, we thought we’d highlight a few remodels that demonstrate our Mid-Century values. Owning a 60’s era homes usually means our client has an appreciation for the architectural features of the house; it becomes important to honor or even highlight these classic mid-century features when updating the house. 

This translates to several things when we think about design moves: exposing structural elements; creating open spaces that are light and airy; providing textural interest in materials; and connection with the landscape (inside-outside connections). Structure and materials are the two key disciplines of the period – and disciplined we must be when considering a true-to-the-period remodel.

An example of retaining values might be maintaining proper proportions and massing when redesigning a more contemporary roof, replacing a solid wall with an exposed column and beam, or emphasizing horizontal elements when designing new siding or interior trim. An important design value we stick to is subtlety. We think the architecture should speak for itself without a lot of extraneous embellishment. Click on the links for more information about each project.


This is a whole-house interior remodel where we replaced windows and siding to refresh its mid-century exterior. We removed the 60’s masonry veneer; it had caused rot behind, and was obviously a faux-rock veneer that simply wasn’t very appealing. Keeping the deep, upper horizontal siding, we created a stepped sill-band with even deeper, heavier horizontal siding below for a more contemporary, yet still mid-century look. The heavier element at the base of the house, stained dark, helps to “seat” the house into its wooded landscape better than before.

In this whole-house remodel, the white, bright nature of the original structure had the negative effect of making the house read like a big, bright shoebox plopped down in its lovely wooded setting. We stripped off all the siding and 60’s rock veneer and replaced it with a combination of dark-stained cedar siding at lower, and panel & batten at upper areas. The intention was to reinforce the horizontal-ness of the house, and also to nestle the structure into its natural landscape by using dark, earth-like colours. Even the new windows are dark-coloured, and feature mid-century horizontal divided lights.

img20160420_11531548Yarrow Creek Rambler | CTA Design Builders 1

In the rear corner of the same house, we actually subtracted floor area!  A plain window in the corner gave way to a covered deck that wraps around the house and projects into the landscape, creating a very strong indoor/outdoor connection. The heavy timber post and beams are exposed, reinforcing the clarity of the simple yet powerful structure.

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Subtractions of walls in key locations can strengthen the contemporary feelings of openness, while maintaining the architect’s intentions. In this house, we removed walls, or parts of them, to create better daylight throughout the house. In this photo, see how we deconstructed the wall adjacent to the stairwell, leaving a structural column showing above the top of the wall.  This move helps to dematerialize the interior walls, accenting structure, creating simple planes, and increasing the sense of open daylight throughout the interior.

And as a parting note: especially for those approaching-60 year old homes needing utility remodels, we prefer to retrofit sustainability rather than adding it. Using the home’s own resources before slapping on solar panels or a “green” HVAC system is always the best solution in the long run; i.e. bumping up the R-value of a roof or switching from single to double-glazed windows. The goal is to significantly reduce energy costs, rather than inserting a new system that will just leak heat and air out of a poorly insulated home. Considering both the internal workings as well as the design and aesthetics in a home will always give the best result!

Dare to Downsize: Edmonds Remodel

A common misconception about home remodels is that they are for expansion and grandeur;
in reality, the goal of many of our remodels is to create a better fitting home environment, and sometimes that even means downsizing!

Our clients had purchased this modest rambler in Edmonds Gladow-009a few years earlier and were renting it out until they were ready to simplify their lifestyle and move towards retirement. Once their children were launched, we embarked on a design effort to transform the house into a Japanese-style tea retreat. The result was a full remodel incorporating aging-in-place strategies such as having no steps (only one minimal step at the entry), wide doors for walkers if needed, easy access to the gardens, and a walk-in shower, etc. Although both spouses continue to work, the goal is to have this be the owners last abode; the toughest task was for them to pare down their lifelong accumulation of belongings as required by such a reduction in house size!


