Before a remodel, the first emotion that visitors experienced stepping through the front gate and into the courtyard of this Seattle home was confusion. They were greeted by a fortress-like exterior wall and a nearly hidden front door that, according to designer Christie Grove, had the appeal of a utility closet entrance. “For a home of this caliber and size, the door had very little presence or style,” she notes. To reach it, one had to stroll past a row of French doors fronting the dining room and kitchen, and thus it was not uncommon for delivery drivers or guests to pop into the cooking area while the owners were preparing a meal. “Since it wasn’t clear where to enter, they went to the first place where they saw people,” Grove explains.
That wasn’t the only source of bewilderment. According to architect John Adams, the 1950s-era house had been home to many, and the string of previous owners had left their marks. “There were several remodels, and they were not always in harmony,” says Adams, who worked on the project with his wife and partner, Anne. “Over the years it had become a mishmash of different styles that didn’t look as if they belonged together.”
Grove and the Adamses, along with landscape architect Ken Philp and general contractor Billy Stauffer, set out to unify the home—and no better place to start than the entrance. The imposing wall that greeted guests in the courtyard held two windows. “One of them illuminated a hallway, and we thought it would make a natural entry point,” says the designer. Because there was also a light well directly beneath the window, the idea of turning it into a door would seem to be a nonstarter. But that’s the difference between mere mortals and design pros: The latter can spot the likely in the unlikely.
“We had the idea to build a bridge over the light well that would lead to the new front door,” explains John Adams. “The clients had never considered that, and agreeing to it was a leap of faith on their part. But when the window became an oversize steel-and-glass door and the hallway became the entry, a logical flow to the house emerged.”
Stauffer helped refine the entry sequence and improve the home’s curb appeal with a board-formed concrete wall that defines the courtyard. An integrally colored gray concrete path that traverses the middle of the outdoor space guides visitors to the new entrance and away from the span of French doors. Philp layered plantings, including Hebe sutherlandii and Corsican mint, in front of them to add privacy.
Inside, reports Grove, “The overall vibe was heavy and had no architectural conviction. We wanted to make things light, bright and contemporary.” To that end, the entry, dining room, bar and family room gained more windows, and larger steel-framed models with low-profile frames and mullions replaced most of the existing glazing. Based on a bit of the original molding, the team designed a new trim package for the house that promoted a sense of amity between the rooms.
The color scheme—predominantly creamy white and shades of blue—is inspired by the client’s collection of Imari porcelain, something she brought to the project and the designer, who began the endeavor while working at Susan Young Interiors, helped her expand. The colors are seen in the soft white of the walls, the delicate patterns in the carpets and the bolder designs of select upholstered pieces, such as the zebra-print X-frame benches in the entry and the modern wingback chair in the family room. The porcelain collection has pride of place in the living room, where Grove designed two sets of lighted display shelves on either side of the fireplace expressly for them.
Earlier renovations had resulted in a very long living room. “Its scale made it impossible to furnish as one space—it’s 30 feet long,” Grove notes. The solution was to create multiple seating areas within. A custom-designed chaise delineates a cozy gathering spot near the fireplace from one closer to the dining room. “When designing these spaces, I could imagine people assembling in the seating area by the dining room after a meal to relax with a drink, or in the area by the fireplace to enjoy someone playing the piano,” says Grove.
And that’s the idea at the heart of this home: Peaceful transitions between warm and welcoming spaces. “We had a wonderful team, and together we were able to change the whole dynamic of this house, inside and out,” says Philp. “It now has the feeling of a calm and beautiful oasis in the city.”