Midcentury modern style reimagined architecture, interiors, furniture and product design in the 20th century, and though its heyday was over in roughly 1970, the unmistakable, well-loved aesthetic endures. However, when a Seattle couple assembled a design team to build a new abode in this vernacular, they asked for something utilizing more specific and nuanced elements than the familiar, clean-lined hallmarks of the period.
“This client has a great sense of style,” designer James Fung says of the wife. “She had a very clear picture of a midcentury modern home, but not your typical version. There was more of a Regency bent to her vision.” The wife also wanted extensive custom cabinetry throughout the main living areas, something she’d seen and admired in work by Fung and his co-principal, designer Whitney Maehara. The team was excited about the client’s ideas. “We were eager to show a different side of what midcentury style can look like,” Fung notes.
The couple was also specific with architect Andrew Russin in conveying their desire for a dwelling with an open floor plan, but not a single, large great room. Instead, they preferred distinct spaces that could be used together when entertaining. As with the interiors, they wanted the architecture to be midcentury inspired. “They have an affinity for horizontal lines—long and casual,” Russin says. He gave the structure a lengthy, nearly flat roof common to the style and underlined that geometry with a band of masonry.
Not only did the clients have a specific aesthetic and function they wanted for their residence, but they were also particularly hands-on in making it a reality. While the husband, a real estate investor, sweated the details of house systems and cabinetry with general contractor Darren Patt and his team, the wife, who works in finance but has a keen interest in design, brought furniture, color and fabric ideas to the table. “I spent a lot of time at the Seattle Design Center studying fabrics and educating myself,” she says.
Those hours poring over textiles led her to bring Fung and Maehara samples for the main living space that, at first glance, look like opposites: a pale blue floral and a wool plaid. However, there was a conversation between the two that the designers knew could work. Drawing on the fabrics’ shared palette and timeless sensibilities, Fung and Maehara brought forward the russet color from the plaid in a velvet sofa and the pale blue in the banquette upholstery. “Often we design and then we present to the client,” Fung says. “But for this home, we were working through all of the spaces and decisions with the owner in a collaborative way that was really playful.”
This mind meld continued as the designers wove vintage furnishings from the owners’ collection into the new interiors. “Before the project started, we visited her home and saw the midcentury pieces and the artwork she gravitated toward,” Maehara notes. “She was clearly open to pattern and color.” Treasured items, such as a piano, sculptural floor lamp and dining room table, found their way into the abode and are cast in a different light with new pairings. “One of my favorite things about this house is the mix,” Fung explains. “The dining room is a good example, where you have this layering of an antique rug and vintage table, but all of the chairs, which have a soft, kind of bentwood feel, are new.”
The Regency side of midcentury modern is explored in the primary bedroom where, in a classic move from the period, the same exuberantly patterned fabric is employed in the headboard, wallpaper, drapery and shades. “Our client saw this fabric and the wallpaper, and she asked us, ‘Which one do you like better?’ ” Fung recalls. “We said, ‘Let’s use it all!’ With the bold pattern everywhere, it almost reads as a neutral.”
Walking through the finished house, “it feels very layered, comfortable and livable,” Fung says. In short, nothing seems what modernist detractors would label sterile. “We appreciate the details,” the wife adds. “We wanted a team that was in tune with our vision, and we were lucky to find them.”