Although the house retains its original footprint (besides a window seat bump out in the kitchen) the living, kitchen, and dining rooms have been opened up for a spacious, flowing circulation to other areas of the house. Options for privacy are achieved via sliding doors and translucent screens.  Panels of fabric-encased acrylic or wood, along with fir trim running strategically through the home, impart a calm serenity. These architectural devices evoke the feel of a Japanese tea house retreat, yet the end result feels totally contemporary. All spaces look out to newly designed garden “rooms” that take advantage of the lovely wooded site. The four existing bedrooms were modified into a master suite + two bedrooms and a guest bath, anticipating visits from adult children. One of those bedrooms does double duty as a home office until full, final retirement.

The owners have quickly settled into their smaller surroundings, keeping count on the increasing number of birds visiting the new gardens, and are already locking the doors on this low-maintenance house to finally take long-planned travels. The benefits of downsizing are adding up!

Find the rest of the project photos here!


House Before



Bringing the Outside In: Making Windows Work in Residential Architecture

Home Architecture Tips: #1 in a Series of Design Tips from a Seattle Architect.

Outdoor Open dining room CTA Design Build

Fully embracing the idea of an “open corner”. Image: CTA Builds

One of the big advantages of living in the Puget Sound area is that just outside there is an awe-inspiring view of the surrounding environment. You don’t have to live on a bluff to have this experience either — just open up the walls of your home to let the outdoors in. Opening up walls, adding a light-filled addition, or even just building a new skylight can move mountains when you consider your morale and the value of your house. 

For those with a view of the Sound, Cascades or Lake Union, its a clear choice to add some glazing into your life. For others without that mega-view, however, it can be harder to realize the benefits. If you have a garden you love or there’s a special focal tree outside, you can open up to let this always-changing bit of nature into your home and if you frame your bit of nature just right, you have just added an “outside room” to your house. So we say to these homeowners, go for it!

Hilltop House

Hilltop Community – Image: Docomomo-WEWA

Take, for example, the Hilltop neighborhood in south Bellevue. Many of these mid-century modern homes have no “view”, except for the beautiful gardens and greenery that surround the area. To maximize the connection between indoor and out, floor-to-ceiling windows were installed and the houses are usually at grade or even sunken several inches below to really put the dwelling into the landscape. To read more about the Hilltop Community, visit Docomomo-WEWA.

Blue Ridge Dining Room | CTA Design Builders

Frosted glass is always a consideration, as it provides even lighting and privacy from neighbors and onlookers. Image: CTA Builds

Even a basement room can benefit from opening up. A large window-well can provide an expansive feel in what could otherwise be a claustrophobic room. With a few leafy greens outside the window, you can easily add a bright modern feature to an ordinarily dark area.

Or, in cases when you’re squeezed in between neighbors and that part of your home is too dark, put some windows in and screen off your neighbor with plantings such as fast growing, well-contained bamboo. You’ll now have filtered or dappled light coming in and pleasant greenery you can look out at.When adding windows, think about what you are framing, and how you will see it when you walk though your home. Have light coming from more than one direction for balance and to reduce glare.

Besides letting the outside in, windows and doors are an important part of the ‘vocabulary’ of your home: they define the look and style of your house. You can update an older home in function, appearance, and quality of light with new banks of windows. A newer home might have larger expanses of glass, where an older home may have windows divided up by mullions. So give consideration to what they look like alongside the other windows of your home, both from inside and out, in scale, and in pattern and organization in accordance with other homes of a similar period. Simply adding or placing windows without consideration of their effect of the facade of your home is, for lack of a better word, ill-advised.

The best way to see how windows look on your home is to draw a picture of your house with all the new and old windows on it. You can simplify this process by sketching over an enlarged photograph of the house. Draw as much detail as you can and then stand back to look at the whole wall!

So, go ahead — capture that view whether it’s far away or in your backyard. Bring some nature into your home along with that oft underused light, and you will feel better for it!

