Retro goes hip on Island

I’ve been watching the metamorphosis of a North-end waterfront home for over a year. It began as a tear-down on 800 feet of shoreline and is now 8,000 square-feet of high-end living space with nine showers, a pool, a hot tub, three fireplaces, two staircases and many bonus rooms. It’s someone’s $8 million dream-come-true, a scenario no longer uncommon on the island.

Also been noticing “hotel-sized Craftsmans” sprout among Mercer Island’s first tract development of dozens of homes along Mercerwood and Shoreclub drives. The original California-style ramblers were carefully placed and terraced so that none obscured the others’ views — before the super-sized era, that is.

On the contrary, I’m taken by a movement of “360 Modern,” a consortium of realtors and architects who strive to preserve mid-century homes with smaller footprints, angular features with open interior spaces that bring in the outdoors. They count many such architectural gems on Mercer Island.

I’ve just returned from a hair-raising tour of about 20 of these (not-for-sale) tuck-aways hanging on perilous hillsides, in ravines and around hidden bends with narrow turn-arounds. It’s as though I’ve visited Topanga Canyon in California, the jutting cantilevered decks of Frank Lloyd Wright, the art deco gems of Florida, and others suited for rugged Northwest landscapes.

Several homes are designed by Paul Hayden Kirk, whose work from the 1940s to 1980s include several on the Island; and Wendell Lovett, who contributed to the modernist tradition known as “Northwest contemporary.”

Two homes at the end of Ferncroft Road (off East Mercer Way) cut Jetson-like sleek lines of 1950s style, with modest back sides and front windows that bring the lake right into the living rooms. In the 4800 block of East Mercer Way high atop the hillside is a three-level cedar chalet completely surrounded by natural woodland that integrates the outdoors into the living spaces.

A stunning example of art deco architecture with rounded corners, bubble dome, angled cupola and modernistic sculpture and pottery on the ramp to the front door peaks through trees to the lake in the 5000 block of East Mercer Way.

An upgrade in the modernistic tradition of an original Lovett home was created by Nina Menon, at the 4800 block of 91st Ave. SE. The home’s minimalist and functional look, includes a floating walkway to the entrance, corrugated metal detail, angular features and gobs of natural light.

Many of these “modern” homes have flat roofs, modular features, high glass doors and windows, steel rails or narrow-slatted trellises and baffles, and landscaped sanctuaries surround them. A good example is the nearby headquarters of the Bellevue Botanical Garden on Wilburton Hill.

Mercer Island architect Jerry Gropp specializes in NORTHWEST modern along with “green architecture,” a popular blend these days. He and his wife, Patty, live in an updated “50s” Island home saved from demolition a number of years ago. Its 2,400 square feet on a half-acre on the South end includes a mature, also-restored garden.

If you live in a home built in the 40s-60s with the iconic look of Kirk, Lovett, Gropp, Fred Bassetti, Ralph Anderson, Paul Thiry, Victor Steinbrueck and others, reconsider your “tear-down” and preserve our legacy of the recent past.

Speaking of retro, grandparents are of keen interest to me — whether they raise their grandkids, bring traditions to them, teach them special things like whistling, fishing or baking a cake from scratch. I especially love the “turnabout tales,” where the kids teach their elders such things as digital communication.

Noel Burr and Linda Nicholl can be seen strolling their progeny in Pioneer Park most Mondays — just as they did for their own kids a generation ago. Sue and Warren Bucy stage a fantastic family summer celebration at their beach home, offering medals to the winners of the races on Olympic-style platforms. Jean Davis and her grandson, Tyler, enjoy annual trips that have resulted in a painting a year — now to fill Jean’s gallery.

Chuck Wischman teaches his grandson to ski. Keith and Marilyn Blue teach their grand-girls how to shop! Jacqui Simpson Yerabek sews for hers. Susie Walker Dawson provides one big Christmas gift for each, which is always wrapped a special way. Jan and Dick Eichler have a Santa Claus collection of hundreds to delight their grandies.

Next week is my Nanacamp. Several of my 13 grandchildren will spend four to five days and nights going on trails, swimming, acting, crafting, dancing and imagining. This summer we’ll fish and pick berries, fly kites, help MI Presbyterian Church feed other kids in Seattle, see the Mariners, and end with the July 20 Harry Potter midnight magic party at the community center.

Excuse me from “Around the Island” next week — as it becomes our playground.

A follow up on a prior item about Bainbridge Island’s common summer reading assignment of “Three Cups of Tea:” Roger at Island Books suggests Mercer Island reads UW’s assignment to all its freshman: “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer to Cure the World,” by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Tracy Kidder. Its premise, “The only real nation is humanity,” shows the power of one to make a big difference in the world. Let’s talk in the fall.

To contact Nancy Hilliard, e-mail her at nancybob

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