In the Puget Sound region, mid-century modern architecture may be caught in a losing battle. With an influx of new residents and new money increasing housing demand, mid-century modern homes, often modest in scale but occupying expansive lots, are increasingly vulnerable to replacement. Houses of the 1950s and 1960s may have extraordinary siting, strong views, indoor-outdoor relationships, and many similar elements that we celebrate as hallmarks of mid-century design, but they lack the entertainment centers, bonus rooms, master suites and storage spaces that many buyers now demand. Will these houses survive?
The James and Barbara Taylor residence in Sammamish, completed in 1965, presents just such a dilemma. It sits on a lot of over 50,000 square feet but offers just 1,500 square feet of living space. The house is a gem — one of the early projects by architect Milton Stricker (1926–2008), a Northwest designer who deserves to be much better known.
Characterized on the Docomomo WEWA website as an “outsider within the mainstream architectural community,” Stricker was profoundly influenced by his year as a Taliesin Fellow under Frank Lloyd Wright. Throughout his life he would produce designs reflecting his interpretation and extrapolation of Wright’s “organic architecture.”
Originally from northern Wisconsin, Stricker served briefly in Bremerton during World War II, and after the war, he studied architecture at Carnegie Tech. He dropped out in his final year at the school and traveled across the country to join Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship but could afford to stay only one year. In 1953, after brief apprenticeships in Minnesota and Colorado, he came back to the Northwest and worked at NBBJ and Goteland & Koczarski before opening his own office in February 1962. Seven months later his Hallie Mackeys residence in Burien was selected as a Seattle Times/AIA Home of the Month. His A. H. Phillips residence in Seattle received a similar honor in September 1963, and eight more Home of the Month selections would follow over the next several decades.
James and Barbara Taylor became Stricker’s clients through the recommendation of Ray Brandes, from whom they had purchased their property. The Brandes residence was a 1952 design by Wright, and Ray Brandes had also served as the contractor on Wright’s Tracy residence in Normandy Park from 1954 to 1955, a project that Stricker had supervised (see “Making Your Own House, One Block at a Time” in ARCADE Issue 30.4, Fall 2012). Stricker’s design for the Taylor house is similar to the Brandes residence, with modifications in plan and detail. The two primary wings of the house form an “L” with the living area, dining room, entry and kitchen along one side and four bedrooms along the other. The flat roof extends from the angle of the L to a separate shop; the space between is the carport.
The Wrightian planarity of the rectilinear forms is reinforced by the overhang of the roof, the coursing of the rose-colored block and the horizontal cedar siding. The living area, the primary interior space, is flooded with natural light from the clerestory above and the floor-to-ceiling glazing facing southwest to the outdoor terrace. The floors are red concrete, a material found in many late Wright designs.
In a career lasting nearly four decades, Stricker would produce approximately 150 projects, primarily residential and small institutional structures. Although the regionalist direction within Northwest modernism faded somewhat after the early 1970s, Stricker never abandoned his allegiance to Wrightian design. In the last years of his life, Stricker focused on sharing his understanding of the role of abstraction in organic design and Wright’s work. Stricker’s book, Design Through Abstraction: The Wright Source to Art and Architecture, is accessible online, and a perspective of the interior of the Taylor residence is included on page 107.
The Taylors raised their family in the house Stricker designed, and they remained there after their children grew up and moved out. After her husband died, Barbara Taylor continued to live in the house until she could no longer manage by herself. The residence remained uncared for and vacant for several years thereafter, and the site became overgrown.
Although LimeLite Development may have acquired the property from the Taylor children with the plan to remodel and expand the house, once they realized its quality and significance, they chose to pursue a restoration approach; the only major change has been to open up the kitchen to become an extension of the living and dining spaces. LimeLite’s Todd Karam relates that during the project the firm received offers for the land which they refused given their decision to pursue preservation. Now they hope for a buyer who will appreciate the unique character of the house and protect it for the future.