Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste Now & Then

Collective Care
Together, contractors and a committed couple define a Dutch Colonial's true character

Sonya Gustavson's wish for a very high ceiling in the great room makes it spacious and light. An arched window captures the east-facing view. Window frames are pine, the ceiling hemlock, trim and beams are fir.
Neighborhoods. They're among the many special things that draw people to Seattle and spoil them for other cities. Locals take pride in associating themselves with their little corner of the city, whether that happens to be Green Lake, Ballard, West Seattle or Leschi.

Steve Troutman and Sonya Gustavson certainly feel that way about their commitment to Wallingford. "We are establishing our own roots here," says Sonya. They have lived in the neighborhood 11 years and are in their third house, all of them within blocks of each other. But this is their dream house, one they had long coveted from just a block away.

"We had been staring at this house for three years before we bought it," Sonya explains. "We had a vision, a dream. We met the woman who lived here. She raised five kids in this house on a bookkeeper's salary, without a husband. We made friends with her. The house was falling apart around her, and she had health problems. But she really loved her house. To her it was the most important part of her identity."

In the living room, the board-and-batten walls are original and inspired the fir-lined entrance hall (at left, in background). Newel posts and stairs to the second floor had to be reconstructed.
New decks over the garage and at the back take full advantage of sunlight and views. The roof and overhangs of the new great room match the original roof pitch and details.
The house wasn't high style and sophisticated, and Steve and Sonya had simple goals. What it could offer was enough room for their family, natural light, a garden, garage, play space for their children and room for visiting out-of town family.

For initial help they sought out Johnston Architects, which drew up plans that brought clarity to the owners' ideas and to the accomplished people who would do the work.

While the 1912 Dutch Colonial was structurally sound, it wasn't particularly well built, nor was the wood used in the interiors the highest quality fir. Originally, the house had three bedrooms and one full bath, a powder room and an unfinished basement. It now has five bedrooms and 3 1/2 bathrooms.

The couple decided to retain the living and dining areas but open up the old office to put in a cozy fir-sheathed seating area. Most of the windows, along with the wainscot and trim molding in the living and dining rooms, were replaced with virtually identical copies. Once the wall between the office and the stair was taken out, stairs and newel posts had to be rebuilt. But most of the new work on this floor is hard to see, so respectful were the owners to the character-defining features of the old house.

The second floor retains only its roofline, chimney, fir flooring and hardware. The rooms have been reconfigured to a master suite with bath, two rooms for their children (who share a second bath) and storage.

For both Sonya and Steve, the excitement of working together to create their new home has been a great gift. They speak enthusiastically of their daily involvement with decision-making and of the relationships they developed with the people who helped them achieve their goals. None of this was accidental.

The dining room has an unusual angled box-beam-ceiling treatment. Most of the damaged wainscot trim needed to be replaced.
"I wanted to do this house and I really wanted to be here while it was being done," Steve says. "I wanted to make sure it would happen the way I visualized it. So I spoke to two contractors and said, up front, 'I know how to do plumbing and wiring and have remodeled three houses without hiring anyone. I don't want to do it all myself but I want to be there.' Both contractors said basically, 'Thank you for telling us about that up front. We hate people like you. You make us crazy. We would never consider working for you and it's really helpful to get that out of the way right off the bat.' "

An able neighbor suggested that Steve could learn the skills necessary to manage the project. He taught him about planning, decision-making and budgeting, then steered Steve toward what he calls "a brotherhood of talent in the city." Of these people, the two crucial leads were Brian Hamilton, a carver and craftsman who became foreman on the job and did some of the framing and finish work, and Lloyd Taylor, who assured that the new construction matched the details of the old house. The couple learned only later that Lloyd and Brian had worked on Steven Holl's award-winning St. Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University.

The new kitchen has aniline-dyed and angled maple cabinets because the owners wanted them to have the appearance of different pieces of furniture. The counters are teakwood and the flooring is cork.
More skilled craftspeople appeared as if by magic. They mention Michael Griesedieck, Steve Lawrence and Dave Logan, among others. At various times, more than 20 people were at the house. "We deferred to them heavily because their vision was right," Steve says. "They got it. When we walk around the house, the best thing we like is the spirit they brought and left behind."

It took just nine months to finish all the jobs. The speed had a good deal to do with the owners' oversight. "We made the decisions on the spot," says Steve.

Seemingly small solutions made a big difference. There is the convenient slot in the bedroom for throwing soiled laundry so it ends up in a hamper next to the washer and dryer, a mail-sorting desk in the kitchen and efficient counter disposals for handling garbage and recycling.

Months after settling into the refurbished house, the owners are as excited as if they were still in the construction process. "We had a great time. We really did a good job making decisions, and there was a tremendous amount of agreement. When we didn't agree, we did a good job of negotiating through."

Lawrence Kreisman is program director for Historic Seattle. He serves on the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board and is author of "Made to Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County." Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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