A Designer Couple in Washington Overhaul Their Midcentury Kitchen for $35K

A Designer Couple in Washington Overhaul Their Midcentury Kitchen for $35K

By J. Michael Welton
Saul and Kristen Becker of Mutuus Studio build a jewel-like kitchen that now acts as a calling card for their firm.

Saul and Kristen Becker’s new kitchen should win the trifecta of remodeling. It accommodates the couple’s two children with an independent space for snacks and homework. Its U-shaped design avoids close encounters within the triangle of sink, stove, and refrigerator. And it offers parents a commanding view out to the driveway and front yard, then back to the terraces and play space. 

The midcentury kitchen remodel by Mutuus Studio offers views to the front, the driveway, and the back.

"My background is in thinking about the influence of the body on architecture—and where people connect with it," says Kristen, who’s also a dancer.

It’s part of a 2,000-square-foot home designed in 1954 by architect Kenneth Kohler, 15 minutes south of downtown Seattle. For 50 years, its owner was a Boeing engineer who’d left behind a full set of blueprints. 

The Beckers bought it in 2011, then co-founded Mutuus Studio there with architect Jim Friesz in 2016. "When we first started the firm, we didn’t have an office," says Friesz. "I was in their house when they weren’t even home." 

The couple’s son was born as the home’s remodeling started. "I’d put him down for a nap, and quietly do some demo," Saul says. 

Mutuus Studio cofounders Saul and Kristen Becker remodeled the kitchen of their 1954 dwelling over a three year period, finishing it this year.

It wasn’t something he’d trained for. A native of Washington State, Saul earned his Masters of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University. For 20 years, he supported himself as a professional artist in New York. 

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A painting by Saul hangs in the living room adjacent to the kitchen.

A former sailor who met his future wife on a tall ship, he brought a seaman’s sensibilities to the project. "As a shipwright, Saul knew how to make use of every inch," Kristen says. "Like the corners—kitchens don’t like corners, so we found storage units that made them efficient." 

A corner cabinet door is accessed from the exterior.

He also delivered a do-it-yourself attitude. "My mother was a painter and a contractor," he says. "It wasn’t unusual to find her building a parade float in the living room." 

When the three-year kitchen project began in 2016, Saul tackled every detail except the concrete countertops. He created the hardware, the light fixtures, the receding electrical outlets, the brass refrigerator pulls, the torched, stainless-steel backsplash, and the cabinet drawers and handles. He mastered the plumbing and the electricity, then added cork and rubber flooring—with a series of adjusters because it wasn’t quite level. "I’m obsessed with minutiae," he deadpans. 

Saul also designed and crafted the brass refrigerator pulls.

All the while, he was working hand-in-glove with Kristen. She’s an architect who studied under Brian MacKay Lyons, among others, at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. A dance instructor, she integrated that performing art into her profession: "My background is in thinking about the influence of the body on architecture—and where people connect with it," she says. 

Kristen designed the kitchen work triangle for easy access between sink, stove, and refrigerator.

Kristen interned with Olson Kundig in Seattle, then worked full-time from 2000 until she left in 2004 to set up Mutuus Studio in New York. She returned to Olson Kundig in 2011, and in 2016, Kristen, Saul, and Jim Friesz (a former colleague and associate at Olson Kundig) cofounded the new firm. 

The dining and living areas of the Becker home are adjacent to the kitchen.

Their kitchen became a laboratory for a young firm trying to persuade clients to trust them. "It’s nice when you can build a kitchen and show them the fixtures and torched stainless steel, and they say: ‘Oh, I really like that,’" Saul says. "It wrestles some of that control back into our hands—and not from a catalog." 

Prototype lighting fixtures were whisked away to a client’s restaurant. The rubber and cork flooring got spec’d for commercial projects. And the torched stainless steel is used regularly in their projects. 

A former sailor who met Kristen on a tall ship, Saul brought a seaman’s sensibilities to the project.

The bottom line, though, lay in real savings. "Our cost for the kitchen remodel was roughly $35,115, but since we were the general contractor and executed all the work, we probably saved $75,000 in labor, subcontractors, and overhead costs," Kristen says. 

A labor of love, this kitchen was a cost-effective, fertile field for experimentation.

The U-shaped kitchen was designed by Kristen to give children a space for homework and snacks away from the work area.

Related Reading: 

Before & After: A Designer Mixes Asian and American Influences in Her Family’s San Francisco Kitchen

Before & After: A Thoughtful Kitchen Remodel Balances Flourish and Function in a Portland Victorian

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Mutuus Studio, Jim Friesz, Saul Becker, Kristen Becker / @mutuus_studio

Builder: Mutuus Studio, Saul Becker

Lighting Design: Mutuus Studio, Saul Becker, Doug Franklin

Interior Design: Mutuus Studio

Cabinetry Design: Mutuus Studio

Other: Alchemy Concrete Works, Mike Carpenter

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