|Cover Story||Plant Life||On Fitness||Northwest Living||Taste|
WRITTEN BY KAREN MATHIESON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER
|Stepping from the "airlock" of a wide, enclosed porch, guests find themselves in an equally wide living room, where back-to-back sofas help to establish separate areas for group interactions during large parties, and bring coziness to smaller gatherings around the fireplace.||Because of the home's placement near its lot line, no outward expansion was possible for the kitchen remodel, so efficient use of vertical storage space became the order of the day. Several small appliances dwell behind crisply white cabinetry at right.|
Tradition calls for harmony, proportion and a hands-on spirit
Beauty, he said, comes from "Harmony of all parts in whatsoever Subject it appears, fitted together with such Proportion and Connection, that nothing could be added, diminished or altered but for the Worse."
We may not understand the theory behind this "frozen music," as architecture has been called, but like a Gabrieli madrigal, it calls to us and bids us stay.
Working with Seattle-area designer Nathan Rodda, a Madrona couple is now about halfway along in a very private Renaissance. Their home, at one time in its history boarded up and virtually covered with vines in a Northwest version of a Roman ruin, is taking on new life inside and out, in forms that would likely have the great Alberti grinning in his grappa.
It took considerable imagination to picture the structure as the home of their dreams when the couple first saw it in 1987. The heavily frowning Dutch colonial squatted on its corner site with anything but grace. Behind deep, dripping eaves the much-remodeled interior boasted such elements as overly narrow, dark-framed French doors that blocked easy movement from the living room to the dimly lit dining room and the cramped orange-and-brown kitchen beyond.
Yet, the broad sweep of the living room bore promise, since the couple frequently entertained. And the quiet Seattle neighborhood, where passersby are likely to kibitz on a gardening project, appealed to their taste and the needs of their young daughters. "Our goal was to have a house that was not at all grand, but a comfortable and attractive family home," the wife comments.
Almost at once, the husband was on the phone to Rodda, a longtime friend, trying to describe the layout and the challenge ahead.
Though much work lies ahead, Rodda's solution for the front of the lower story is now visible: Two pairs of unfussy pillars flank the portico of a wide, glassed-in porch, where a lemon tree and other tender plants wait out the winter.
The porch is floored with green and black slate in a pleasing diagonal effect borrowed from the Georgian era. The entry to the living room, once far to the left and emerging in a claustrophobic little hall, is now centered behind the portico, so that guests (having shed any dripping gear) may step directly into the spacious living room. The overall effect is no longer that of a cold shoulder but of an embrace, continuing a theme introduced by the curving brick walkway to the house through a perennial garden with its own strong architectural interest.
The living room's predominant color theme of deep blue and a warm, intense red has been assembled from the floor up, where large Turkish tribal rugs anchor each end of the space.
The couple remembers sitting on the newly purchased rugs shortly after buying the house, having a picnic with friends and contemplating the otherwise empty room. Soon, however, the pieces began to fall into place, from the centuries-old pine cupboard at the south end, a family heirloom, to the striking, large Koren Christofides figural painting on the north wall.
The couple share a love for classic European style, in which personal connections across space and generations may lead to an assemblage of objects as revealing as a family tree.
Numerous Kenneth Callahan paintings and drawings throughout the house reflect a longtime family friendship with that artist; in the kitchen is a collection of amusing still-life drawings by Seattle artist Kate Anthony, and the dining room displays small interior scenes by William Turner.
The dining-room set, in particular, reveals how the couple's collaboration with Rodda is working to create subtle harmonies in interior design and architecture.
Many elements in the house - new built-in bookcases, a boat-quality paint job on slender columns now framing the dining-room entrance - have drawn on the craft skills of Rodda, the couple and members of their extended family. That reflects another aspect of the Renaissance, a time when individuals became involved in designing and creating their own environments, rather than simply assigning jobs to members of a craft guild.
There has been a deliberate effort to keep the surfaces and design of the home's interior from looking too color-card fresh - again, an approach that would appeal to people of four centuries ago seeking to echo themes from ancient Greece and Rome. Thus, the verde-marble counters in the remodeled, highly efficient kitchen have been honed to look not quite so glossy, and there is a notable lack of pretension in the display of family possessions. "Having things show wear is not something we find troublesome," says the wife.
While classic elements abound in remodeling and furnishings, such as the Roman-key design worked into a large square coffee table designed by Rodda, the library most clearly evidences a Renaissance-like passion for proportion, balance and vertical interest. Here, where the family most often gathers at evening, the bookcases hold everything from modern travel guides to an 1891 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. An uncomfortable bay window seat is gone, opening space for more cozy places to curl up and read. White-painted doors on wraparound low cupboards form an austere pediment for multi-level column forms rising between the volumes to the high ceiling.
Over the library fireplace, elegantly carved fretwork frames several small mirrored elements and two brightly brassed sconces. The effect is like a stilled carousel, enlarging the room and providing a playful spirit, though the work was anything but casual labor for the husband's skilled hands.
Pausing to gather energies after the first round of remodeling, the couple and Rodda agree that the project's goal is a seamless flow of design inside and out. Elements such as the portico columns and the granite counters lend a satisfying, enduring feel. Yet artful use of medium-density fiberboard, which is easy to shape and paint, has helped remodeling remain affordable in terms of both money and time. "In years to come, people are going to think this is all old molding," says the husband with a chuckle, imagining the consternation of a renovating team staging another home-making renaissance generations from now.
Karen Mathieson is a Seattle writer and musician. Benjamin Benschneider is staff photographer for Pacific Northwest magazine.
|Cover Story||Plant Life||On Fitness||Northwest Living||Taste|