There’s a Danish word that comes to mind when you visit the home of Linda and Claus Mercer. “Hygge” (pronounced “hugh-gaw”) is a bit like “umami”—hard to translate but you know it when you taste it. Abundant wellbeing, family and friends gathered ’round the hearth with plentiful food and drink, simple pleasures enjoyed in tranquil surroundings— that scratches the semantics surface at least.
The Mercers came to New York in 1985 from Denmark, and five or six houses and states later, they and their two teenagers are happily at home in Hilltop, a slightly iconoclastic enclave in Bellevue, Wash. Its 40 postwar ranches are sited on 63 acres with a green belt, sports field, tennis court and pool, and a pervasive community spirit. Developed by a group of local architects—Wendell Lovett, Lionel Pries, Perry Johanson, John Morse, Fred Bassetti, Paul Kirk and Roland Terry—in 1947, the Hilltop aesthetic was “straightforward contemporary in character,” with each home plan in harmony with its site. The neighborhood still draws its water from a well, eschews sewer connections and votes on improvements and alterations to their slice of nirvana.
Richard Corff, the founder of Seattle realty company 360° Modern, is also a resident. He and his family live in a Kirk-designed home that his wife, Elizabeth Robinson, grew up in; her grandmother was one of 18 founding families, building a Bassetti plan several doors down from the Kirk house.
“My interest in starting 360 was in getting people to look inward at places that have already been developed, that are already serviced by infrastructure—an enormous residential inventory that was being disparaged,” Corff says. “ ‘Split-level’ was a very derogatory term.”
Today’s residents include Microsoft families, doctors and other professionals, plus a smattering of artists and architects as well as second generations like his wife hankering to return home. “Hilltop originally attracted owners interested in modern architecture, but in the ’70s and ’80s some painful remodels happened,” he says. “In the last few years, I’ve seen a shift back. To hear my neighbors speak about their homes and the architects who designed them with new interest makes me smile.”
Mary Norris of 360 helped the Mercers find their 1956 Wendell Lovett–designed home, which sat on a wooded acre lot when they bought it; they’ve since opened up the view. Although structurally sound, the 2,900-square-foot house needed repairs and energy efficiency improvements; Claus and Linda also wanted to upgrade some of the finishes and materials.
“The house is unique, being from the same time as most of our personal furnishings and fixtures. It has large windows that flood it with natural daylight; there’s a spectacular view of the surrounding area at night,” says Claus, a consultant in the food industry. “It probably is best summed up when compared to a long search for the right frame for a favorite photo.” In this case, the photo is an extensive collection of Danish furniture and accessories.
Doing it the Danish Way
After assessing the repairs that needed to be done, Claus and Linda set out on a renovation process that required maximum effort to achieve the desired results in even the most minute details. Read how they ripped up three layers of roofing and their painful search for the right windows in part 2!