A private bedroom corner, situated in nature.         Image: CTA Builds

Big View House #5: Design-Build to the Finish!

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Continuing in both architect and contractor mode over these past few months, construction has been moving right along. An army of carpenters and subcontractors has plied their handiwork on the house, and we’re now finally wrapping things up. These photos were taken during the “punch list” walk-through – a thorough interior and exterior inspection with owners participating, generating a list of any and all items that need finishing or tweaking.

Except for landscaping to be installed, the exterior is complete. With the addition of plantings, the front porch and “outdoor living room” will be a welcoming addition to the home!  The stained cedar siding offers a preview of the warm undertones inside with the wood paneling throughout the house. All windows are framed in cedar for a pop of color to complement the blue paint.

Reber 004 compressedReber 018 compressedReber 027 compressedAs we noted in our previous blog, Fire Works Forge completed three sets of interior stairs and one for the exterior of our Big View House, all with custom rail and tread design. The central circulation column allows the house to be naturally lit and keeps it well ventilated, but it also becomes a focal point that the household revolves around, connecting public areas on every level.
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Our subcontractors have been busy: all cabinets have gone in, hardwood flooring, countertops and tile have been installed, grouted and sealed, and finishing touches on all of the hardware are being completed. In the kitchen, the long breakfast bar is offset by a glass tile backsplash just above the sink, and the same tile continues all the way up the appliance wall. Similar tiles and stone selections are to be found in the bathrooms. Our owner has been very enthusiastic in selecting materials, finishes and paint colors throughout this process; she’s had a ton of fun with this, and we’re all impressed with how her selections provide continuity and a sense of elegant order throughout the home. It’s been a very rewarding collaborative experience for all!

View from the Family room to Kitchen

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Bringing back one of our renderings from the schematic design phase, it is always fun to compare the design to the actual outcome and it’s great to see such similarity. As architects leading the design-build process, there are endless opportunities during construction to inform how a detail is executed, ensuring that the finished product is exactly what we’re all expecting.

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Above is a site sketch working out a stair tread detail, next to the actual result. No weld marks on this handrail either!

The owners have recently moved in and are just beginning to reorganize their belongings so we’re looking forward to seeing a lot more furnishings, photos, coats and shoes, and everything that makes a house a home in the next few weeks. We’re always lucky to have such great clients to work with, enabling such a beautiful end result.  Watch for “finished” photos of this home in the months ahead, and for our next project to come to the CTA blog!

Big View House #1: Scope and Potential
Big View House #2: Schematics and Modeling
Big View House #3: Permitting
Big View House #4: Construction
Big View House #5: Finishing Touches

Big View House #4: A Design-Build approach to Construction

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We left off of the Big View House and its sweeping panoramas of Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier just after the permit phase. With several months under our belt, the construction is well underway and everything from stairs to solar panels is going into place!

After finding the underground water issue in the garage excavation, sump pumps werereber boom 070914 installed so that foundations could be poured and framing could begin. The green pump caps are visible at the back of the garage foundation, shown at right.

Framing was the next exciting step of the process as our clients were finally able to experience first-hand their new living space, particularly their master bedroom which they are standing in below. As you can see, we are using composite joists which are generally stronger than dimensional lumber, can span greater distances without needing supporting walls or columns, and allow for higher ceilings because the deep channels can accommodate openings for utilities without losing any strength.
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Our beautiful fir columns are structural and so while they had to be installed with the framing, they also had to be lovingly protected from any construction damage over the months ahead. Once sheetrock is up, the protecting trim pieces will come down and reveal our great column and girder details. More photos to come on this!

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Once the building is framed, we’re able to work on painting at Rebersthe building envelope, plumbing runs, electrical wiring, and insulation. This interior work is very intense, involving regular meetings with subcontractors and owners to ensure that all elements that will be eventually buried inside walls are exactly as the owners desire. This applies especially to electrical wiring: light locations and switches.

