After their three children departed the nest, a Seattle couple considered simplifying. As the husband walked their dogs through the neighborhood, a 1929 brick Tudor just up the hill inevitably captured his attention. He especially loved the way the natural light bathed the house at different times of day. “He would always stop to ask the owner how she was doing, and after five or six years, she decided to move, so we bought the house,” the wife says. “It has a view of Lake Washington that includes Mount Rainier and the Cascades, and it was just about the only house my husband would consider.”
Many area homes were being torn down and replaced, but the couple loved how the modest Tudor fit into the neighborhood. Still, they wanted to freshen it up, so they enlisted architect John DeForest to reimagine the home with modern light-filled spaces. “They had the courage to breathe new life into the house,” DeForest says. “That sends a nice message that the choice isn’t strictly between historic restoration and tear down and start over.”
DeForest’s plans maintained the home’s traditional exterior, but inside, he removed a dark central stair hall, walls and hallways to make the interior free-flowing and more open to the natural light and water views. “It’s a wonderful melding of a traditional Tudor with clean lines that creates a very livable environment,” says Nancy Burfiend who, with My Nguyen, decorated the interior.
Of course, beneath that Tudor charm was a house whose bones had settled and skewed. Walls had to be straightened and floors shimmed to prepare the shell for a precise modern update. “When walls have to interface with windows and doors with a ¼-inch reveal, they have to be plumb-zero tolerance,” says Jeff Santerre, the homeowners’ longtime builder.
Because the homeowners are avid readers, DeForest incorporated custom bookshelves throughout the airy new interior. “I honestly felt sorry for John, because I just can’t get rid of any books,” the wife says, laughing. Plenty of cozy nooks were also added throughout the house for reading and enjoying the views, and Burfiend even furnished pillows for the owners’ beloved dogs.
The couple’s adoration of the written word is further reflected in a striking word wall designed by DeForest, as a backdrop for the three-story staircase. Seventeen family members—including the couple’s children and spouses and nine grandchildren—contributed content. “We had previously lived on the lakeshore, and the grandchildren, particularly, were not happy that we were leaving all that fun of the water,” the wife says. “So we decided this would be a good way to get them excited about this house.” The contributions—ranging from the Gettysburg Address to an old family recipe—were laser-cut into wood panels, and the owners keep a printed paper version nearby to share with guests.
“This house is totally specialized for the couple and their family,” Santerre says. “I’m seeing this a lot more. Folks don’t worry about what would be most advantageous for the resale market. Instead, it’s highly tailored to their lifestyle and what they appreciate.” And because the couple didn’t want to age out of their “forever home,” it includes an elevator, a mostly ADA-compliant bathroom, and a room above the garage where an aide could potentially live.
Larger windows were also added to afford views of the lake and the landscaped grounds. “The garden that the owner liked most and wanted to replicate was my own garden, which is more woodlandy, with a lot of canopy layers that incorporate hearty native plants with autumn color, Asian plants for fragrance and early flower blooms,” says landscape designer Keith Geller.
The home had originally been heavily carpeted and draped, but Burfiend and Nguyen used a serene neutral palette and a clean aesthetic to help showcase the couple’s books and the wife’s collections—from old campaign chests, to family heirloom furnishings, to photographs of Europe taken by her aunt in the 1920s. “The homeowner has a fantastic eye and has collected things for years, so it’s just so nice to be able to enjoy them in a very clean, simple environment,” Burfiend says. “We did a triage of things that were very important to her. She also really loves fabrics with rich, organic textures to them, which made this project really fun.”
Burfiend honored the home’s new streamlined interior, adding touches of visual interest here and there. The result is an oasis that’s perfect for hanging out with family or kicking back and digging into one of those volumes. “I feel like I’m on vacation in this house,” the homeowner says. “It’s very peaceful here.”