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Saturday, February 9, 2013 - Page updated at 11:30 a.m.

Northwest Living
A respectful update honors home's designer, Anna Williams

By Rebecca Teagarden
Pacific NW associate editor

A SMALL ARMY of Dansk salt and pepper mills huddles in a corner on the new white-bright kitchen counter. The wooden mills are stout, sturdy and dignified. Midcentury relics of functionality beautifully designed.

The same could be said of their surroundings.

"I grew up in a Seattle box on Capitol Hill," says Judie Schweikhardt from her dining room table. "This is cool." Around her are walls of windows that stare into the woods practically surrounding the house. Outside, far below the ample deck suspended midair, an exuberant Maple Creek pushes, shoves, tumbles and hurries past.

Judie is not new to her home. She and her husband have lived here in North Seattle since 1975. So for her still to be impressed by the long, gentle entry, the cedar walls and heavy beams reaching for the treetops across a step-down living room is saying something.

"This is so snug in the forest," she says.

There is a sense of reverence right at the front door that causes visitors to lower their voices. Judie knows. "That's part of the deal," she says.

You would imagine that a house with such a command over its inhabitants would have been designed by one of the Northwest's finest architects. A star on the roster of the American Institute of Architects.

But that is not the case. This home, and approximately 35 others, many in Northeast Seattle, were designed between 1961 and 1973 by Anna Williams, a drama major at Northwestern University. It was an architect, however, who was so struck by the home that he felt compelled to find Williams (now an oil painter living with her husband in the San Juan Islands) and record her story. And, in the end, Judie not only got a newly opened and updated kitchen from the Johnson Partnership, she got a history lesson from Larry E. Johnson.

"While searching for a small, well-designed contemporary home for her growing family in Seattle, Anna was introduced to John Burrows, a contractor who specialized in smaller, modern-style homes on difficult lots," Johnson writes. "John had moved to the Seattle area from Los Angeles, where he had absorbed the modern-style aesthetic of architects such as William Wooster, Richard Neutra, John Dinwiddie, Joseph Esherick Jr. and Gordon Drake.

"Anna had already developed individual ideas for a practical small family home and hired Burrows in 1961 to construct a house for her based on her preliminary plans. This project led to several years of collaboration, with Anna preparing house plans and John building them. They sought out steep wooded lots that had been passed over by other builders and marketed the completed homes to young educated couples looking for contemporary styling."

So what was wrong with this kitchen? It was tired and needed opened for entertaining, as is the desire these days. Plus, the fridge bugged Judie. "I couldn't sit in the living room without looking at it," she says. "I thought, 'This is crazy.' " And so, respectful and sustainable improvements were in order, with Ellen Mirro as the project designer, and Howard Miller.

"I told her I just want to stand here and look at the woods. I wanted to be able to eat in the kitchen. And the salt-and-pepper collection had to fit right there," Judie says, nodding at the new Pental Chroma quartz counter.

Rebecca Teagarden writes about design and architecture for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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