During the renovation of the Dowell residence, designers were faced with seemingly conflicting directives: honor the iconic architecture and interiors of the Paul Kirk-designed home while updating it to fit the modern lifestyle of its new owner and his young daughter. By carefully refurbishing original materials and respectfully incorporating modern conveniences, the design team was able to successfully accomplish both.
Built in 1953 in Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood and named after its first owner, the Dowell residence reflects Kirk’s classic Northwest, Asian-inspired aesthetic. Over the years, subsequent renovations had gradually stripped the character from the home, eroding the features that defined the architectural gem. The design team consulted historic photos of the well-documented residence, and in many cases were able to find original replacements for damaged or worn items.
Much of the home’s original furnishings remained, including a sectional in the living room and a chaise lounge that had been used on the outside patio. Designers repaired and reupholstered both; and when vintage photos showed the lounge chair had originally been used in the atrium, it was brought back inside.
New and found furnishings with Scandinavian and Japanese undertones were incorporated into the living room, where a television and entertainment system was tucked behind a custom steel cabinet with a pivoting door. A custom-sized table and chair set graces the dining room, designed by the late Northwest woodworker George Nakashima (whose company is now run by his daughter). Original light fixtures — a pendant light in the dining room and conversation-starting “cricket” fixtures in the atrium — remain.
The kitchen received considerable upgrades while retaining the ambiance of the original design. A Wolf range, its exhaust venting hidden by new casework, is surrounded by walnut cabinets and cupboards designed to match the originals.
Upgrades to the home’s mechanical equipment resulted in found space in the mechanical room, now used for wine storage. Underutilized laundry space in the basement takes on new life as a bathroom and bedroom for a live-in caretaker.
On the main and lower floors, new large sliding-glass doors frame the restored landscape design by renowned landscape architect William Teufel, with some modern additions such as a raised vegetable garden, water features and patios to fit the lifestyle of the client.
A collection of Northwest Masters original art pieces, including paintings by Guy Anderson and Paul Horiuchi, complete the period-sensitive renovation.
Olson Kundig is a Seattle-based design practice founded on the ideas that buildings can serve as a bridge between nature, culture and people, and that inspiring surroundings have a positive effect on people’s lives. Led by five owners with a staff of 150, the firm’s work can be found across the globe, with projects as wide ranging from cabins to high rises, homes—often for art collectors—to academic, cultural and civic projects, museums and exhibition design, spiritual places, urban design and interior design.
Among the firm’s accolades are the 2009 National AIA Architecture Firm Award; dozens of design awards from the American Institute of Architects; American Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum; Jim Olson’s 2007 Seattle Medal of Honor; and Tom Kundig’s National Design Award from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt and his Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Olson and Kundig were inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 2012.