Perched on a Seattle hillside, an unassuming midcentury home sits quietly in the company of new builds. From the street, its presence is minimal. This is by design: The residence’s original architect, the renowned Roland Terry, waited to reveal its magic once inside. Built around an interior courtyard with a focus toward the water, the jewel-box house opens up like an island retreat, muting the city life only miles away. “Visiting the house for the first time was a revelation,” says designer Andy Beers. “Despite its modest footprint, it has an incredible elegance and awe-inspiring approach to framing the water view. The space planning was brilliant.”
Beers teamed with architect John DeForest and project architect Meredith Kelly on a mission: to modernize the 1960s home while preserving its storied history. A leader in Northwest modern architecture, Terry created a surprising feeling of spaciousness in the 2,300-square-foot structure by connecting it to the light, garden and views. Throughout, organic materials—rough-hewn wood ceilings, birch cabinets, slate floors—blurred the lines between inside and out. However, finishes had aged and key rooms required reworking, including an isolated kitchen and cramped bathrooms. With great respect for Terry’s work, the homeowners envisioned a brighter, more open space without losing its integrity. “The goal was to work ‘with the grain’ of the house,” says DeForest, “preserving much of the floor plan and structure while straightening out the kinks.”
First things first: Bring the house to its studs. “It was like an archaeological dig,” says David Burr Girvan, who served as the general contractor along with his brother and business partner, Ryan O’Keefe Girvan. The gut allowed the team to convert three separate spaces—the dining, kitchen and sitting areas—into one, opening the kitchen spatially and to the view. Removing both the laundry room and non-structural walls from the bedroom wing allowed for larger master and guest baths. New skylights flooded the home with ample light; the existing lakeside decks were refurbished to help extend the interior living space outside. And the interior courtyard, formerly dominated by a large swim spa installed by a previous owner, received a makeover.
When certain original elements had to go—the rough-hewn ceilings and slate floors—the team took great care to replace them as Terry would. Bleached fir ceilings now recall the same spirit; weathered limestone floors coordinate effortlessly with existing brick. New furniture-grade oak cabinets replicate the warmth of the original birch. Beers ruthlessly edited every single material, prioritizing texture and studied contrasts to amplify simple, timeless choices. “Instead of going clever, we sourced honest, hard-wearing surfaces with luxurious, hand-made qualities that support how our clients live,” says the designer. “We then employed light finishes to work in concert with the windows and skylights and make the house feel new.”
An overall palette of clean grays, warm whites, soft tans and blush pinks replicate that notion while working hard in the space. With its waterfront exposure, the home experiences a constant flux of changing light throughout the day, shifting the mood. A balance of neutrals stabilizes the myriad light patterns while keeping the focus on original elements still intact, such as a rough-hewn fir surrounding the windows and a stunning, bleached brick fireplace visible from all public rooms. “Simple, soft neutrals allowed the best parts of the house to come forward,” says Beers. “We worked hard to maintain those aspects wherever possible.”
Beers felt strongly that the house needed midcentury elements due to their precise scale, but he didn’t want the period house to feel staged. He mastered this delicate balance through fine-tuned juxtapositions across decades: A quirky, contemporary Pelican chair offsets vintage Dux armchairs in the living room; a curvy Swedish armchair lightens the master bedroom’s heavy yet exceptional antique drop-front secretary. Low profiles sit naturally within spaces, creating an effortless symbiosis between architecture and design. “Visualizing the interior palette early in the design process was key,” says DeForest. “It gave us all the confidence to remain true to the simple beauty and flow of spaces in Terry’s original design while giving it new life.”
Altogether, each element of the renovation and design harmonize like a dance, coexisting with organic fluidity. It’s impossible to tell where old meets new—each structural seam and material transition was considered “like the dashboard in a Mercedes,” says Girvan. Even modern-day technology is carefully hidden—the TV and Internet hubs in cabinets, the light system in the garage with just discreet controls inside. Every detail enhances the home while serving the clients, simultaneously blessing both history and homeowner. “This whole process was about realizing the clients’ vision while doing right by the house,” says Beers. “I hope Mr. Terry would be pleased with the choices we made.”