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Originally published Friday, March 28, 2014 at 12:13 PM

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Norman-style Thiry home evolves with respect

Interior designer Robin Chell and architect Colin Brandt preserve the historic home’s character while making spaces bigger and lighter


Pacific NW associate editor

THIS IS THE house that architect Paul Thiry built, in 1929.

But it’s also the house that Seattle interior designer Robin Chell has nurtured for the past two generations of homeowners. The first being herself and her husband, David.

“David bought the house. That’s how we met (in 1998),” she says. “David bought a chair from me. And then, oh! and another chair.”

Chair-buying courting concluded, the couple married in the backyard in 2001. They then had their way with the Norman-style home in Madison Park, remodeling the kitchen and dining room, opening spaces, adding modern materials (using architect Chris Keyser).

Then, in 2002, the couple moved on to build their own home.

The Chells sold to newlyweds Bonnie and Rob (six hours from first viewing to offer). That couple had fallen for Thiry’s structural design, Robin’s subtle blend of modern and traditional (concrete counters, stainless-steel hardware, floors in limestone and wood) and David’s work transforming a plain old hillside out back into tiers of beckoning garden spaces.

“When we walked in we knew,” is how Bonnie puts it.

“Then we put our furniture in, and it didn’t look near as good.”

Coming from a small condo on Capitol Hill, 1,700 square feet of house seemed cavernous. So Bonnie and Rob bought the Chells’ living-room grand piano in the deal. But it wasn’t enough. They needed more of that Chell magic.

“We bought this house because of Robin and David,” Bonnie says. “You walk in the front and it’s Robin. You walk out the back door, it’s David.”

Thus, Robin has never really left the Madison Park Thiry. At first she helped Bonnie and Ross select furnishings. And now, two children later, she’s guided them through a respectful three-story expansion (to 2,500 square feet) with architect Colin Brandt of Brandt Design Group and Grove Hill Construction.

Having lived here, she knew just what to do.

“We had architectural drawings for an addition, but we never did it,” Chell says. “They were basically sharing one bathroom. We had added a bathroom in the basement that I think Rob used. But Bonnie and the kids were sharing a bathroom.”

You would never know it from the street, but now there’s an expanded family room off the kitchen, a true master suite upstairs and a new bathroom, complete with a tricky-to-work-in-but-highly-desired bathtub. The family room is now a true hangout space; new gas fireplace, hardwood floors seamlessly blended, larger windows and French doors for light and charm.

Space vs. architectural integrity (and balance with exterior spaces) was always an issue in a home defined by coves and arches, intricate tilework. As Brandt put it, “We wanted the final product to work for a family of four in a way that it looked like the house was always intended to be that way.”

A small closet between the entry and kitchen became a pullout pantry. Storage was added to the kids’ bath. The basement got a new guest bedroom.

And now, according to Rob, “I think it’s safe to say we’re here for life.”

A major remodel is fraught with unpleasant possibilities. Not here. Rob and Bonnie learned from almost the day they moved in to listen to their instincts and to their historically significant home.

“When Robin called for the heavy black-framed windows in the family room I was completely panicked,” says Bonnie. “But she said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s gonna work.’ Whatever I’m thinking of she thinks of it 10 times better.

“Colin, Grove Hill and Robin had a really nice collaboration. It was such a great time.”

Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.



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