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Originally published Friday, January 10, 2014 at 12:12 PM

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Sizing up their life situation, they sized down, again

Freelance writer Valerie Easton and her husband asked themselves: What if we could eke out renovation funds by buying and selling without real estate commissions? Could we shoehorn living and office space into a condo smaller and less expensive, and retire our mortgage in the move?

Special to The Seattle Times

WE STARTED demolition on July 5th and moved into our renovated condo on Labor Day. That was two months to gut and restore the bathroom and kitchen as well as refresh — the nicest way I can think to put it — the rest of the tired interior.

Why such an unrealistic timetable? More to the point: Why were we moving again? By early August when every day was packed with workmen, decisions and expenses, you can believe I was asking myself those questions.

Nine years ago when our youngest child left for college, we downsized from our family house to a 1,400-square-foot condo in the Queen Anne neighborhood. At the same time, we bought a little weekend house on Whidbey Island.

Then this spring my husband decided to work from home instead of an office. We heard rumors that a condo we’d always admired was coming available in a 1950s building around the corner. An idea was hatched: What if we could eke out renovation funds by buying and selling privately without real-estate commissions? Could we shoehorn living and office space into a condo smaller, older and less expensive enough that we could retire our mortgage in the move?

The six-unit building was converted to condos in 2000. Though it still had a pink tile bathroom and the kitchen was dismal, the unit had been well cared for. The owner had installed quality appliances and protected the oak floors. At 1,100 square feet, it had two bedrooms, one large enough for an office. I loved the wood-burning fireplace, a deck that ran the width of the dining/living room, and the big Japanese maple that lent the feel of living in a treehouse. A window wall looked south to Elliott Bay.

The idea became a plan. We reached a deal with the owner, sold our condo to friends when the market was booming in May, and found ourselves facing a big renovation on a small budget with a tight time frame.

Crazy? We probably wouldn’t have braved it if our architect daughter, Katie Easton, wasn’t willing to design the new space and line up craftsmen she worked with regularly. My husband acted as general contractor, and I chose the materials, subject to approval from the rest of the team.

The place called out for clean lines and uncrowded simplicity. The bathroom countertop, the kitchen sink, most of the fixtures, and all the kitchen and bathroom cabinetry came from Ikea, and cost less than $5,000.

We lucked out in our carpenter and general handyman. He built shelves, figured out tricky door and plumbing issues, and skillfully assembled the jigsaw of cabinetry.

We painted everything but the stone fireplace in warm white. I chose eco-friendly materials whenever possible, keeping maintenance and durability in mind. The kitchen counters are gray Caesarstone, a bulletproof, man-made quartz that looks soft like soapstone. We chose recycled glass tiles from Bedrock Industries and American Olean Greenworks tile for the bathroom. A roomy, tiled shower stall with glass doors replaced the pink bathtub.

The track lighting in the kitchen and hallway are from Home Depot, the clear globe lights over the dining room table from West Elm. The scaled-down but comfy couch and white Eames-style bucket chairs came from Area 51 on Capitol Hill.

In a place this size, it’s all about scale and less of everything. But can we live harmoniously with a single bathroom? It’s been a few months now, and that remains to be seen.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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