The siding for this project is a mix between Hardie board and horizontal cedar cladding, using the different materials to highlight different building elements and programs within the design. After the exterior has been sufficiently waterproofed, we can move into the interior to sheetrock, mud, sand, and paint the walls, and then start installing our very special custom stair (all four stories of it!) by our friends at Fire Works Forge. It’s been great fun working with Fritz and Joe and their fantastic team of craftsmen!

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Copy of Reber stair rails 5.7.15 004One of the client’s favorite parts of the project is the green aspect. With such a large south-facing roof area on the garage, the owners were very excited to be installing a solar collector; you can see one of them with the meter and meter technician below. The two interior wall-mounts are converting sun energy, and the exterior meter is showing the amount of electricity the building is pumping back into the electrical grid, having already satisfied all of its own needs, even on a grey Seattle winter day!

Stay tuned for our last update on the Big View House and final photos!

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Blogs in the Big View House Series:

Big View House #1: Scope and Potential
Big View House #2: Schematics and Modeling
Big View House #3: Permitting
Big View House #4: Construction
Big View House #5: Finishing Touches

Big View House #3: Navigating Permits and Breaking Ground!

With our permits approved, we have started to dig at the Big View House site!

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View from the south side of the site with excavators digging out the backyard for the garage.

We’ve started construction on the Big View House, but there was an intensive design process entailed in getting to this point.  Here’s a brief overview of the sequencing of efforts required to put this residential remodel project together.

Once we have a good sense of the design, structural requirements, and have pinned down the plan layout for this new project (see earlier Big View House blogs), we put together a basic set of sheets (some refer to these drawings as the “blueprints”) to submit to the city for a building permit. Typically, this involves a 16-week review time from the initial application to final comments and permit approval. In recent years, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been requiring more and more documentation for a building permit, including procedures for site water management, construction waste and recycling, and even payments for curb cuts — a much more cumbersome process even from five years ago. For the Big View house remodel, what would have only entailed 6-7 sheets to submit a few years ago, now required 35 sheets! From the city’s perspective, structure, safety and site management are the predominant factors in passing go; navigating the process efficiently requires good working knowledge of the Seattle building code….hiring a Seattle architect is highly recommended!

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Sarah, happy at work with the Big View house construction set!

While the application is in the review process, we then dive into the miscellaneous construction details and interior design.  This work on the project continues to move along so that by the time the permit is approved, we are ready to break ground. These few weeks are also spent hammering out the finishes, materials, and fixtures (plumbing, electrical etc) as we assemble all this data into a specification document.

Once we have all these decisions finalized and documented, we embark on the costing effort.  As a Seattle design-build company, we have years of experience estimating the time and materials required in building projects of varying size and scope. We have relationships with our longtime vendors, and subcontractors that we depend on to provide reliable pricing and excellent services. Once this costing effort is complete and complied into our final bid, we review it line-by-line with our client.  Often this process includes a bit of “value-engineering”….adjusting scope and costs to meet their budget goals. Once this budget is finalized, we pin down the construction timeline which in this case, for a large remodel, is approximately ten months.

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The interior demolition work is well underway!

The next step after receiving the permit is demo! Of the original Big View house, only the basement walls and some elements of the main floor will remain intact. The owners had never moved in, so we could be very aggressive with construction work. The excitement really began, however, when we started to excavate at the lower part of the site slope for the garage and our trench completely filled with water! We had to scramble a remediation team together with a geotech to install both temporary 24-hour water pumps for the project and a permanent one for the home. It was nothing we could have expected and just another day on the job for our construction team – there’s always excitement happening somewhere! Currently, the project is moving into the finishing stages of the remodel and we’ll have updates on the interiors coming soon – see our newest update here!

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The owner’s son is ready to get to work, giving the thumbs up to the excavator!

Big View House #1: Scope and Potential
Big View House #2: Schematics and Modeling
Big View House #3: Permitting
Big View House #4: Construction
Big View House #5: Finishing Touches