Michael and Emily Nesmith are so into midcentury modern style, they named their black-and-brown striped cat Eames. It’s no wonder, then, that they wanted to preserve and celebrate their 1959 Seattle home’s period details. “This neighborhood is special. When you enter, it’s almost like going back in time or stepping into an episode of Leave It to Beaver,” says Emily. “It’s the same with the house, which came with the original paneling and slate floors, as well as a lot of quirky attributes.”
Even though they both love an Atomic Age aesthetic, the way forward with their first remodel was not clear-cut at first. “Our style paths diverge a bit. He’s a designer and likes things minimalist and pristine, and I like things that are more quirky,” Emily explains. “But I didn’t want to live on the set of Mad Men.” To help the couple navigate the process, they hired designer Heidi Caillier, who approached the project with a similar appreciation for its style. “My vision for the house was to keep what was great and eclectic about it while making it feel warm and comfortable,” she says. “I use a lot of vintage pieces in my work, and I think that’s a reason people hire me. I wanted to use those kinds of pieces here for spaces that are layered and not so overtly designed.”
Achieving that look meant editing away elements that were tired and dated, as in worn hardwood flooring, pink bathroom tile, and shower doors featuring encased fossils. “The bones of the house were really good, and we wanted to leave its great layout mostly intact,” says Caillier, who worked with general contractor Nate Huhta of Forte Construction Alliance. “One of the most notable changes we made to the floor plan was to open up the kitchen to the family room, in part to let light in and make the rooms feel spacious and in part because Michael is deaf, and we wanted to extend sight lines to make signing easier.”
Also on the preserve list: The centrally located ledgestone fireplace that runs down the center of the house, with hearths in both the living room and the kitchen’s breakfast area. “It was one of the features they were adamant about keeping—and I’m so glad they wanted to,” Caillier notes. Emily says that although she and her husband briefly considered painting the fireplace, they elected to keep it original for the ultimate midcentury vibe. “That era was the peak of the entertaining culture and providing a hearth for gathering was the quintessential hospitality element,” she says. “This fireplace defines the house.” Caillier played off the organic tone set by the stone with an earthy color palette mixed with an array of slate blues and greens. “A lot of the colors are what I call ‘a bit muddy,’ and I think that grounds the space,” the designer says of the nature-rooted hues.
To make a home that speaks more to her clients’ style than Don Draper’s, the designer introduced rich textures and pattern. In the family room, the sofa’s nubby, geometric upholstery plays off the ethnic pattern of the handwoven Khotan rug. In the dining room, the floor covering resembles pieces of pale chambray and dark-washed denim stitched together in a quilt-like pattern. On the lower level of the house, the entry is animated by wallpaper displaying a riot of orange nasturtium blossoms on winding green vines. Caillier notes that the flowers were chosen with Emily—a fan of all things blooming—in mind.
It’s these special touches honoring the couple and the house itself that make the rooms soulful. Emily’s love of flowers shows up again in the rec room in a collection of floral still lifes and, at Caillier’s suggestion, the couple framed and displayed the original house plans in the entry. In the family room, a photograph of a herd of cows that was taken by a friend in the rural Kansas town where Emily grew up hangs over the sofa while a pair of horseshoes discovered in the garage are arranged on the coffee table. The couple calls these kinds of elements “Easter eggs,” as they consider them to be unexpected delights that are hidden throughout. “It’s the personal details that make this feel like their forever home,” says Caillier. “Because of pieces like these, it’s a place that’s unique to them.”
Perhaps that’s why the couple reports that they sometimes sit on the sofa and feel “shocked and thankful” that they found a home that suits them so perfectly. “We wanted a place to live and entertain friends that was polished but livable,” Emily says. “And that is precisely what we got.