It took a lot of hard work and attention to detail for homeowners Erich Volkstorf and Laura Brodax to spruce up their 1961 home (part 1). From picking the perfect appliances and fixtures to getting down and dirty with the oil rag, they didn’t stop until it was perfect. But perfect like this beautiful Seattle home goes straight down to the bones of the house, and finding a midcentury home to suit their dreams was love at first sight.
In July 2003, a call from real estate agent Tom Holst— “Modern Tom” to Seattle architecture fans—alerted Volkstorf and his wife Brodax to a new listing. “When I saw it onscreen, my heart started to pound and I told Erich he had to cancel his hair appointment,” Brodax relates.
The house was on a steep lot overlooking a wooded ravine with a creek at the bottom in Innes Arden, a neighborhood better known for its hilltop view homes. The couple had been driving down the cul-de-sacs looking for that FISBO (For Sale By Owner), or house just going on the market and had pulled tax records on dozens of homes, so they knew this was a gem. When Volkstorf walked down the entry bridge to the front door and looked through the clerestories straight out to the wild hillside, he said to himself, “This is going to have to be it.” And finding a midcentury home was as easy as that.
Brodax and Volkstorf had already teamed up with Michael Soldano of Soldano/Luth Architects, who began his practice in 1956. They’d found him by knocking on the door of a midcentury house they admired, getting a tour and discovering he was the architect and still very much in business. With the discovery of the Innes Arden home the plan to find a teardown property and have Soldano design a new structure was scrapped.
“When I saw the house, my first reaction was to gut the entire main floor because it felt confining,” Soldano says. “The original fireplace separated the dining room from the living room, obstructed the view from the kitchen and the entry, plus made both spaces seem small. Erich and Laura agreed the fireplace had to go; that was the beginning. The challenge was just how far to go.
“We all agreed the interior space needed a higher quality of finishes,” he continues. “Some of the walls were covered with mahogany paneling that made the spaces look dark and the interior gloomy, even though windows wrapped around the corner on the east side of the house, across the entire south elevation and around to the west. The decision was made to remove the paneling. Because the rest of the walls were plaster, Erich decided to replace the paneling with plaster rather than drywall.”
The stacked brick fireplace was demoed and a new cement block–faced one installed on the end wall of the living room. This opened up the sightlines, circulation and dining area, and created the need for new car decking to fill in the ceiling where the chimney had been. A local woodworker milled new 1 5/8” hemlock stock to match the original.
A decision to move the laundry area from near the staircase to downstairs, coupled with dissatisfactions with the kitchen—poorly constructed and stained cabinetry, appliances in the wrong place—opened the scope of the remodel further. “When you start making little changes like that, you open up a can of worms. At that point we made the decision to gut the kitchen,” says Brodax.
“The other significant change was the stair to the lower level,” architect Soldano explains. “The [original] stair had a winder that took up a lot of space at the bottom landing. By making the stairs run straight, we gained enough space to create a library and sitting area at the lower level; this turned an over-sized circulation space into a much needed place for bookshelves.”
Finding a midcentury home was just the easy part. In part 3, tune in to find out what kind of style and décor the homeowner’s picked for their home, sweet home.