Pacific Northwest | August 3, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineAugust 3, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
ON FITNESS
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY ROBIN FOGEL AVNI
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER

Renewed In Ravenna
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The dining room adjoins the living room and is the gathering space for family dinners, holiday gatherings and Sunday band practice for Ron Leichner's group, the Love Handles. The French doors lead out to the side deck, often used for dancing. The built-in bookcase was another space use envisioned by Greg, Ron's brother.
A house becomes a home through compromise and commitment

IT'S RARE IN our world of cross-country career moves and negotiated child exchanges between separated households to find a boomer-age couple whose life together has unfolded in the same neighborhood, in the same house, for the past 20 years.

For Ron Leichner and Megan Mary Olander, the transformation of their home, in the Bryant-Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle, is a metaphor for their relationship and the life they have built together. Ron, a vice president of global marketing at Philips Medical Systems/Ultrasound, and Megan, owner of Megan Mary Olander Flowers in Pioneer Square, have made additions and improvements, bartered compromises and accommodated family requests as the years went by.
 
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The front porch is welcoming to the neighborhood. It's often a gathering place on a hot summer night, and guests have often been known to receive cosmopolitans when they arrive.
The story begins with Megan arriving at the front door of Ron's house for their first date. But for Ron, getting Megan to the door was no easy task. "I asked her out, she blew me off," he says. "I had to go down to her flower shop three times and buy flowers from her." Finally, she agreed to meet.

"I walked into this house, and I stood at the threshold and I knew this was it," says Megan. "Ron had made a beautiful dinner, and he took me up to see the view on the roof and watch the sun go down over the Olympics."

But while the view was romantic, and by all accounts the meal superb, the house itself wasn't in such great shape.

"The place was a wreck," says Ron, who bought the property after his first marriage broke up. "There was a crack down the ceiling. There were seven coats of paint on the wood, nine layers of wallpaper; the kitchen was a combination of Austin Powers orange and blue. It had orange shag carpeting throughout. The upstairs was uninhabitable."
 
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Beautiful hand-crafted built-ins by Bob Crumbley, of Boojum Woodworks, maximize the bedroom space. French doors and a Juliet balcony were added to enhance the view of the Olympic Mountains.
But guided by Ron's brother, Greg, who was both handy with a hammer and creative about using every cranny the house could offer, the restoration began on both the property and personal fronts. Greg "lived with us for the first seven years," says Ron. "He came with the marriage," Megan notes.

Once they started remodeling, every year they did what they could afford. "And that's what we have continued to do every year since," Ron says. In all the years and projects that followed, they never veered far from the house's original footprint.

It began with the breakfast nook. At every step, the goal was clear: To create a welcoming space for family, friends and neighbors. "This house has always been the drop-by house," says Megan. "We entertain a lot. We have to. I grew up in a big family, and I never can cook for a small amount of people. So we just call in the neighbors."
 
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The French doors in the renovated garage open to an outdoor dining space inspired by the family's trip to Tuscany. In Megan's back-yard garden, the arbored pavilion is easily accessible from the kitchen.
A family trip to Tuscany inspired their outdoor eating area in Megan's garden. The backyard garden is hers to tend, while Ron owns the front. In Italy, "we had so much fun there sitting around for two-hour dinners and really talking as a family," says Megan. "We said we need to do this when we get home." An arbor and patio were built within months of their return.

Early on they had wanted to maximize the view from their master bedroom, so they added French doors to see that first-date view of the Olympics every day. The built-ins, from cabinet maker Bob Crumbley, of Boojum Woodworks, helped maximize the space and increase storage. Crumbley also did the built-ins in their teenagers' downstairs space.

Years ago when their children, Tredic, 17, and Kersa, 15, began to fight over that coveted basement area as a place to hang with friends, they converted the garage to create another space for them to gather. Even Ron uses the spot. "I go out there and hide from all the chaos. To sleep in there for a nap is just wonderful."
 
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The cherry kitchen cabinets were also built by Bob Crumbley of Boojum Woodworks. Originally, Megan wanted to put an island in the second remodel of the space, but, in the end, she and Ron decided it wouldn't have been true to the character of the house.
Originally, the garage space was also meant to be a small sanctuary for Megan. "I don't go out there that often," she sighs. "I went out there once when it was first finished. I had gotten up in the middle of the night and went out there to sleep. Pretty soon my whole family was knocking on the door looking for me."

The most recent area of renovation has been the kitchen. Again it became an effort of family and friends. Greg did all the prep work, the next-door neighbor designed the granite sink, and Crumbley did the beautiful built-in that stores dishes, glassware and serving pieces. Before the built-in was secured in place everyone got to tag the wall — family, neighbors and even the members of Ron's Sunday-afternoon band, the Love Handles.

But Ron and Megan will never be done with this house.

"There is always going to be something," says Ron. "For me, the yard and the house, it's kind of the living art project — what can you do here, and what can you do there. It's such an escape for me. It's my artistic playground."

These two spirited individuals, who are known to finish each other's sentences, have covered a lot of negotiated territory in 20 years. Just as a successful marriage is a series of compromises, so, too, is successfully remodeling a house into a home.

"It's always a big fight," says Megan. "We're exact opposites," he explains.

"We get there, though," says Ron. "The collaboration is what makes it better. If I had done my stuff, it wouldn't have worked, just as if she would have done it her way, it wouldn't have worked."

"I love living in this house," says Ron. "But, when it's time, I'm going to lay up in our bed with the sun going down, looking out at the Olympics, and I'll pass away."

That may be, Megan notes, "but Ron has in the will that I can't ever paint the woodwork."

Robin Fogel Avni is a free-lance writer specializing in lifestyle issues and trends affected by technology. Her e-mail is robinavni@msn.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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