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Originally published April 25, 2014 at 12:11 PM | Page modified April 26, 2014 at 8:40 AM

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Architect couple turn a ‘total dump’ into a modern charmer

With a baby on the way, Jeremy and Sara Imhoff hurried to turn the basement into an income-producing rental so that Sara could stay home and take care of their new son.


Pacific NW associate editor

THERE WERE babies everywhere. Or so it seemed.

Three-year-old Jonah took up the sofa playing a game on the iPad (a treat to keep him occupied). Isla — pink jumper, all smiles — is happy to do just about anything, ride her rocking pony, bounce on a lap, catch a ride on Dad. Her 1-year-old twin brother, Ethan, a crawler by trade, is doing laps around his family’s charmingly remade and refreshed Fremont bungalow.

Sporting a convivial “that’s life” attitude, Sara and Jeremy Imhoff remain unfazed — as they have, for the most part, over the eight years it has taken them to transform their once “total dump.” It has been a remaking smart and economical, the work informed by those babies and the recent lousy economy.

“It took a two-person income to pay the mortgage, Jonah was on his way, the economy was tanking, and Jeremy got a 20 percent pay cut.” The short story from Sara.

The longer version is this: The Imhoffs (just two of them) lived next door in a 375-square-foot condo. The guy who owned the condos also owned the 1918 bungalow. The Imhoffs inquired. Draining their savings, borrowing more, they bought it.

In 2005 the couple, both architects (she now works from home as Imprint Architecture and Design, and he for Sundberg Kennedy Ly-Au Young Architects) began redesigning the little house.

“When we disagreed,” Jeremy says, “we agreed to go back and work out something else. We treated each other like the client.”

Jeremy did most of the framing, painting and finish work (nights, weekends) to save money. Sara kept the books. They traded for services whenever possible.

By 2008 the upstairs, 1,000 square feet with two small bedrooms and one bath, was almost finished: walls opened, light wells cut into the newly vaulted living-room ceiling, contemporary ply cabinetry (from Kerf Design) and a blackened-steel kitchen entry frame echoing touches of the old bungalow, white Caesarstone counters, old fir floors painted dark chocolate, Bocci lights over the dining-room table and in the kitchen nook (a dose of charm left untouched) and walls painted just-the-right white (Benjamin Moore’s American White).

“We wanted to preserve the character of the house,” Jeremy says, “but we like modern architecture.”

“So anything we did had to speak to the old,” says Sara.

Just before work was finished, though, in 2009, Jonah was expected. Sara and Jeremy switched gears and headed straight to the basement.

“For me to be a full-time mom we had to rent the basement,” Sara says. “We worked day and night.”

“Between naps and feedings,” Jeremy says.

Eight months later, the basement (600 square feet) became a rental. The compact but comfortable studio has a separate entrance, outdoor seating area, queen bed, washer/dryer, a living room, gas fireplace and Ikea kitchen, all frosted in icy blue wall paint. The Imhoffs threw it up on VRBO.

“Last year it made $25,000 for us,” Sara says. When family comes to visit, the couple reserve the space for themselves.

Work, however, was still not quite finished. It wasn’t until last fall, Sept. 26, 2013, the twins’ first birthday, that the 1980s oak vanity and globe lights in the upstairs bath were gone, exchanged for a hexagonal marble-tile floor, and white and bright fixtures.

“After having that horrible bathroom, to have a bathroom that no one else has ever used but you is so special,” says Sara, trying to choose her one favorite thing.

“But having the rental almost pays our mortgage.”

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



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