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Originally published December 7, 2012 at 12:00 PM | Page modified December 7, 2012 at 2:29 PM

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One of Port Townsend's oldest homes makes room for life and art

Painter Carolyn Watts and her husband, John, have transformed both house and garden since they moved here a dozen years ago. When they bought it, their 1890 house was a wreck falling down the hillside above town.

Special to The Seattle Times

"THE CAMELLIAS were here, and that's about all," says painter Carolyn Watts, leading the way into the courtyard entrance of her historic home, one of the oldest in Port Townsend. She and her husband, John, have transformed both house and garden since they moved from Leschi a dozen years ago.

When they bought it, their 1890 house was a wreck falling down the hillside above town. But it commanded a stunning view of mountains, sea and harbor, and was only a few blocks from the office where John is the city attorney. There was space on the lower level for a big studio for Carolyn, who was ready for a change after years of working in a lab at Providence Hospital, running a catering business and, at age 50, graduating from Cornish College of the Arts.

The couple worked with Seattle architect Chris Keyser to modernize the warren of dark little rooms in the oft-remodeled old house. They kept the original fir floors, but the floor plan, interior finishes, entrance, fireplace and landscaping are all new. The kitchen is expanded and updated, and they captured more light and view by bumping out the living room upstairs and studio downstairs.

Carolyn, a painter, photographer and world traveler who teaches cooking in Morocco for months every year, drew up her own design for the remodel. "When Chris saw it he said, 'Where's room for your art?' " Carolyn says with a laugh. The design changed drastically, and now Carolyn's huge abstracts share space on the walls with masks, textiles and the work of fellow artists.

Two large canvases Carolyn painted during a monthlong residency in Spain hang in the living room. The couch beneath them is piled with colorful Moroccan pillows. Underfoot are patterned Moroccan rugs. Bookshelves line the fireplace nook, and a new window wall wraps from living to dining room to scoop the sky right into the house. In spring and summer, a leafy foreground softens the vast view of sea and sky, beach and boats beyond.

"This is where we live in winter," says Carolyn of a cozy little TV room off the entry. The classic French doors opening into the little room were saved from the old house, one of several pairs reused in new locations.

The original kitchen was tiny, and a nearby bathroom too large. The bathroom is gone, and the kitchen makes good use of its new space with a wall of glass-fronted cabinets to display Carolyn's collection of dishes and tagines. "I love to cook and have people in to cook with me," she says. The cabinets are cherry, the countertops dark Richlite.

For the past seven years, Carolyn has spent two months in spring and again in autumn teaching cooking in Marrakech at her nonprofit Hakima's Moroccan Cooking School ( Students come from around the world to shop the markets and learn traditional Moroccan cooking from her.

Carolyn's art, and her home, have been greatly influenced by her sojourns. Her paintings have grown more colorful, and she's taken up photography to capture the light and patterns of the desert.

Does she ever have a hard time leaving all that exotica to return to little Port Townsend?

"I love this house," Carolyn says of her home on a cliff above the sea.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at Benjamin Benschneider is the Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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