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

POSTED BY katherine mcbride COMMENTS

kitchen_1On one of the final days of summer, I had the pleasure of driving down to Olympia, WA to meet with Artisans Group Principal Architect, Tessa Smith, who was kind enough to open her exquisite mid-century home to me.

Tessa has been working with the Artisans Group for ten years and has been a principal architect there for the last seven of those. She first met her business partner, Randy Foster at a home show, where she mentioned to him that she was looking for a new job. He was kind enough to grant her an interview where she was offered a job on the spot. As Randy says, ‘it was the easiest hire of his life.’

About Artisans Group

Artisans Group is an award-winning Design+Build Firm in Olympia, WA that specializes in building ‘custom and extremely energy efficient homes throughout the Pacific Northwest’.

Tessa, Randy, and the rest of the team at the Artisans Group have been making big waves in both Olympia and the Greater Puget Sound region for their stunning residential and commercial projects. They are considered leaders of the Passive House movement in the Pacific Northwest and are at the forefront of their industry for their commitment to green building.

1427388534170Artisans Group has a strong commitment to social equity as well. Their projects are sustainable in the sense that they grow local community and local business. They provide people places to work for good businesses who offer fair wages. Recently, they have been receiving a lot of recognition for their revitalization efforts in downtown Olympia through projects like 222 Market, and Little General Food Shop.

This year Tessa, along with her colleague, designer Roussa Cassel, was recognized nationally when they both received the honor of winning Professional Builder’s 2017 40 Under 40 Awards.

In addition to their busy workload building custom Passive Houses in both Olympia and Seattle, Artisans Group is currently working on a redesign of their website that they plan to launch later this fall. Among many of the new things that the re-engineered website will include, will be a lot more information about their Olympia and Seattle Passive House Projects, Commercial work, Remodeling projects, and Passive House retrofits.

Artisans Group's most recent project: Delphi House-a 2,250 sf custom Passive House is designed with some very specific medical needs in mind. Mobility, fall protection and an avoidance of direct natural light are critical programmatic needs. Brightly painted soffits reflect direct light up into the ceiling, diffusing it and casting a soft glow of color, lighting whimsical accessible spaces and a resilient floor.' (Photo by Ramsay Photography)

Artisans Group’s most recent project: Delphi House-a 2,250 sf custom Passive House (Photo by Ramsay Photography)

Tessa’s Olympia Home

Tessa lives in a quiet, picturesque post-war suburban neighborhood in South Olympia. It is complete with curvilinear streets, an abundance of trees and green spaces, and generously sized lots.  The modest mid-century modern homes that line the streets are well maintained with beautifully manicured landscapes, and enduring curb appeal. Many of the homes preserve all of their original features while others have been given respectful modern updates that blend in well with the homes around them.

The driveway and main entrance is shielded from street view by lush landscape, expansive overhangs, and beautifully integrated vertical slat screens.

View from the driveway towards the main entrance to Tessa’s Olympia home.   The house is thoughtfully tucked away from street view, and shielded by a lush Japanese inspired landscape, expansive overhangs, and beautifully integrated vertical slat screens.

Tessa’s home is a classic 1963 daylight ranch that was built by well-known Olympia builder Henry Berschauer, of Henry Berschauer Construction, who was responsible for building up many of the finest mid-century modern homes and neighborhoods around Olympia. The Berschauer family has a lasting legacy in the South Sound region, and are still in business today under the leadership of Henry’s son, Pat. Henry Berschauer and his family lived in Tessa’s house for the first year after it was built, and as Tessa tells me, ‘his little boys put up a rope swing in the backyard that is still there.’

The architect that designed her home was the prolific Bob Selenes, of BJSS, AIA who often worked with Berschauer on his residential projects, and who according to Tessa’s father, was considered the residential architect in Olympia, WA in the 1950s & 1960s.

The gorgeous architectural features

The relationship between vertical and horizontal lines that adorn the facade of Tessa’s home create visiual interest, and are typical of this style homes built around Olympia during the post-war era.  The structural beams that jut out from beneath the dramatic overhangs produce geometric planes that are a classic feature of mid century modern architecture.

Tessa’s home is the perfect blend of old & new. It maintains much of its original appeal and character, with a few period appropriate updates to make the space more functional for her lifestyle. She has made some very deliberate and tasteful updates that give careful consideration to the design era in which it was built, as one might expect from the home of an architect.

