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Evoking Warm Modernism in the Home of Architect Tessa Smith, Part II

POSTED BY katherine mcbride COMMENTS
The light and bright minimal space of Tessa's home office.

Tessa’s home office is a bright and open minimalist space that is free from distraction and full of great natural light.

We are joined once again with the lovely, Tessa Smith, Principal Architect at Artisans Group, an award-winning Design+Build firm in Olympia, WA that specializes in custom homes and Passive House architecture throughout the Pacific Northwest.  We wanted to hear more about her own home, and how Mid Century Modern architecture and design inspires the work she does with Artisans Group.

Without further, ado, here is Tessa to share her story.

Tell us more about your connection to Mid Century Modern Architecture.

Architects of the Mid-Century era got so many things right.  These homes are so inviting and home like, and I just love the light cleanliness of them.  They have a particular shape and feel to them, too.  A great mid-century modern home makes you want to curl up with a good book, and a glass of wine.  I like to think of it as a kind of ‘warm modernism.’

Mid Century Modern architecture was the first thing that got me excited about modernism.  I guess you could say it was my gateway drug. It is what led me to become primarily a modern architect, and has really formed my work.  Although I still love and have a great appreciation for the more sleek and minimalistic look of some modern homes, I know that personally, the aesthetic does not work for my lifestyle.

Exterior view of the front of Tessa's home. A carport, vertical slat fencing, and an abundance of trees and shrubs do a great job of creating privacy in a park like setting.

Exterior view of the front of Tessa’s home. A carport, covered main entrance, vertical slat fencing, and an abundance of trees and shrubs do an excellent job of creating privacy.

What was the house you grew up in like?

I grew up in a tiny craftsman here in Olympia.  My Dad was a builder, drafter, and carpenter.  He was always working on something.  There was always a new project.  One summer it was a carport, another year it was the siding, then the addition of a laundry room.  I feel like every year of my life I can mark with a project.  Since I was five years old, he always had me right there in the woodshop with him.

Tell us about how you found your home.

A few years back I’d been on the hunt for a mid-century modern home in Olympia for some time, and just couldn’t find anything.  When I came across this house, which was both bigger and more expensive than I had planned for, I knew I had to find a way to make it work.  Luckily, the basement was set up in a way could be easily transformed into a separate living space that I could rent out to a roommate, and save money on mortgage payments.

Exterior view of the street-facing side of Tessa's home.

Exterior view of the street-facing side of Tessa’s home.

When I decided to put an offer in on the house, I knew it was not perfect, but I loved it all the same.  It had some pretty obvious cosmetic issues.  First off, it was painted bizarre colors and wasn’t staged that well.  It had carpets over top of the hardwood floors, and many of the original mid-century fixtures had been replaced with more traditional looking ones that did not fit with the overall aesthetic of the home.  The kitchen was cramped and cut off from the rest of the living space.  Still, I could see its potential and was not deterred.

Tell us more about some of the changes you’ve made to the house.

There were quite a few minor improvements that were addressed right away.  The walls needed a lot of patchwork, and some painting and repairing was necessary throughout the house as well.  I redid some of the floors, and removed old carpet in several of the rooms.  There were also a few exterior updates needed.  I painted the fascia and updated the windows to double pane.  I also redid the fences, and removed the gutters, replacing them with rain chains.

Although some of the landscape was adult, like the Japanese maple you see out front, most of it had become overgrown and invasive when I took ownership of the house. I made some changes with the help of an architect that specializes in Japanese landscape.

The biggest project so far has been the total kitchen remodel.  Originally there was a huge wall between the kitchen and dining areas.  Before the major work started, one of the first things I did was cut a hole in the wall to make these two separate spaces feel more connected.  This fix, however, still proved to be problematic, as it became inevitable that any time I entertained family and friends, everyone would pack into the cramped kitchen. There were all of these beautiful gathering spaces that we weren’t getting enjoyment out of.

Before: A wall that originally divided the space between the living room and kitchen has been removed to increase functionality and create a space that is open, and more suited for entertaining.

Before: The wall that originally divided the space between the living room and kitchen has been removed to increase functionality and create a space that is open, and more suited for entertaining.

Before : A small and disconnected kitchen and eating nook are cut off by suspended cabinets, and a wall that closes off the primary living space.

Before : A small and disconnected kitchen and eat-in nook are cut off by suspended cabinets, and a wall that divides these two integral spaces.

Eventually, I decided it was time to take out the entire wall that separated these two living spaces.  I was motivated to keep plexiglass inserts that span the length of the space between kitchen and living area, but they were covered in splashes of salmon pink paint that wasn’t very appealing.   For two weeks straight I painstakingly scratched paint splatters off of these panels, but it was well worth it.  When I took out the wall, they almost broke.  My Dad and I were able to screw them back up and worked hard to save them since they are such a defining original characteristic of the space. The whole process was a lot of work, but we got it done.

