Modernist Ranch, Pt. 1: Capturing Natural Elements

Modernist Ranch, Pt. 1: Capturing Natural Elements

Ira Cumming-designed modernist ranch

Maureen Elenga and husband Robin had been looking for their dream home for nearly two years, so when their realtor called to give a heads up that a modernist ranch was coming on the market, they didn’t hesitate to check it out. “We loved the welcoming smaller entry—it’s the antithesis of a soaring McMansion entry—and the house just fit our personalities,” she says.

The home was a 1953 modernist ranch on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, designed by architect Ira Cummings, with, as it turns out, 190° views of Freemont, Lake Union and the distant Cascade Mountains. “It was nighttime when we first saw it, so we didn’t even realize it had a view,” says Maureen. “We put in an offer and had to leave the next day for our wedding,” Robin Elenga, an angel investor, recalls. “Then we were on our two-week honeymoon, which we ended up cutting a week short because we were so excited to see the house. We’d only spent like an hour in there, so we couldn’t quite remember what it looked like.”

They soon discovered mid-century gems like a built-in planter and magazine rack in the bathroom, in addition to the built-in birch credenza, the rough-sawn mahogany used for the exterior and the walls of the entry and the memorable sandstone fireplace. A Design Within Reach George Nelson bench next to the fireplace holds stereo gear and a vintage sign for the home’s architect. Seen from the side, the fireplace and its rich detailing looks more sober than the straight-on view of angled columns and beams played against the verticals of the credenza.

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Since buying the home, she and Robin have helped organize a DOCOMOMO tour of Cummings homes. “Ira Cummings’ other residences tend to do the sort of head and tail formula, with public spaces at one end, and it functions really well,” she says. “He emphasized the hearth as the center of the home, and his fireplaces are large and very interesting. “Like many Pacific Northwest architects, he used a lot of natural materials like the stone and mahogany; that’s what differentiates the PNW modernists. They took a lot of keys from Japanese architecture as well. Being in the living room with all of the windows and that view, it’s like being in a tree house.”

The home had last been sold in 1965 and was in remarkably original condition, save for a 1981 kitchen and a master bedroom/bath addition and carport-to garage conversion in 1989.

To Renovate or Not to Renovate

Despite their love of the original home’s features, the couple wanted to make some renovations to increase the level of livability in this modernist ranch. Find out whether or not their renovations would clash with the existing houses in the neighborhood in Part 2!

by Bromley Davenport
Photography by Jim Brown

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