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Whose Dreams?

Yesterday, the three of us spent a couple hours at the 2001 Seattle Street of Dreams down in Auburn. Billed as “the nation’s largest-attended one-site luxury home and garden tour,” this extravaganza gives the hoi polloi a peek of luxury, or at least a certain disturbing version of luxury. Every year, the organizers select a street in a new development and recruit several local builders (and architects, and interior designers, and landscape architects, and…) to do their best.

This year, there are six houses in a development adjoining the Washington National Golf Club–the official golf course of the University of Washington golf–between Auburn and Black Diamond. The houses sit on a gated cul-de-sac and back up to the golf course (one has a separate “golf cart garage”). The lots are described as large, but considering that they’re located a good 30 miles from Seattle, I’d hardly call half an acre “large.” They’re just big enough that you can feel comfortable never talking to your neighbors.

As for the houses themselves, what can I say? They’re certainly big. Four of the six are just about completely devoid of architectural merit; bloated suburban tract houses gone awry. They seem to take every current trend in home design and run with it, leaving the houses soulless. Washer and dryer near the bedroom? Let’s have three! Big master bath? Make it as big as a two-car garage! And garages? Can you get by with three? Maybe four or five would be better (don’t forget the golf cart)! Argh! With separate offices, activity areas, and media rooms, they’re well designed to allow family members to coexist in the same house without actually spending time together. I was struck by how well most of the houses would fit in Tony Soprano’s neighborhood. Did I mention that they’re big?

We went partly for the experience of it and partly to look for ideas for our upcoming remodel. To be fair, each of the houses has at least something nice about it. Two are a step above the others. The first is largely in the same vein as the rest, but where the others seem to be incoherent conglomerations of rooms, this house has a certain principle to it that ties it together. It has soul. The last, an homage to craftsman and prairie-style homes, was the only one that showed the attention to design detail you’d expect in a high-end architect-designed home. Sure, it has the oversized garage, the high-tech media room, and the overblown formal spaces, but it also has comfortable, human-sized rooms that connect to one another in meaningful ways. It has a third-floor mezzanine with wonderful views both inside and out yet somehow felt cozy and comfortable like an old attic, rather than the crows nest of a million-dollar mansion.

So, what did we learn? Our little 1928 house in the city fits our dreams better than any of the “dream homes” in the show. The remodel should resolve the few remaining problems. Sweet Dreams.