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July 18, 2006

Lakeshore Luxe

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

House owners and 20th century design isms normally don't mix.

A drive through almost any neighborhood with detached houses should confirm this generalization.

But generalizations have a way of having exceptions. One important exception is expensive housing built since the end of the 1920s. If you want to find a Modernist or PoMo house, ritzy neighborhoods area good place to start looking.

Lakefront property almost always (hmm ... generalizing again, am I?) commands a price premium. Seattle and suburban communities have more lake frontage than most cities. When I was a kid, much lakeshore land on the east side of Lake Washington and on Mercer Island (a large island in the lake) was undeveloped. That happy state had pretty well ended before the 1980s and today it's expensive indeed to own a lakefront house.

This post has photos I snapped on a tour cruise. The houses pictured are all on the east side of the lake and not in Seattle proper, where lakeside real estate was gobbled up by the 1930s. I don't know who the owners of these houses are, and I'm not going to research and report addresses and so forth out of respect for privacy. Neither Bill Gates' (Microsoft) nor Howard Schultz's (Starbucks) places are shown, though we cruised past them.


House - 17.jpg
This one looks like it was snatched from Brno in Czechoslovakia (circa 1928).

House - 24.jpg
Similar. At least the left part of the facade isn't totally squared-off.

House - 37.jpg
Sorry that this shot is a bit blurred, but [whine] I was on a boat, after all. Anyhow, this house has gables and other pre-Mo features. What I find hard to judge from the photo is whether it's a new house or an old one that might have been modernized.

House - 39.jpg
A pair of houses. The one on the right is more classical Modernist.

House - 41.jpg
Its chimneys give this house a whiff of ante-bellum South. And there is a hipped roof.

House - 46.jpg
Interesting pairing here. The building on the left looks to be a classical Northwest Style house of the 1950-70 era -- low gables, vaguely Japanese, but with huge windows. The one on the right might be called Nouveau-Industrial Post-Modern.

House - 49.jpg
Finally, still another PoMo palace. Might be an interesting place to visit, but I don't think I'd want to live there.


The houses shown above are not a statistical sample. I was simply snapping away at whatever struck my fancy that day. Plus, I was taking pictures of what could be photographed. Older houses tended to be more shielded by trees and other vegetation than newer ones.

A question I can't answer is who the owners are. Clearly they have plenty of disposable income. So let's hypothesize that they're Microsoft Millionaires or that ilk. (There's lot of other money in Seattle thanks to Boeing, Starbucks, Nordstrom,, Weyerhaeuser, etc., etc. -- not to mention lawyers, physicians and owners of prosperous smaller businesses. But let's pretend the owners are techies.)

A rich techie probably has a college degree or maybe a M.S. (Sadly, Gates himself does not. One wonders what further heights he might have climbed had he been grasping that coveted Harvard sheepskin he foolishly forfeited.) That education might have been in Computer Science, but could just as well have been Electrical Engineering, Mathematics or even languages or music (two fields simpatico to math and computer programming).

So. Why not many traditional-style houses? Maybe ism designs seem "rational" to folks with such backgrounds. Or perhaps the techie (and spouse) simply had a "the hell with it" moment and hired a fashionable architect.

Do any of you have an explanation?



posted by Donald at July 18, 2006


I'll bet that many of the owners are highly successful entrepreneurs, not necessarily in the high-tech field. Building a hugely expensive house is the sort of thing that follows naturally from building a successful business.

Posted by: Peter on July 18, 2006 9:39 PM

Neat photos and great question. Maybe the owners of these houses are culturally insecure? They're smart and successful, but know nothing about architecture aside from what they see in the papers and magazines. So they take their clues from the editors. Maybe the houses are kinda like the Rolexes and cars that successful hard-driving types seem to like -- well-branded, well-pedigreed signs of who and what they want to be.

It'd be fun to come back in 30 years to ask the people who have those houses now what they think of them, looking back.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 19, 2006 10:45 AM

Guaranteed that 90% of the living in these humongous homes is done in 10% of the square footage.

Posted by: ricpic on July 19, 2006 1:03 PM

What amazes me about people in these huge homes is how little they are actually in residence. Why build a palace if you're at the office or on travel all of the time?

Posted by: CyndiF on July 19, 2006 2:34 PM

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