PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER
The Seaboard Building was designed by William Van Siclen and began its service as the headquarters of the Northern Bank & Trust Co. Completed in 1909, this 10-story, trapezoidal building responds to the converging angles of Westlake Avenue and Fourth Avenue. It was one of the earliest substantial office buildings in this end of downtown and reflected the community's confidence that commercial and banking activity would expand from lower Second Avenue the acknowledged headquarters of major banks at the time.
Ritter watched with interest as work on renovating the building proceeded. Good friends showed it to him as he started to think about pleasant, convenient places to live. A year later, as units began filling up, he made a decision. It proved to be a good one. "This is the best building," he says.
During his first year there, he lived the minimalist lifestyle, "with an air mattress on the floor."
Ritter had some ideas of his own, developed with the help of a number of magazine articles he had saved. He told Hensel, " 'I want it to feel like I'm still in California.' With these huge windows, I didn't want heavy window treatments. My only instructions were that it be bright and airy and have some kind of link to nature." His taste in furniture was distinctly mid-century modern. "I didn't want heavy or dark furniture sitting directly on the floor. I also had to have a bench and a chaise. And I didn't need a dining-room table because this is a place I use infrequently, and more for cocktails than for dinner parties."
His goal was to create a calm, serene environment in this very urban location. And with hardly any furniture or accessories to work with, he had a clean slate almost.
The kitchen and bathroom were attractively done with cherry cabinetry, granite countertops, and a neutral tile palette. But walls and ceilings were painted white throughout. In the kitchen, Hensel downplayed a column and walls by painting them a reddish-brown color that blends with the cherry cabinetry. In the main space, the walls and ceiling were painted in a neutral selected to match the color of the terra-cotta columns and sill that can be seen from all the windows. In the bedroom, the color is a darker, mustard tone.
Hensel's solution was to put a screen directly below the ceiling beam that visually draws the eye away from the oddities or, as he says, "tidies it up a lot." The screen also met his desire to have the room feel more spacious by keeping it open yet dividing it into a living area and a den. He met Ritter's request to bring in a bit of nature and California nature at that by fashioning the screen from the dried branches of a manzanita tree. "Since he's not in town all the time, he can't keep plants, so this is a great solution that doesn't need attention."
Ritter was impressed by the efficiency of the design process. "A month and a half after our initial discussion, Steve brought over things to look at. Four months later, he told me the day everything was coming in. They showed up at 9 o'clock, and at 5:15 I came and everything was finished in one day."
As to the experience of living downtown, Ritter couldn't appreciate it more. "It's three blocks from work. It's close to shopping. The building has no parking, but that's not a problem for me, since I don't have a car here. I absolutely love it."
Lawrence Kreisman is program director for Historic Seattle. He is author of "Made to Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County."
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