In 1923, a young Seattle family moved into their freshly constructed dwelling on a quiet, tree-lined street far from the ever-growing city center. It was a well-appointed brick Georgian Revival residence, with views of Mount Rainier on clear days and a garage for their fashionable Pierce-Arrow roadster. To these Italian immigrants, this abode meant everything and represented the culmination of all their American dreams.
Nearly a century later, a new family calls this same place home after falling in love with its craftsmanship and the patinated soulfulness left behind by the prior owners who built their lives here. The current couple needed a few modern concessions, but “they wanted to embrace the history of this house,” says interior designer Charlie Hellstern, who came on board to compose the next chapter.
Local architecture historian Barbara Manning fleshed out the structure’s origins, tracing the lives of its earliest residents. These stories enriched the whole process with a sense of purpose. “Everything we did became a direct reflection of what we saw in the original building,” Hellstern says. This included preserving original details like the oak floors, which feature a geometric Art Deco mahogany inlay that was carefully refinished to revive the contrasting hues. In the living room, the team replicated the same pattern around the newly installed fireplace that replaced a clunkier addition from the 1990s. With its honeyed limestone surround and cast-concrete mantel, Hellstern’s more harmonious design echoes the floor’s dual-toned woods.
All new features needed to suit the spirit of the home, “so we focused on bringing in craftspeople trained to enhance what was already there,” notes general contractor Tim Farrell, who worked with Superintendent Ian McMillan on the project. The team turned to many local artisan workshops to showcase their skills throughout the dwelling, from the custom coffee and breakfast tables by Jonathan Pauls, Inc. to the Art Deco-inspired stair railing by Dyna Metal to the powder room mural by decorative painter Cathy Conner, who crafted an atmospheric abstract landscape inspired “by those lovely Seattle gray days, when it’s hard to tell where the sky stops and the land begins,” Hellstern adds.
Underscoring this workmanship, the designer layered in materials with cognac-dipped hues that will gracefully age alongside the home’s warm woodwork. Think soft brass fixtures, rich walnut furniture and wool-and-silk rugs with lush piles “that show where someone has touched and used them,” the designer notes. “All these details add to the flavor of a space that’s loved and lived in.”
The new kitchen, created to replace a disjointed version from a previous remodel, exudes this same quality with its pearly marble countertops, dark walnut island, and brass accents in the custom light fixtures and range hood. Yet these timeless finishes conceal modern amenities, like tall pantry drawers and a built-in beverage refrigerator. Integrating practical functionality within the residence’s historical envelope was essential for Hellstern. “We always looked for elements that responded to the home’s age while making it work for right now,” she says.
However, some of the dwelling’s original elements already fit the family’s modern lifestyle. The traditional closed floor plan featured a small reading nook and a card room, designed for pastimes in the days before televisions, computers or cellphones. Eschewing the modern instinct to remove walls, Hellstern instead retained the meditative reading alcove and turned the card room into a home office, outfitting it with custom built-ins painted in the wife’s favorite shade of blue. “Today, we’ve gone so far away from keeping these enclosed rooms in our homes,” the designer notes. “But now we’re craving more of that privacy and intimacy. Luckily, this house still has those lovely spaces built for individual functions.”
Genteel elements of the past endure in more subtle ways. The original formal dining room is preserved as a true space for celebrations. During milestone moments, the room comes alive, outfitted with a custom light fixture and a table that expands to accommodate more guests. For the living room, Hellstern designed a curved mohair sofa that wraps conversation around the fireplace, which is adorned with a custom screen by local iron artist Maria Cristalli. Family gatherings center around the hearth, much like they would have for the original occupants nearly 100 years ago.
It seems, despite the passage of time, some things remain eternally true. As the city of Seattle continues to rapidly evolve beyond its doors, this abode still draws the family together toward the warmth of the hearth and each other’s company.