The last time 1962 World’s Fair architect and pioneering local modernist Paul Thiry made an appearance on Property Watch, it was one of his older works: a stunning 1931 Tudor designed before Thiry developed his signature modern style. A lot happened between then and 1955, when he designed this waterfront(ish) home in the Ballard-adjacent North Beach neighborhood. The more modern works on display at the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress exposition radically changed his viewpoint on design, and with his American clients dwindling during the Great Depression, he took a friend up on an offer to work in Japan for six months. In his travels abroad, Thiry collaborated with former UW classmate George Nakashima and famed International Style architect Le Corbusier.
Thiry returned to Seattle in 1935 and, beginning with his own house, started building modern homes that were radical departures from the prevailing local styles. As his aesthetic caught on, he got higher-profile projects, like the original home of MOHAI (1948), the Frye Art Museum (1952), and multiple buildings on the University of Washington campus.
All of that backstory brings us back to 3272 Northwest Esplanade, commissioned by Vincent McGrath for his wife, Justine. The pair married in 1949, more than a decade after they attended Queen Anne High School together, and the home stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Its second and current owner bought it in 2011, two years after Justine’s death.
The entrance is secluded; it’s down a narrow road through a thicket of trees, and the front door is past a bridge over a small ravine. The views open up very quickly: Right through the front door, descend a few steps past a shōji screen to a whole wall of windows. This area is at-grade with the backyard, and opens to a long concrete patio out back. Paired with views of Puget Sound and, distantly, the Olympic Mountains, it’s a near-seamless transition to the outdoors.
This long, mostly open room is carved into deliberate spaces with functional dividers. The kitchen is sectioned off from the living room with a giant brick fireplace, while the kitchen itself rests in a kind of large cubby, recessed into the back wall with a slightly dropped ceiling. A less-formal lounge sits opposite the kitchen counter along a brick accent wall with a very cute little fireplace of its own. A wood-beam ceiling throughout, save for the kitchen nook, adds both warmth and an air of formality to the space—it’s a design cue from other midcentury homes that designate the second story as the main floor.
Upstairs, find a large bedroom with a long balcony spanning its west-facing wall, plus its own small pillar fireplace and sitting area. Three more bedrooms live up here too, but the other star of the floor is a time-capsule bathroom, complete with pale pink tile, robin's-egg-blue sink and tub, and original wood cabinetry. While most of the home feels more timeless and some of the finishes have changed, this bathroom is here to remind you that this all came from 1955.
According to King County property records, the garage predates the home by about 15 years—but part of Thiry’s design involved filling in usable space underneath. The result is a kind of detached studio that, from a distance, looks like part of the home. Inside, find two rooms with water views, now being used as an office and a gym. An attached balcony offers a more private space to catch some air.
“Waterfront” doesn’t exactly mean “beachfront” here. It’s just past the northern tip of Golden Gardens, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks that run through the park continue along the coastline in the North Beach and Blue Ridge neighborhoods—and right between this home and the sandy beach on the other side, which isn’t part of the property. But it does leave the water views completely unobstructed throughout the entire home, including the back lawn. (Although, relatedly, there may be a good amount of train noise here.)
That said, the backyard is giant, spanning more than 120 feet along the sound with tidy gardening throughout. Being relatively tucked away but open to nature, it gets some visitors, including eagles and, off the shore, the occasional whale.
Listing Fast Facts
3272 NW Esplanade
Size: 2,340 square feet/.154 acres, 4 bedroom/2.5 bath
List Date: 9/28/2021
List Price: $1,888,000
Listing Agents: Carrie Haymond, Coldwell Banker Bain