Creating a Craftsman Home in a Modern Age – Part 1

It’s fascinating to us as architects to see how interest in Craftsman style homes ebbs and flows over time. After a decade of great enthusiasm for pseudo Craftsman designs in large homes in the suburbs, and then watching that trend dissipate, we are now seeing a resurgence of a more studied appreciation of the Craftsman style in Seattle and elsewhere.

Suburban Craftsman tract home circa 1990’s

The real thing in an ad circa 1910

We have some thoughts on why this may be happening, and tips on getting it right if Craftsman appeals to you! But first some historical context…

Craftsman style had its roots in the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain in the late 1800’s. This was a time of great mechanization, later called the age of the Industrial Revolution, when people moved in droves to cities and the promise of burgeoning factory jobs. Many struggled to find meaning in this new world and felt alienated, separated from their cultural traditions, crafts and countryside. The Arts and Crafts movement was born out of this discontent; it was a resurrection of the long-held values of hand-craftsmanship in reaction to the dehumanizing effect of factory life and industrial labour.

Major influencers of this time included the likes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and William Morris – both designers of a broad range of decorative arts and architecture. Morris’s philosophy was to unite all arts within the decoration of the home – emphasizing nature and simplicity of form.  Here in the USA, the Arts and Crafts movement also resonated; Gustav Stickley was an influential proponent of the craftsman ideal; he was the founder of Craftsman Workshops and The Craftsman journal – a beacon for the American Arts & Crafts movement.

He gained great notoriety through his furniture manufacturing company, offering designs governed by honest construction, simple lines, and good quality materials.

The Greene brothers (Charles & Henry Greene) in California have come to be known as the most influential architects of the American Arts and Crafts movement. Their renowned (and heart-breakingly beautiful) Gamble House in Pasadena is considered the quintessential Craftsman house; its design showcases all the elements of a classic Craftsman home, which I will elaborate on in the next installment of this blog series.

Gamble House by Greene & Greene

But back to my theory of why appreciation of Craftsman style architecture keeps cycling back through our consciousness!…

As I’ve described very briefly above, because of its early roots in opposition to mechanization and alienation from nature, Craftsman architecture is inherently a style emphasizing nature and craftsmanship. No matter the size of the house, or wealth of its owner, the home was designed to create a cozy hand-made retreat; a sanctuary that would provide connection with nature and sustenance to the soul.  In a world that can seem alienating at times, no wonder this uniquely humane architectural style keeps nudging us!

Watch for Part 2 when we’ll dive into specific design elements that make Craftsman homes so unique, both past and contemporary.

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


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.

camera 3.10 050


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!

Mid-Century Magic! – Part 4

In this last installment of the 4-part miniseries, Julie Campbell, AIA, one of the principal Architects here at CTA, offers additional insights and suggestions for embracing and enhancing the Mid-Century Modern Architectural Style.
The topic of today’s post is:  BATH REMODELS and STORAGE SOLUTIONS – it’s personal.

We’ve talked about Mid-Century history, design elements worth cherishing, exteriors, interiors, and the most used room in the house, the kitchen. This issue, we will tackle the more intimate areas of the remodeled home: Bathrooms and… storage space.

The original bathrooms in houses of the ‘50s and ‘60s are really tiny by today’s standards… And dark! So here are a few tips that can make your bathroom feel more spacious, light-filled and luxurious. The main trick is to keep the space simple. And again, limit your palette of materials and colors.

Bathroom Tip: Keep Bath Cabinets simple and lightweight.

Contemporary “mid-century-modern” cabinets should be flat, without any paneling or fussy details. Trick: Install the vanity 10 – 12” up off the floor so that it has the appearance of floating above the floor; the space will seem much larger. Go even further in by extending the countertop beyond the vanity, that long stretch of counter will really make the room seem expansive. If space is tight, use small-scale plumbing fixtures. Semi-encastre sinks are great space-savers; they require only a 12 or 15” deep vanity cabinet. To increase light in the bathroom, consider putting a large window in the exterior wall of the tub or shower; install a vinyl window unit with frosted glass to ensure against rot and provide visual privacy. The result is a lovely calm, diffuse quality of light in a very personal space!

CTA Design Builders P4 Kit 1

CTA Design Builders P4 Kit 2









The photo at left shows a floating vanity, semi-encastre sink and a countertop that continues behind the end of the tub. Note the limited palette. Photo at right also shows a semi-encastre sink, and limited palette, but using more wood throughout.

