Zemazing!

Property Watch: A Gene Zema Contemporary, Remodeled by Fans

One family preserved this architecturally significant home for nearly 50 years—then fans of the architect's work came in for this light-touch remodel.

By Sarah Anne Lloyd September 14, 2022

Architect Gene Zema was the very first to win the Home of the Year award from the Seattle chapter of American Institute of Architects—for his very own home, built in Northeast Seattle. He’d only gotten his license four years before, after honing his residential design skills with other legendary midcentury home architects like AO Bumgardner and Benjamin McAdoo.

He didn’t just design houses. He lent his skills to a number of medical buildings, and even two buildings on the University of Washington campus: More Hall Annex (formerly the Nuclear Reactor Building) and Gould Hall. But it was the houses that kept bringing in the awards, starting in the midcentury era, then carrying that ethos along until his retirement in 1976.

This house was built in 1970 and combines that midcentury sensibility with then-emerging contemporary trends. The original owners held onto the property for nearly 50 years, and when it hit the market for the first time in 2019, a couple of Zema fans scooped it up and got to work with a thoughtful remodel that preserves the architect’s striking style. No walls appear to have been harmed or disappeared in the process.

The entrance is through a serene tunnel of wood slats, leading to a foyer with a dedicated mudroom area and open staircases up and down. At the home’s center, a living room with a classic, exposed-grain slanted ceiling doubles as a sort of atrium, with a lofted floor above and little pockets of space all around. The first floor is open and airy, with many spaces delineated by framing; the dining room, for example, is only separated by a post and crossbeam. The foyer and an office connect to the central area with wide cased openings, making them more annexes than separate rooms. A deck with Puget Sound views lines the entire western wall of the house, accessible by glass french doors nestled in a wall of windows.

The kitchen stays open to the dining area via a slightly widened counter, but a slatted pillar—a new addition, formerly home to the wall ovens—with a cabinet-look fridge adds a stronger boundary. The cooking area itself is huge, and, off to the side, includes a more secluded eating area. The remodel expanded the kitchen space back here, allowing for more work and counters. (Sadly, although the current version is much more useful, this came at the expense of an original built-in radio.) 

There is one closing door along the living room walls, and that’s for the large bedroom suite just behind the fireplace, complete with private access to the deck and an en suite bath with generous closet space. Upstairs, a sitting room and a long, shelf-lined library are open to the living room below, with extra light coming from skylights above. Beyond them is a cozy little hideaway: a private office beneath a steeply slanted ceiling.

The rest of the home’s four bedrooms, along with a den with a brick fireplace, are on the lower floor. Because it’s built into a steep hillside, the rooms still get plenty of light and even a little view here and there—they’re at a higher grade than much of the backyard, and even the sleek stone patio has a little elevation gain. The lightless hill side of the floor is home to two bathrooms, one with a sauna, an electrical room, and a huge utility room with tons of period cabinetry and even a dog bath.

The property’s lush 1.66-acre grounds include gardens, a stream, dense forest, and a brand-new pickleball court. On this wood-lined, dead-end street, there's not a lot of hustle and bustle nearby, just wildlife and other natural wonders.

Listing Fast Facts

825 NW Northwood Rd
Size: 4,280 square feet, 4 bedrooms/4 baths
List Date: 9/8/2022
List Price: $2,800,000
Listing Agents:
Don Kenney, Windermere

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