Mid-century modernist makeover
An architectural rarity gets a respectful remodel
Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Dori Yelverton, DSY Photography
Leave it to an architect to find one of Anchorage's few homes with an historical architectural pedigree. Dan Seiser and his partner Mark Bell share an unusual house in a hidden pocket of downtown Anchorage that boasts an intriguing and unique back-story.
Dan Seiser – BDS Architects
Trailboss Solutions, LLC.
Existing White Oak refinished by Trailboss Solutions; Marazzi – Percorsi Bianco (entry tile)
Butcher Block – Black Walnut / Green Mountain Wood Works; Quartz Cambria
Pacific Crest Industries
Allen & Petersen
Terra Green – Reflections, å Mocha Mix
The house is an unauthorized copy of a 1947 design by Marcel Breuer, one of the century's most famous modernist architects. The original was commissioned by Phillip Johnson, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for exhibit in the museum's sculpture garden. Breuer, who also designed Manhattan's Julliard School of Music, the Whitney Museum of American Art and – closer to home – the original 1954 Anchorage International Airport, built the house to "epitomize post-war suburban living," explains Dan. The exhibit attracted more than 50,000 people.
Built in 1952, the Anchorage version had been somewhat modified to sort the northern climate. Extensively remodeled throughout the last 60 years, Dan and Mark wanted to restore some of the character of the original concept, while making it functional, beautiful and livable.
"I loved the lines of the house," says Dan. The "butterfly" roof – two opposing roof surfaces sloping toward the center of the structure – are a Breuer signature. "I loved its unique shape and I wanted to respect the original design."
Making a clean sweep
Dan and Mark hired Trailboss Solutions to help them bring the house both into the present and back to the past. Project Manager Jana Seda says: "I saw the remodel as more of an improvement on the existing design versus a restoration of it." The process was a little "out of the ordinary" because of Dan's architectural knowledge, she says. "I loved working with Dan. There were so many ideas being brought up and added on. He had a great vision that kept evolving."
The previous owner had built a number of interior fixtures designed to display his extensive art collection. Dan and Mark opted to remove many of these built-ins and to restore the flow and open feel of the original design. "I wanted to celebrate the sweep of the ceiling," says Dan. The ceiling, made of Canadian maple, follows the angle of the butterfly roof, and is a stunning element of the design. "It's actually engineered flooring that was installed on the ceiling," says Jana.
The kitchen was all but excavated from behind floor-to-ceiling shelves on one side, and a wall on the other. Now, the room is separated by a highly efficient kitchen island with bar seating on one side, and a sleek work area with induction cook top on the other. Additional windows provide more light to the previously cramped space. Functional and open, the kitchen blends seamlessly into the rest of the main living area. Appliances and cooking equipment are hidden artfully behind dark cherry cabinetry. "I didn't want the kitchen to look like an appliance showroom," says Dan. "I wanted everything to look like furniture."
A house divided…
The living room sits a step up from the rest of the main floor (an aspect that Dan originally wanted to change until he realized that it maximized the room's view over the inlet), and looks over the backyard and deck on one side. Its focal point is a fireplace behind which the master bedroom is located (one flight up). The original design called for both sides of the fireplace to open into the master suite, but they opted to close one side off and install a clever pocket door to provide privacy.
The original design of the home was based on Breuer's concept of a bi-nuclear household. The idea was that the living area and master bedroom and bath would be on one side of the house and the children's bedrooms, bath and playroom would be on the other, with the kitchen situated in the middle. In 1955, Breuer famously stated: "You want to live with the children, but you also want to be free from them, and they want to be free from you." In Mark and Dan's case, the playroom now acts as the dining room and the secondary bedrooms serve as a dual office/guest bedroom and as Mark's workspace. And doesn't everyone want to be occasionally "free" from work?
Organic and eclectic
The rich myriad of woods found throughout the home – maple ceiling, white oak floors, cherry trim, dark cherry cabinets and black walnut countertops – create a clean, distinctly organic feel. It also provides an effective backdrop to Dan and Mark's eclectic collection of art. Contemporary works by Sara Tabbert hang in juxtaposition to traditional Alaskan native masks. A whimsical sculpture by Rachel Dowdy rests on a stair landing. At the front door, a stained glass window by Marcus Tingle greets all comers.
Meant to be: Milkshakes, sofas and coffee-cups
And while it's clear that Dan and Mark consulted their own tastes in decorating their newly revitalized home, something else – something a bit prophetic – seemed to be at play.
The original Breuer house which now sits on the New York Rockefeller estate of Kykuit, has been going through its own revival. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been lovingly restoring the home to its original state. Following this project closely, Dan and Mark learned that their own color choice of bricks, creams and tans echoes Breuer's signature palette – of "chili-pepper red, Navajo white and milkshake tones," says Dan – unwitting choices but prescient.
The New York restoration project boasts a contemporaneous, hard-to-find, two-toned beige sofa (original, but in rough shape) similar to the one in the original house. It bears a striking resemblance to the beige sofa Dan and Mark ordered for their living room.
The New York kitchen was outfitted with Heath Ceramics – dinnerware that would have been found in a suburban post-war home. Dan and Mark had purchased identical coffee cups – by Heath Ceramics.
This might be a case of great minds thinking alike, or just a case of destiny. Either way, this Anchorage architectural gem is clearly in the right hands.