Storage tip: Built-in Cabinets strategically placed are a wise investment.

Storage is the ongoing battle to be waged in making these homes more functional for today’s world; somehow we all accumulate a lot of stuff! From sentimental tchotchke to that backpack stuffed to the gills with daily necessities, there’s always a call to organize stuff better.  Our strategy is to design built-in cabinetry wherever there’s an opportunity, especially at key mess areas like entry zones and kitchen junk corners. Custom designed cabinetry that maximizes storage space in a range of types (i.e. drawers, shelves, cubbies, hooks, etc…) goes a long way in helping you keep the daily drop & clutter organized and in its proper place. Added benefit: Custom cabinetry also enhances the overall continuity and architectural harmony; after all, Mid-Century Modern is DEFINED by clean geometric forms, so we just can’t go muddling it up with clutter, even if it is our FAVORITE clutter.

So as a wrap up to our four-part series, keep in mind CTA’s Five Magic Points as you consider your Mid-Century remodel project:


1.  Think “SIMPLIFY!”
2. Remove superfluous ornament, especially anything from other styles and eras.
3. Express the structure.
4. Open up rooms with space and light… create larger social areas and connect to the outside.
5. Limit your palette of materials and colors to enhance continuity and spaciousness throughout.

And, of course, if you would like help with your Mid-Century Modern project, we’d be delighted to meet you at your house for a consultation!

Seattle Architects perform Mid-Century Magic! (PART 2 of the mini-series)

Part 2 of the series featuring: Julie Campbell, one of the Architects at CTA Design Builders Inc., specializing in Mid-Century design and architectural history. She has given lectures on this topic around the region. This series of four articles will discuss strategies for remodeling your Mid-Century home in ways that respect the original architectural intention, capture the contemporary appreciation for Mid-Century design and integrate those classic elements with today’s modern lifestyle. With a little contemporizing and a healthy respect for Mid-Century style, you can give your home another 50 great years!  

Remodeling Strategies for Mid-Century INTERIORS
Previously, we discussed how Mid-Century homes are enjoying a great surge of renewed appreciation these days; many home-owners are remodeling in a very contemporary manner, but keeping the mid-century “bones” intact for their inherent architectural appeal. This is the second article of four that will discuss strategies for remodeling a Mid-Century home. So what is it about these houses that made them so popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and now again today?! Well, back then for the first time in housing design, the floor plan was “opened up.” Interiors were suddenly more spacious and allowed for a completely different way of inhabiting a home. No longer did separate enclosed rooms divide the house up into small spaces; living, dining and kitchen areas were more connected, which encouraged a more communal family lifestyle. That was a HUGE shift that had repercussions in many other aspects of our culture, like cooking becoming entertainment! Other features that emerged – and stayed… Large windows allowing for more light in and great views out;

  • Simple palette of materials + lack of ornamentation = less maintenance and  more personalization
  • Less expensive building details meant the cost per-square-foot of a home was cheaper, so you could do more with less.

The same benefits are being rediscovered today, but with a 21st century twist! In our last 10 years of remodeling mid-century homes, the design challenges we receive from our clients are similar in nature: kitchens are still too small, not enough bathrooms, the front entry is narrow and tight, and never, ever enough storage. A typical strategy would begin with removing a wall or two to open a kitchen up to the living and dining area and make it even more of a “great room.” Enlarging the kitchen and incorporating an island or bar counter often is all that is necessary. For the most part, Mid-Century houses are well built, so removing a wall or two is often very easily accomplished. Check out this eye-opening transformation with just the removal of a wall:

Before and After

Dwellized Dining Kitchen | CTA Design Builds

We constantly look for opportunities to add more windows or openings to the outside in an effort to increase connection between indoors and outdoors. And getting more light into the house is always a good thing!

Before and After

Blue Ridge Living Room | CTA Design Builders

In our remodels we strive to simplify the architecture and express the structure wherever possible. We suggest keeping the selection of materials & finishes to a minimum, as this will enhance the feeling of continuity throughout the house. In a house where there is lots of open, contiguous space, this goes for color palettes as well.

Stay tuned for the next episode of Mid-Century Magic: Remodeling Strategies for The Kitchen!

