For more than a century, fascinating tales have swirled around this elegant Capitol Hill dwelling—its long existence full of change and mystery. Built around 1910 in a Mediterranean Revival style, a dozen years later it became home to a prominent businessperson who undertook a substantial remodel. Subsequently, it served as a boarding house; later, the site of a designer show house. A persistent rumor also claims there’s a hidden cask of aged rum harbored somewhere inside. The current residents say that you can’t really possess a house like this. “It’s part of the history of Seattle,” the husband says. “We’re privileged to live in it today, and we hope it’s a part of our neighborhood and Seattle for many generations to come.”
In that spirit, while they hoped to make the home work for their young family, they also wanted to approach the project with sensitivity. As the husband puts it, “We could immediately see the magic, but there were some challenges we wanted to solve.” They assembled a special team of design pros, with an emphasis on team. “We needed people who would communicate and collaborate,” says the wife. “When you have that, good things happen.” They selected designer Kelly Hohla and architect Aaron Mollick, who worked closely with his associates, architects Lisa Sidlauskas and Brittney Wilson. General contractor Rob Hoxie and landscape architect Randy Allworth rounded out the group.
The home’s new chapter began by reimagining it for the way people live today. “When the house was built, it was segmented with spaces for servants and spaces for residents,” Mollick says. The architects erased that separation, removing a servants’ stairway for better circulation, opening up a warren of rooms to create a large kitchen connected to the garden. They also “strengthened” the entryway (which was once the service entrance, but, over the years, had morphed into the front door) by recasting the old porte-cochère as a front porch.
Modern notes were added to the classic architecture, with an intimate living area on the second level providing a prime example. Before the remodel, it was a sitting room that joined two bedrooms. The architects reconceived the space as a family room with a twist: An interior wall of floor-to-ceiling glass set in a metal frame. The feature allows borrowed light from a row of arched exterior windows to illuminate the landing of the grand staircase and stands in contrast to the ornate flourishes of the brass stair rail. “We kept going back to what we hoped to achieve—creating a family house while preserving the specialness of each space,” says Mollick. “These clients have a modern sensibility and style.”
Hohla, working with senior designer Alana Dorn, channeled that style into the framework of the distinctive rooms. “A lot of our work was tying the spaces together,” she says. That meant creating a long island in the kitchen that connects it to the dining room, preserving the original hardware and selecting new pieces to coordinate, brightening plaster block walls with a lighter limestone treatment and painstakingly refinishing the original floors with a warm walnut tone that has a touch of gray. An ebullient mix of modern furniture and fixtures, energetic colors and patterns provides the youthful spirit Hohla and the owners wanted to create. “The house was very formal,” Hohla says. “Now, while still being grand, it invites you in.”
The general contractor admits that he and his team “completely geeked out” over this project, going so far as to pen a narrative about the home’s history. “Projects like this are exciting because you know there will be a lot of surprises,” Hoxie says. “We spent time getting steeped in what was there.” However, that legendary cache of rum (which became a running joke between the owners and builders) was never discovered—at least, not the rum of rumor. “Superintendent Marty Klempner created a treasure hunt for the clients,” says Hoxie. “It ended with the discovery of a hidden compartment that opens when a secret button is pushed. In it, they found a bottle of rum.” And thus, the clients toasted their iconic home. As the wife says, “We feel lucky that the home came to us and lucky that we got to collaborate with good people. Not only did they deeply care about the project, we had a lot of fun along the way.”