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Cut the Crap

Mid-century modern.

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The Greeks thought there was only one sin, and they called it hubris. It translates loosely as excess. The current trend to build mega-houses is very hubristic. Learning to edit one’s life is an art long overdue a revival. It’s never too late to cut the crap and choose quality over quantity.

This house on Walnut Grove was built in 1950 as a retirement home. The intent was not just to downsize but have fewer, bigger rooms and build those very well. The second owner has lived here 15 years and updated all the systems in the house. Obviously appreciating that initial intent, the owner has made a concerted effort to keep the interior light and open. In the yard, a garden has been lovingly installed, showcasing native plants.

Restraint is evident both in and out. True to the mid-century, deep overhanging eaves protect the windows from the summer sun but admit lower winter light. A low-pitched roof and long, narrow brick emphasize the horizontal, tying the house to the land. This line is continued by planters flanking the walk and simply filled with evergreen ground-cover and a well-placed Japanese maple to announce the entry.

The spacious entry has a wall of closets and a floor of marble. The rest of the house has pale white oak. The front dining room overlooks a deep perimeter planting that buffers the views to Walnut Grove. The living room runs across the back, opening to a patio shaded by an elegant, old ironwood tree.

The renovated kitchen deserves special mention. Most of the upper cabinets were eliminated to make room for the art on the walls. At the same time, recessed can-lights were added throughout the house. Ample counters provide both work area and breakfast bar. In addition to the roll-out wire-shelved cabinets, there is exposed wire shelving for pots and pans beneath the cooktop. Glassware and dishes are stored in a glass-doored, floor-to-ceiling cabinet. The adjoining breakfast area could accommodate a cozy seating area just as well as it could a breakfast table.

Both bedrooms are generously scaled, each with two closets with built-ins. The owner has plushed them up with wool carpeting over the oak. The front bedroom has windows on two sides, while the back has windows on three. Every window frames a garden view. There’s one public bath and one in the master. Neither is stinted in size or details. Richly colored tiles are used at floor and wainscot. A narrow, inlaid wave pattern adds ornament. The vanities have rakishly retro slanted fronts that include ample storage drawers. Like the rest of the house, all of the windowsills are granite.

The rear patio is reached easily from the master bedroom, living room, and kitchen. It’s practically another room in good weather. A two-car porte cochere is angled off the rear, so as not to block views. The circular rear drive pivots around a berm planted with sun-loving sumac. The emphasis on native plants coupled with the informal, naturalistic installation makes this garden as easy-care as the house. As a showcase for a well-edited collection of furniture and art, this house is almost sinfully perfect. And that’s no bull!

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