Blue Ridge Dining Room Remodel | CTA Design Builders 2

Seattle Architects perform Mid-Century Magic! – Part 1

Julie Campbell, one of the Architects at CTA Design Builders Inc., specializes in Mid-Century design and architectural history and has given lectures on this topic around the region. This series of four articles will discuss strategies for remodeling your Mid-Century home in ways that respect the original architectural intention, capture the contemporary appreciation for Mid-Century design and integrate those classic elements with today’s modern lifestyle. With a little contemporizing and a healthy respect for Mid-Century style, you can give your home another 50 great years!


Some historical background is helpful to understand the radical change in architectural thinking that led to the Mid-Century style. Post-war design advances catapulted our world out of traditional architectural styles and into modernism. Contemporary residential architecture began playing by a whole new set of rules: buildings were functional, rational and devoid of ornament; designs incorporated clarity of structure, clean geometric forms, large expanses of glass, and very little ornamentation. Floor plans were simple and more open than the traditional home; decks became large and windows became even larger! Here in the Pacific Northwest, local architects embraced that bold new approach. Our vast stands of timber became their structural material of choice. Big views led to big decks, expanses of glass and big cantilevers. Constant rain (or relentless sun) led to deep overhanging eaves. Many of these innovative architects designed homes in the Somerset neighborhood of Bellevue that still grace its hillside today: Gene Zima, Lionel Pries, and Paul Kirk to name a few. Most mid-century homes in our region, however, were built in great quantities during the post-war housing boom by contractors who followed the design and building trends. You can see the similarities with the architect-designed homes once you start looking for the same simple design features – take a look.

Custom residence designed by Gene Zema, circa 1955

Custom residence designed by Gene Zema, circa 1955

Builder's Spec house in Somerset, circa 1961

Builder’s Spec house in Somerset, circa 1961

Unfortunately, Mid-Century Architecture hasn’t always been well-loved.

Sometime around the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, homeowners became conflicted between the memory of traditional design and the new modernism of their homes. Many residences underwent “updates” in ways that today in fact, make the home appear even more tired and outdated than if nothing had been altered in the first place.

How Mid-Century Architecture is setting current trends

Fortunately for these well-built gems, the architectural style of the ‘50s and ‘60s is enjoying a great surge of renewed appreciation.  “Mid-Century” is definitely a hot trend in both architecture and interiors these days!  Bellevue’s Somerset neighborhood is a very unique mid-century enclave, perfect for this study in Mid-Century Design. Developed in the 1950s, most all of the Somerset homes showcase some of the most well-preserved typical “Mid-Century Modern” residences in the Greater Seattle area. But many that succumbed to the “updates” of 40 years ago are crying for design relief, or should we call it contemporary restoration?  

Contemplating Contemporizing your Mid-Century Modern?

The first word of advice: SIMPLIFY!

Many homes were retrofitted with “traditional” elements such as shutters, divided light windows, stained glass doors, and craftsman light fixtures, in an attempt to make these homes look cozier or friendlier. These elements were totally out of character with their original style, however, causing the overall effect 40 years later to be even more disjointed and dated-looking. These things have to go.

Next step:  Analyze the Exterior.

Check your house for those typically Mid-Century features: clarity of structure, clean geometric forms, large expanses of glass, big decks, big cantilevers, deeply overhanging eaves. Usually these elements are worth preserving as-is and can be enhanced to good effect with a new paint scheme. Sometimes the only additional element needed to contemporize a mid-century exterior is to add a more obvious entry feature emphasizing the front door area. Finally, Mid-Century floor plans are usually simple and structurally sound enough to remove a few walls and create a more open spatial quality that resonates with today’s lifestyle.

More on this will follow in the next installment of Mid-Century Magic: Remodeling Strategies for Mid-Century Interiors!

1963 Spec house before remodel.

1963 Spec house before remodel.

The same house recently remodeled including a new entry canopy

The same house recently remodeled including a new entry canopy


CTA Design Builders AIA Home of the Month featured in Seattle Magazine

CTA Design Builders AIA Home of the Month featured in Seattle Magazine, March 2014

“Small home” architecturally remodeled projects can reap big rewards – and awards!