She shares her home with her beloved 120lb husky, Chalupa Batman, and a pit bull named Arliss who is a recent transplant from Austin, TX. Both pooches look quite content in their cozy living space. When Tessa isn’t off traveling and working remote, she works primarily from her home office, which is a well-appointed minimalistic space with lots a great natural light.

View from the kitchen of Tessa's open concept living and dining room. (Photo by Ramsay Photography)

Unobstructed views from the kitchen of Tessa’s open concept living and dining room towards the backyard help create a connection from outdoors in through floor to ceiling windows. (Photo by Ramsay Photography)

Tessa’s home is a reflection of her commitment to good design. She uses her talents and insights to create a space that demonstrates her modern sensibilities while simultaneously paying homage the design era that first led to her appreciation of the modern design aesthetic.

The main entry way makes a big statement. Walls clad in original cedar paneling, slate tiled floor, and an original George Nelson pendant light.

The main entry way makes a big statement with walls clad in original cedar panels, slate tiled floor, and a George Nelson bubble pendant light.

Some of the prominent architectural features of the home, which include vaulted ceilings with exposed structural beams, clerestory windows, and large expanses of glass, are well highlighted and add dramatic emphasis to the space.

Tessa’s house also has several classic design elements typical of the mid-century era including original linoleum tile in the master bath, pink plumbing fixtures in the guest bath, and lots of great built-in cabinets and shelving throughout the home.

One of the most distinctive spaces in Tessa’s house is the beautifully crafted entryway with walls clad in original, and well-kept cedar paneling, a built-in coat closet, and natural stone slate floor tile. Tessa also has several great mid-century lighting fixtures throughout her home, like the quintessential George Nelson bubble lamp pendants, which Tessa believes, are original to the house.

Although Tessa has made some changes to enhance livability, the home’s architectural integrity remains intact. The biggest transformation of the home, and where the most substantial changes have been made are in the kitchen.

Where once there was a small and disconnected space that didn’t initiate connectedness or inspire congregation, now there is a light and open space perfect cooking, creating, and entertaining. Far better suited to serve as the hub of activity for Tessa’s home than what came before.

Before: View from the kitchen into the eat-in nook. The space leaves much to be desired and doesn't take advantage of the abundance of natural light and beautiful scenery on display through the wall of windows.

Before: View from the kitchen into the eat-in nook. The space leaves much to be desired and doesn’t take advantage of the abundance of natural light and beautiful scenery on display through the wall of windows.

This thoughtful and well-planned kitchen remodel breathes a whole new energy into the space. With the addition of locally sourced fir cabinets, stacked subway tile backsplash, sustainable Marmoleum flooring, and a generous quartz island that brings the whole space together, the kitchen is now functional, open and warm. A far more accommodating space for Tessa’s lifestyle.

Photo by Ramsay Photography

Now: Fir cabinets, quartz countertops, and stainless steel appliances are just a few of the modern updates that make this kitchen a more functional space for Tessa’s lifestyle.  (Photo by Ramsay Photography)

Photo by Poppi Photography

Photo by Poppi Photography

Tessa’s decorating style is whimsical and chic. Both relevant for today, and fitting for the era in which her home was built. Throughout the space, Tessa seamlessly blends elements of current design trends with timeless mid-century icons. Like the stylish geometric Fuller Glass Pendant Lights by Schoolhouse Electric, that casts a warm glow over her gorgeous antique teak Danish modern dining set. Through her considerate design choices, Tessa has succeeded at creating a living space which reflects a style that is uniquely her own.

Tessa. Arliss, and Chalupa Batman sit in front of the gorgeous fireplace with original built in cabinets. The perfect focal point of this open living space.

Tessa, Arliss, and Chalupa Batman sit in front of the gorgeous fireplace with original built in cabinets. The perfect focal point for this open living space.

Her eclectic tastes are pulled together to create a cohesive aesthetic that is fun, and playful while at the same time sophisticated and worldly. You can tell that the objects on display throughout Tessa’s home tell a story, or could be tokens from one of her many adventures. Her color, texture, and furniture selections succeed at creating a bright and welcoming environment that compliments the enduring architecture of the mid-century gem she is fortunate enough to call home.

Thank you so much for opening your beautiful home to us, Tessa. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will hear more from the woman herself about what it’s like to live in such a fantastic mid-century home.

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