Now the kitchen serves as the hub of activity in Tessa's home, with design choices that blend seamlessly with the rest of the original mid century features throughout the home. (Photo by Poppi Photography)

Now the kitchen serves as the hub of activity in Tessa’s home, with design choices that blend seamlessly with the rest of the original mid century features throughout the home. (Photo by Poppi Photography)

What are some of the downfalls of living in a Mid Century Modern Home?

It’s interesting because I do high-performance green work, and mid-century modern architecture was the first response to energy being economical in the 1960s.  Back then they could fill a whole house with large expanses of glass because it was so cheap that it supported it.

Through the mere act of living in a mid-century modern home, you learn to fall in love with the light, and the extensions from outdoors to indoors.  You can replicate those elements in energy efficient homes.  You figure out what you love in a home like this…until, of course, you pay your energy bills.

Truthfully, I love living here, but I know my home could be better for the environment.  Mid-century modern homes aren’t always the cheapest to heat.  If you keep the heat turned down to save money in the winter months, it can get cold pretty quickly.  That doesn’t always create a comfortable living environment.  It uses a lot of BTUs to heat it.  Plus, I always keep the thermostat at 65 to cut down on energy costs.  That’s why you see so many sheepskins and blankets around here.  Socks and sweater bundles, and warm dogs to snuggle up with help too.

Photo by Ramsay Photography

Tessa’s home is a beautiful example of open contept living that was made possible by a thoughtful kitchen remodel that dramatcally enhanced the livability of the space.  (Photo by Ramsay Photography)

What do you love most about the house?

View of Tessa’s deck; a great transition from indoor to outdoor that creates another entertaining opportunity in a well covered outdoor living space that can be utilized year round. (Ramsay Photography)

View of Tessa’s deck; a great transition from indoor to outdoor that creates another entertaining opportunity in a well covered outdoor living space that can be utilized year round. (Ramsay Photography)

Living here is simply a delight.  Even though I needed to make some major changes to accommodate my lifestyle, the tenets of good design endure.  There is a great use of light, and a wonderful flow throughout.  The living spaces are organized and reasonable.

I think I am most drawn to all of the glass.   I also love the enormous overhangs which are great for these rainy months we get in the Northwest.  They help create great opportunities for indoor/outdoor living.  And the floor to ceiling windows between the living room and deck create a beautiful transition between inside and outside.

I am also really drawn to the classic, timeless finishes used throughout the space like slate, glass, and wood.  This home is just a solid build, and you can tell how much consideration went into the planning of it by the attention to detail.  Everything is just really straight and settled.  Even so, there are certain things that are wearing out, like shower fixtures for example.  But that is to be expected after 60 years of use.  This home was built to last, but certain fixtures and materials have a natural life span.  Especially the building materials that they had access to during the mid-century era.

How Does Living in a Mid Century Modern Home Inspire your Work?

Being able to combine what I love about the architecture of this house with the technology that I work with on a daily basis is what inspires my Artisans Group work. All of the best features of this home and the things that I love most about it I can put in houses today and they still are completely relevant.

In a lot of the work we do at Artisans Group you can see the mid-century influence.  Particularly, one of our most recent Passive Houses, West Coast Modern, which like many of our projects, is mid-century inspired.  I feel that mid-century modern bridges the gap between people who want something warm and archetypal.

Tessa's appriciation for classic mid century modern architecture is on display in 'West Coast Modern', A classic mid-century modern design paired with a minimalist aesthetic, West Coast Modern elegantly arrives in the 21st century. (Photo by Ramsay Photography)

‘A classic mid-century modern design paired with a minimalist aesthetic, West Coast Modern elegantly arrives in the 21st century.’ (Photo by Ramsay Photography)

The whimsy and fun nature of my house often comes up in my work.  That is indicative of the Artisans Group’s approach.  We aren’t rigid, staunch, or austere.  We are warm modernism.  Really good architecture is so much more inclusive and interesting and incorporates a team approach, which is what we can offer.

We want people to live in houses that they can enjoy because they are places where you want to cuddle up.  With our approach to modernism, you can have your cake and eat it too, because it’s warm and inviting, and of course, because it’s good design.

Photo by Poppi Photography

A perfect blend of old and new.  Tessa’s home maintains its beautiful mid century appeal, while being tastefully brought into the 21st century.  (Photo by Poppi Photography)

To see more from Tessa’s portfolio of work, or to learn more about the Artisans Group, vist their website!

Part I of this blog can be found here.

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