1-mid-century-exteriorJulie Campbell’s design work on the 1,400sf Magnolia home featured in Seattle Magazine this month, truly exemplifies the importance of Architecture in Remodeling. So much so, in fact, that AIA Seattle architects voted Julie’s serene and spa-like mid-century modern remodel/addition project “Home of the Month” for March. The structure and setting provided the cues; what was left to be done was to artfully apply the creative addition and design techniques that Julie is known for.

To expand the modest 1,100sf home as requested, an airy and tranquil second level master suite was added. Although the addition was a mere 300sf, Julie applied her attitude of “fill the space with light and let the outdoors in” to create a special flow from the existing structure into the new. 2-mid-century-living

Adding a diffusion of light and selecting a soothing color palette brightened the illuminative qualities of the existing space. The palette, grounded in cool taupe layered with the softest blues and greens, provided a light freshness to this 60 year old home. Installing earth-born natural elements connecting the interior to this home’s lovely garden sanctuary completed the substantive transformation of this award-winning project!

To read this article and get a glimpse of just how to release new-found potential in your mid-century classic home, go to:
Or pick up a copy of the Seattle Magazine, March 2014
More photos of this project can also be found on our CTA Design Builders website:

Inspiration, Empowerment & Architecture

Our team at Architects Without Borders have taken on a project to design a school in a particularly impoverished area outside of Port Au Prince, Haiti. We have just finished the first phase of our work which is to provide our client, a private non-profit foundation, a brochure that talks about the project and presents ideas on how to achieve certain goals. Our client will be using this brochure in fundraising activities and in getting the local community excited about the possibilities that lay before them. Our first task has been to figure out what is needed and then we work on how to go about doing this.

But the school is more than a school as we know it – it is of course a place of learning, but it is also a truly sustainable refuge, soundly built with local labor and materials; that teaches health and hygiene; a landscape that cools, that teaches; and a series of buildings that optimize the equatorial sun for energy and captures the abundant rain for washing, for drinking, and recycles wastes; a place that by its design creates community with gathering spaces to foster exchange; and a thoughtful architecture, that truly INSPIRES…

We consider all of this “Empowerment through Design”.

Below is the full project brief.

Empowerment Through Design by CTA Design Builders


Creating a Northwest Style of Modernism: thoughts on a Paul Hayden Kirk house.


We had the delightful privilege last weekend to visit a unique in-city Paul Kirk-designed home.  It was organized by the non-profit DOCOMOMO, who do great work in conservation and documentation of historic modern buildings.

The tour was a home in North Capitol Hill: the Henderson Residence. The original home on the property was a 1916 Tudor-style carriage house that the Henderson’s lived in for 20 years, until they commissioned Kirk to build a second, new structure on the site. Kirk’s design was a “Northwest interpretation of the original Tudor Revival structure”; it has a gable roof, centrally organized massing, and a post and beam structure.  But there the resemblance ends.

The house is a modest (about 2300 sf) but lovely modernist design with a decidedly Japanese influence, making for a distinct Northwest style of modernism. This is what interested me the most, as I’m always pursuing a deeper understanding of what makes for a uniquely Northwest style in contemporary architecture!

The exterior of the house is very simply organized – almost agricultural in form – employing natural wood siding and shingles, which give it a definite northwest feel while defining the simple forms so elegantly. Windows are arranged and detailed in a pattern resembling Japanese shoji panels – hinting at the interior to be found inside.

Inside, the house is astoundingly rich in its visual complexity. The detailing is simple: expression of wood timber connections is basic. But Kirk laid out his structure in a panelized system that springs from Japanese folk architecture, and allows for a large, open  interior space to divide itself into varying sized rooms. He even hangs a long series of shoji screen from one of the dominant structural beams, enabling great flexibity in closing or opening spaces one from another. The massive central fireplace floats in the middle of the great space, but allows vistas through and around it, again reducing a large space into more comfortably-sized areas of use.

This Japanese influence is, I think, what is so unique about Northwest Modernism. (You don’t see it anywhere else; probably because of our relative proximity to Japanese culture.)  Modernist architecture can be severe and unyielding to human needs, and doesn’t include natural materials in its palette. For this reason, I think many people steer away from modernist architecture; it’s labeled “cold” or “austere” for these reasons. The Henderson Residence, on the other hand, with its palette of heavy timbers, wood trim panel systems, and exposed structure opening up to create clerestory light wells, creates a dwelling that is rich and warm and light-filled and inviting, yet spacious and clearly organized, and very modern!  Northwest Modernism at its best!