Finding a Different Pace
photography by Rob Miller
TV writer/producer and architect couple relocates family from LA to Spokane
Michael Perry and Eric Horsted toyed with the idea of relocating to Washington for years before they made the move. The LA-based couple had established lives in California, with Horsted’s work as a TV writer and producer (most recently for the Emmy-nominated ABC show black-ish) and Perry’s with his design/build firm, Build Therapy. But when members of their extended family started moving to Spokane years ago, it came onto their radar and never fell off.
“We were always looking in Washington,” says Eric, whose long list of television credits include Futurama, The Simpsons, and Coach (shout-out to Spokane native Craig T. Nelson).
Spokane “kind of felt like Austin during my college years,” says Eric, who attended the University of Texas before moving to LA. “There were so many awesome old buildings downtown being renovated. It was a nice vibe, a cool aesthetic.”
They were looking casually at Spokane homes for sale when they came across a stunning property in 2019: a mid-century modern home on two and a quarter acres with 280 feet of frontage on the Spokane River, and bordered on one side by the historic Blakely Gardens.
“We thought, ‘That’s the coolest property we’ve seen in Spokane,’” says Michael.
The home was designed by regionally acclaimed architect John Culler in 1955; it had passed through just a couple of owners in the intervening years. In addition to the gem of a house, there was a long list of additional selling points including a heated saltwater pool, sport court, spacious shop, private boat launch, and boat house.
Moving to Spokane meant majorly rethinking their work lives. Michael sees the opportunity to pivot his business, transitioning Build Therapy to fit the local housing market, shifting the focus from high-end residential to duplexes and fourplexes designed with millennials in mind. Eric will commute from Spokane to LA as needed. (Thanks to the pandemic, that hasn’t yet been necessary; writers’ rooms and other industry meetings are still convening over Zoom.)
Though a long-distance commute would be a huge leap for some, it wasn’t a wild idea for the couple. “Eric and I have lived in New York City, Tokyo, LA, and Munich for most of our careers,” says Michael, who spent years commuting between major world cities for work. “It’s always been big, busy, too-fast cities. The move to Spokane is our first effort to slow down for the kids, and us.”
The couple has three children, sixteen-year-old Talia, and fourteen-year-old twins Finn and Lily. Though they’ve always lived in a metropolitan hub, a mid-sized city seemed like the right choice for the kids’ high school years, a place where they can spend time with their cousins and other family members. As a bonus, the kids had their own local connections, having each spent some of their summers at Camp Reed.
“Life is just so fast in population centers. We all wanted to try a different pace,” says Michael.
He began renovations on the property in 2019 while Eric and the kids remained in LA for school and work; the whole family officially moved in last summer. He’s full of appreciation for the updates the previous owners, who have become friends, put into the home and grounds. “I feel like they did a lot of the heavy lifting with major landscaping, irrigation, the RV garage, TPO roof, beautiful custom gates and entertainment spaces,” explains Michael. “They left us a lot of the fun stuff: kitchen, bathrooms…”
The most impactful projects they’ve taken on have been mechanical. “The home was built in 1955, so the galvanized plumbing, the super dated electrical, compromised water main, radiant heating, whole house water filtration, all of these were approaching their expiration dates and needed to be replaced,” Perry explains.
Then there was the project of modernizing the interior to fit their needs and tastes, which included floor plan adjustments; taking the radiant from the ceiling to the floor so they could install skylights, can lights and structural reinforcements; deleting walls and replacing them with floor-to-ceiling windows to better enjoy the river view; and reworking the master to make it more spacious.
They re-oriented the small, closed-off kitchen and added windows to take advantage of the view. They divided a long, narrow bathroom in two, allowing for Finn to have his own attached bath and Talia and Lily to have a bathroom to share. They transformed a too-small breakfast nook into a pantry, and created a laundry room full of storage and work space. They also built in a dog door and dog run off the owners’ suite to accommodate their two pups: tiny, elderly Walter, and a rambunctious doodle puppy named Sam.
The property exudes a sense of its history, through the home’s architecture and the elements like the rock wall that lines the east border, which was built as part of the neighboring Blakely estate and dates back to the 1920s. There’s also plenty of associated folklore. “Everybody has a story with this house,” Michael says. One visitor reminisced on his parents having been to the home, musing, “I think I was conceived at a party here.”
Michael and Eric wanted to emphasize the home’s original materials—like brick and wood paneling—and brought in complementary elements, like the main floor’s terrazzo tile (the green terrazzo in the lower level is original). They enlisted the aid of extended family to help with the demo, and tried to rethink or reuse anything they were taking out, like the room dividers from the kitchen that now serve as desktops in the office and music room.
The home is full of personalized work and adventurous projects that both fit the mid-century modern bones and bring in the family’s personalities and history, with décor collected through their international travels and many thrifted pieces, like the gorgeous, large-scale table lamps in the living room and the fireplace Eric snagged off Craigslist, which they had powder-coated before placing it in the main bedroom. They also have pieces inherited from family members, such as the basement’s 1940s living room set that belonged to Michael’s grandparents. “We’re big on finding a good thing and then restoring it,” he says.
Michael has a longtime partnership with an LA-based craftsman and builder, with whom he partnered to create many of the home’s custom furnishings and built-ins. Among them are the low-profile black walnut dining table where the family loves to play cards in the evenings, the white ash coffee table in the living room, the expansive living room shelving, and the geometric designs of the dining room credenza. Vivid tones—greens and blues as well as pops of orange and citron—bring each space to life, with color infused through artwork like the abstract piece in the dining room that the family painted together, and the series of family photographs displayed around the home, many by noted photographer Ann Ploeger.
Eric and Michael have chosen materials strategically, splurging in high-impact spaces—for instance, the kitchen backsplash, where the Fireclay tile is laid in a subtle pattern (H for Horsted)—and then saving where an economical choice will suit just as well.
Spokane is certainly not LA, but they’re finding that the Inland Northwest is full of parks to explore, water to paddleboard, and good relationships. It’s been hard to leave behind LA’s thriving and delicious ethnic food scene, though they’re enjoying what they’re finding locally. Also, “it’s just a little more purple,” here. “Politically, it was interesting,” says Michael.
In LA, “as a gay family, it’s just not that unusual,” Michael says. They know they stand out more here, though they note that no one has treated them unkindly. The truth is, as Eric said in an interview the couple did with podcast Life Told to a Stranger, “We’re just as boring as a straight couple with children.”
“And that’s perfect,” Michael added.
“That’s the goal,” Eric concluded.
As they continue to put down Spokane roots, they have an ideal location to create, spend time as a family, and enjoy their gorgeous surroundings. They are often visited by wildlife, and recently played a part in rescuing two eaglets who jumped from their nest on the property during one of the summer’s heat waves. They credit Birds of Prey Northwest for rehabilitating the birds, both of whom are now thriving.
The entire family is looking toward the future. Eric, who won’t be part of black-ish’s final season (with the truncated upcoming season, they’re working with a drastically reduced staff), is writing new material and meeting on new shows. The kids are heading into a new year of school. And Michael is thinking ahead to future projects on the property: adding a pool house, building a small guest house on the hillside, and lighting the rock wall that was once part of the Blakely estate. “I can’t believe we have something like that in our own yard. [It’s] such an amazing historical feature.”
The work they’ve done over the past two years has been tiring but satisfying. “It was definitely a bigger project than we had anticipated, but this home in this location is such a gem! We feel we will keep it forever and that makes it worth it,” Michael says.
“I also like to think that we haven’t strayed too far from the original architect’s vision for this property. We always hope when [the previous owners] visit, they are surprised at how little it has changed, not how much.”
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